ALA Meeting Upbeat
Nora Rawlinson -- 1/22/01
E-books Find Market, Library Budgets Rise

A lively exhibitor hall and more good news about growth in library funding contributed to a general sense of buoyancy and optimism at this year's American Library Association MidWinter Meeting, held in Washington, D.C., January 12- 17. There was much talk about technology, particularly e-books, and about its potential to enhance as well as undermine traditional library services.

"This is the best time for library budgets that I have seen in my 25 years in the business," said Larry Price, executive vice-president, Ingram Library Services. "I would even venture to say that it's a better time than the LBJ years, when lots of federal money was going to libraries." When
ALA chiefs: John W. Berry, president-elect;
Nancy Kranich, president; Sarah Long,
past president.
asked about concerns that the slowing economy could bring a falloff in tax support for libraries, Price said he wasn't worried about that, at least for public libraries: "They get their funding locally and property taxes are pretty much set now." He also noted the large number of library building projects that are under way--buildings that will need to be filled with book collections.
This optimism is borne out by Library Journal's annual budget report, which says overall public library budgets are up 6.5%. Further, libraries serving populations of one million or more are enjoying budget increases of 14.1% over last year. Detroit Public Library, for instance, received a windfall from a property tax increase, resulting in a 26.2% increase to $43 million.

Vendors turned out in force on the show floor, usually the smaller of the two annual ALA shows, with more exhibitors and more space than any MidWinter show in history. One long-time exhibitor noted that booths were larger than ever, some of them breaking the old height restrictions and rising to two stories.

Yet despite the optimism expressed on the floor, there was also concern among librarians that the Web is making inroads into the functions that libraries traditionally serve. The Urban Libraries Council released a study on "The Impacts of Internet Use on Public Libraries," by George D'Elia, School of Library and Information Studies, SUNY, Buffalo (available at This national telephone survey of nearly 4,000 people concluded, "There is no evidence at this time that use of the Internet is changing the reasons why people use the library." Still, many libraries report some decrease in their circulation statistics, and many librarians have shown interest in boosting circulation figures by tracking in-library use of materials.

E-Books Major Topic
While the many meetings and seminars held on the subject made it clear that libraries are already a market for e-books, it is also clear that non-library vendors are unable to adjust to their needs. In fact, some librarians are forced to purchase e-books using personal credit cards, because retailers such as Barnes & Noble won't accept purchase orders. Several library vendors were showing new e-book collections. NetLibrary, early into this arena two years ago with its collection of downloadable titles, now has competition. Baker & Taylor inaugurated its e-book venture with titles from Wiley and McGraw-Hill. Like netLibrary's, Baker & Taylor's system allows the library to buy multiple copies of a particular title, but each copy can be read by only one user at a time. This approach makes publishers comfortable about protecting their copyrights, but has brought protests from librarians, who now expect to be able to license electronic information and lend the material to multiple users simultaneously.

When asked if Ingram Library Services was planning to offer an e-book collection to libraries, Price said that the company is looking at the prospect, but will take its time in order to do it correctly. By the end of the year, he said, libraries could expect to be able to buy e-books from Ingram, most likely starting with Lightning Print titles (which Ingram Book now sells through Barnes & Noble and

ABC-Clio, a publisher of historical databases and reference books for libraries, announced that it will sell e-books directly (it currently lists some titles through netLibrary), and will offer them as an add-on to the purchase of the book, at 150% over the print price. The purchaser will be allowed unlimited, simultaneous use of the electronic version, a system that libraries prefer over the single-user system.

Greg Kuris, editorial director at ABC-Clio, said that at the annual ALA meeting six months ago, "E-books were a distant rumor. Now there is a nonstop stream of interest." Tony Uhler, chief financial officer, said response from librarians at this conference vindicates ABC-Clio's e-book strategy. ABC-Clio, whose flagship databases are American Historical Abstracts and American History and Life, has been electronic for years; it went online with its subscription database in 1975. It makes sense, Kuris said, for the company to also offer its books electronically. Thus, ABC-Clio will begin offering all its titles simultaneously in print and electronically. The firm also plans to digitize all its 2000 titles and the majority of its 1999 titles, resulting in 165 titles by the end of this year.