Democratic candidate for Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias wants to make it easier for public libraries to license e-books and other digital materials, he announced during a campaign stop with Secretary of State Jesse White and local State Reps. Jay Hoffman and LaToya Greenwood today at the Fairmont City Library Center in Metro East.
Giannoulias announced his License to Read program, which aims to make more learning materials accessible to the public, particularly in underserved areas of the state.
As the State’s Librarian, the Secretary of State oversees three library systems comprising more than 600 public libraries across the state. Meanwhile, check outs of digital materials at public libraries exceeded a half a billion items in 2021 – a new record.
Part of Giannoulias’ plan includes introducing state legislation aimed at lowering the prices that publishers charge libraries for e-books and audio books and making them more available to residents across the state. According to the American Library Association, libraries pay three to five times as much as consumers for e-books and audiobooks.
The measure – similar versions of which have passed in other states – would require that publishers offer reasonable terms to public libraries, enabling Illinois libraries to license more books.
“We need to make more resources – such as e-books and other learning materials – more accessible to more people through our public libraries,” said Giannoulias, the former chair of the Illinois Community College System and member of the Chicago Public Library’s Board of Directors. “Libraries serve as the cornerstones of our communities and providing them with more content and increasing the availability of book titles for people – regardless of where people live – will strengthen their mission.”
State Rep. Latoya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis), who intends to sponsor the legislation in the Illinois General Assembly, added that with access to more e-books and audiobooks, libraries will have the ability to share more resources with residents in different areas of the state, including those who live in areas without public libraries or in areas with smaller libraries with fewer financial resources.
“Alexi’s License to Read program will increase access and availability to young people and families across the state,” she said. “Libraries now are more than just physical books, and the Covid crisis has forced libraries to re-imagine how they operate to better serve the public. Our libraries need to evolve to meet the needs of all Illinoisans, and we must equip them with the resources to best serve their communities.”
Even before the pandemic limited access to physical books from libraries, e-books had become increasingly popular and more to the public.
Under publishing agreements, libraries are often prohibited from acquiring and providing access to digital content like e-books. The American Library Association has argued lack of access impedes libraries from providing essential services and programs to local communities.
According to studies, U.S. libraries spend over $4 billion annually purchasing or licensing copyrighted works, most of which has been earmarked for licenses for digital content. In some cases, libraries spend five times more than consumers for digital content, studies show. In addition, publishers embargo libraries’ access to new titles or restrict them from acquiring content. Another tactic publishers employ is limiting the number of times a library can lend an e-book to its members.
The legislation is just one of the components to Giannoulias’ License to Read plan that calls for increasing investment, access and equity to public libraries that he will roll out during the campaign.