Haliburton’s municipal leaders pressed the province to help address high eBook prices for libraries across the country.

Haliburton County Library Board (HCPL) chair and Dysart Mayor Andrea Roberts, alongside other municipal officials, led a ministerial delegation at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, which ran Aug. 18-21. The delegation met with the parliamentary assistant to the minister of tourism, culture and sport and focused on the issue of eBook pricing.

Roberts said the delegation went well and aimed to encourage the province to push for the problem to be addressed at the federal level.

“They were excellent, they heard our plight,” Roberts said. “It may seem in the grand scheme of things with the world the way it is, it’s not important. But we feel at the library board that it is.”

Libraries across the country have protested that Canada’s five biggest publishers – Hachette, MacMillan, Harper Collins, Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster – are setting eBook prices too high for libraries.

For example, the HCPL said Canadian author Louise Penney’s ‘Kingdom of the Blind’ costs libraries $13 for paperback, $22 for hardcover and $60 in digital form. The digital copy is also only able to be checked out 52 times or for two years, whichever comes first, about half as long as a paper copy can last.

Roberts said the demand for eBooks in Haliburton is increasing.

“We already know our digital statistics are going up and up,” Roberts said. “We’re here to try to meet the demand of our residents.”

The county also argued the problem is only exasperated by the cuts to the interlibrary loan service, which allowed people to order books from libraries farther away.

The province cut the Southern Ontario Library Service’s budget, prompting the organization to end the interlibrary loans April 18. Roberts said the province reimbursing some costs to deliver those books via Canada Post does not work to make up the difference.

“Changes to both secondary cducation and provincial interlibrary loan services ask library systems in Ontario to increase their reliance and access to digital collections,” library CEO Bessie Sullivan said in notes prepared for the province. “This is exceedingly difficult under the current publisher’s e-content model.

The Highlander reached out to Canada’s biggest publishers for comment but did not receive a response before press time.

Roberts said advocates do not necessarily have a specific new framework in mind but want to see change through government regulation.

“We really tried to express the point the government itself is saying technology is the way to go,” she said. “If technology is the way to go, we should be able to have better access to books.”

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