Update From Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner

Executive Director and Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner
Executive Director and Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner

April 3, 2020

As of March 17, 2020, Macmillan Publishers reversed its practice of restricting public libraries from purchasing select new e-books for two months after publication. This was a policy launched in November 2019 that The Seattle Public Library and many patrons and libraries across the country actively opposed (see the statements below for more context). The Seattle Public Library is cautiously hopeful that this reversal signals that Macmillan and other publishers are re-evaluating such restrictions to public libraries, which are especially hard to defend during the current public health crisis. Find out more in the statement by Macmillan.

Update From Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner

Oct. 24, 2019

As you may have heard, despite strong objections from public libraries and our supporters, Macmillan Publishers’ embargo on sales of new e-books to libraries will begin Nov. 1. Here are the measures the Library is taking to help patrons brace for the change.

The immediate impact is that new Macmillan titles in e-book format will not be available for you to check out for eight weeks, the length of the embargo. The Seattle Public Library has decided to wait to buy our one allowed e-book copy until the end of the embargo period to avoid frustrating waits and long hold times for these titles.

Since only a handful of patrons would be able to access one e-book during the embargo period, delaying our purchase avoids having a record in our catalog that would inflate demand that we cannot respond to.

We will still have non-embargoed formats of new Macmillan books available for you to check out, including print copies and e-audiobooks. We will monitor the demand on these and may buy additional copies as needed. After the embargo period ends for an e-book, we will buy more copies based on reader interest and demand.

We will continue to work with public library systems, as well as with the American Library Association, to protest these restrictions and negotiate a better deal for libraries. We believe – and studies have documented this – that public libraries play an essential role in marketing books and authors.

Here are ways to make your voice heard on this issue:

  • Join more than 145,000 people in signing an American Library Association petition at ebooksforall.org, which urges Macmillan to not “delay or deny” library access.
  • Share your feelings about the policy on social media using the hashtag #EbooksforAll.
  • Write directly to Macmillan at elending.feedback@macmillan.com.
  • See ebooksforall.org for sharing tools and templates.

Original Message from Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner

Aug. 26, 2019

In this digital age, a critical way that we fulfill our mission of providing universal access to information and ideas is through e-books.

The Seattle Public Library circulated almost 3 million e-books and e-audiobooks last year, making it one of the leading public libraries in the world for digital lending.

Unfortunately, one of the nation’s biggest publishers, Macmillan, recently announced a new lending policy that undercuts the Library’s ability to provide equitable access to e-books and to meet the growing demand for this format.

Beginning Nov. 1, a library may purchase only one copy of a newly released Macmillan title in e-book format, and won’t be able to buy additional copies for eight weeks. Busy urban library systems such as Seattle’s will be especially affected, since the new policy is the same for all libraries no matter their size.

Macmillan’s policy will affect all patrons, but especially those with limited resources. It significantly impacts the vitality of the Library’s collection. Finally, reducing access to e-books means limiting access to the learning, education and pleasure that reading brings.

Some background: While it may seem like e-books are cheap to publish, they’re expensive for public libraries to buy. Major publishers already charge libraries at least twice as much for e-books and e-audiobooks than for their physical counterparts. Increasingly, they require licenses that expire after a certain number of circulations or period of time. Macmillan’s policy is among the most restrictive and is indicative of a growing trend.

We understand that Macmillan needs to think about its bottom line in a rapidly changing publishing landscape. That’s why public libraries have been willing to pay higher prices for digital formats. But limiting access to new titles for libraries means limiting access for patrons most dependent on libraries. We also respectfully point out that public libraries contribute an incalculable amount each year to promoting authors, books and a rich reading culture. We add hundreds of thousands of books and materials in multiple formats and host hundreds of book-related programs every year. Services such as book displays, online lists and personal recommendations from librarians further connect readers to books.

Many studies document what common sense tells us: Patrons use libraries to not just borrow books, but also to discover books they may promote to friends and decide to purchase.

We have joined with public library systems, as well as with the American Library Association, in objecting to this policy as a threat to library principles of equal and open access. We will work with other library groups in encouraging Macmillan to reconsider its decision.

A UNESCO City of Literature, Seattle boasts a community of vocal readers and writers. We encourage you to use your voice to support the most basic library principle – access for all.

Know that we will continue to advocate for the resources and services that are important to you. We remain committed to meeting your changing needs and interests.

Executive Director and Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner Signature

Marcellus Turner, Executive Director and Chief Librarian

Resources & More Information

Here are ways to speak out about the issue:

Read more about the issue: