Survey of State Libraries Finds that 39% of US Libraries Lag Behind in Providing Ebooks

Lexington, KY – The Chief Officers of State Library agencies recently surveyed their membership to determine the extent to which U.S. public libraries are offering downloadable ebooks, audiobooks and videos for use on portable devices like e-readers and smartphones.

The results of the survey, conducted this summer, showed that 39% of public libraries in the U.S. had not yet begun to offer downloadable media service to their communities, a matter of great concern to state librarians. The 39% of public libraries not yet offering downloadable media serve about 16% of the US population served by libraries.

While the COSLA survey did not attempt to discover the characteristics of the libraries lagging behind in offering downloadable media, the COSLA E-Book Task Force believes that most are small and rural public libraries with
small budgets. COSLA has adopted a goal for all U.S. public libraries to offer ebooks and other downloadable media by 2015 at the latest.

“Because it is likely that ebooks will become the preferred format for library reading materials in the future, it is critical that every library begin to offer downloadable ebooks and other media as soon as possible,” said COSLA
President Lamar Veatch. “Libraries risk their continued support if they are slow to transition to a digital future.”

State librarians are aware of several barriers to having every library begin to offer downloadable media. The most serious is the lack of adequate budgets for library collections. For example, a report from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for 2009 shows that the average collections expenditures in U.S. libraries serving fewer than 5,000 population was less than $11,000 a year (Public Libraries Survey Fiscal Year 2009, p. 132). The demand for printed books has not diminished, so libraries are faced with the challenge of affording books in both paper and digital format.

Another challenge is the reluctance of some vendors of downloadable media services to allow libraries to join together in consortia and share one collection to increase their buying power. “Too many small libraries are being priced out of initiating service because they aren’t able to join forces with bigger libraries to share a collection of ebooks,” said Jim Scheppke, the chair of the COSLA Ebook Task Force.

There were some positive findings in the COSLA survey. Even though only 61% of public libraries are offering downloadable media services, they serve 84% of the U.S. population served by public libraries. The COSLA survey also found that in 12 states and the District of Columbia, 100% of the population served by libraries is able to use downloadable media services. In most cases these are states that have been able to create shared statewide or regional collections.

At their recent meeting in Santa Fe, COSLA adopted an action plan to advance toward their goal of having downloadable media services offered in all U.S. public libraries by 2015. The plan calls for continued COSLA leadership and use of COSLA members’ bargaining power in purchasing and licensing. COSLA will continue to be a strong advocate for affordable ebook content for all libraries, through consortial agreements and by other means. A copy of COSLA’s “Short Term Action Plan to Advance the Ebook Vision and Strategies of COSLA” is available on the COSLA website

COSLA is an independent organization of the chief officers of state and territorial agencies designated as the state library administrative agency and responsible for statewide library development. Its purpose is to identify
and address issues of common concern and national interest; to further state library agency relationships with federal government and national organizations; and to initiate cooperative action for the improvement of library
services to the people of the United States. For more information, visit

Source: COSLA Press Release, December 7, 2011


2 responses to “Survey of State Libraries Finds that 39% of US Libraries Lag Behind in Providing Ebooks

  1. peglidou valentina

    This is really a problem, but the fact is what can we do about it

    • Short of pressing for increased funding at the state and local level, I suppose we just have to keep logging on, visiting to make or phoning in requests for eBooks.

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