This piece from The Times of San Diego has caused a significant ripple in the usually calm pond that is the SHARP listserv. Universities are starved for funds; university populations keep growing; cost cutting takes place in the library system; subscribing to an e-book package puts you on a treadmill leading apparently to Armageddon. Concern is escalating to existential panic about the university system as a whole: what about those evil MOOCs?

But hang on: there is a funding problem. It has to be worked through. Yes, of course some of the decisions made will be sub-optimal, but if it turns out that something we’ve cancelled is in fact important to us all, then it will be reinstated. We are not passive victims at the bottom of a snake pit having pitch poured on us. We make the decisions; we are fallible; we can always learn from our mistakes. Of course to the extent that libraries have discarded the p-books they believe they no longer require because of their e-book lease, we won’t be able to to establish the exact status quo ante. But things are never exactly what they were before.

Of course libraries are objecting to price rises — from Chronicle of Higher Education. But equally obviously publishers cannot make e-books available cheaply and have the only copy sold to a library be available on loan to any library anywhere. You can’t make it on the sale of one copy only — unless it’s sold at a monstrous price. The cost of creating the book have to be recovered: all we have is an on-going debate/argument about how that cost is going to be amortized. One of these days we may get to a resolution.

Here’s a report from the Digital Content Working Group from the American Library Association’s annual meeting in Las Vegas this summer. It’s a lot of data — but notable is the tone. Librarians show no signs of panic or backs-to-the-wall fighting here.

This ALA report tells us that 90% of US libraries are now lending e-books. Gigaom gives us this story on how easy it is to borrow e-books from your local library. I’ve not tried this yet, though I know lots of people who have. I’m not quite sure why not: I can think of several books I’m reluctant to buy but which I’d quite like to read. Maybe it’s that qualifier “quite”. If I really wanted to read them I’d have rushed out and bought them: God knows I’ve got enough stuff queuing up to be read without adding library books.