British Columbia public and school libraries are making books available online for the coming year in an experiment that will test the consumer taste for online reading.
B.C. libraries venture into online reading

All the books involved are works of non-fiction from British Columbia publishers who are participating in a collaboration with the libraries.

The project went online Wednesday with 12 libraries participating, including the Nanaimo School District, Vancouver and Richmond Public Libraries, and three universities.

The plan is to test it out for a year and roll it out across the province at the end of that period, says Margaret Reynolds of the Association of Book Publishers of B.C.

“This is a very specific collection,” she told CBC News. “This is books about B.C., published by B.C. publishers, and it will only be available through B.C. libraries.”

People with a library card or other student card for one of the participating libraries can get into the system online with a computer and read books from their home or in the library itself.

Nothing is downloadable — instead a digital copy of the book pops up with an image that resembles a page. The entire book — and the entire collection — is searchable for researchers looking into subjects such as Emily Carr or Simon Fraser.

The 650 titles now available are diverse, ranging through natural history, aboriginal history, art and biography as recent as 2008’s Capt. Alex MacLean by Don MacGillivray.

The 18 publishers involved, ranging from Douglas & McIntyre to Arsenal Pulp Press, have gone back through their catalogues to find interesting titles and negotiated digital rights where they didn’t have them.

“Part of the idea was to encourage publishers to add to their collection of digital books,” Reynolds said. “The publishers have decided which titles they can put forward.”

The interest in e-books that developed in the past 18 months has given impetus to digital publishing, she added.

In the coming year, the consortium of publishers, libraries and others involved will be testing the technology used in the “beta” rollout that began Wednesday.

To make more books available — and compensate authors for their work — the project will have to get a new shot of funding, not an easy prospect in the current arts climate in B.C.

“Ultimately the ambition is to have a collection that is available to all B.C. citizens,” said Leigh Anne Palmer, co-ordinator of the project.

“We’re still grappling with the issues of what e-books cost and how sales work. We have to figure all that out to know how to fund it.”

There’s no talk of a fee for users. However, authors have donated use of their works for just a year, while libraries and school systems work out a way to pay the writers and publishers for their work.

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