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Montgomery County, Md., Pioneers Call for Fair E-Book Prices for Libraries

Despite pent-up demand for e-books, Montgomery County, Md., libraries are stymied by book publishing pricing practices that are straining budgets. A county resolution calls for a remedy to the problem.

The Montgomery County, Md., Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday urging state and federal authorities to help public libraries obtain fair prices for e-books.

The resolution makes Montgomery County one of the first state or local jurisdictions to make more equitable e-book pricing a formal policy. Another is the state of Connecticut where Gov. Danell Malloy signed this June a bill that called for an investigation into library e-book pricing in that state.

It asks the Maryland General Assembly, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission "to examine this issue and seek any appropriate remedy so that county library users will have the access to materials in a reasonable and non-discriminatory manner."

In their legislative analysis, county staff cited Governing's July cover story on libraries and e-book pricing. The story documented the obstacles that libraries face in procuring e-books from the major publishers: limited availability, onerous conditions and higher prices.

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County officials said that the Montgomery County libraries had seen an 88 percent growth in e-book checkouts between 2010 and 2011 and another 87 percent increase between 2011 and 2012, which is in line with national trends.

The libraries set aside an additional $300,000 in their fiscal year 2014 budget for e-books to try to meet that demand, but the bottom line is, according to staff: "e-book pricing and distribution policies have placed a strain on the (libraries') budget and limited the access of e-books to library patrons."

Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.
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