The library world is up in arms at HarperCollins, who announced recently that it's e-books would only be able to be checked out 26 times before the library would have to purchase another copy. This is an interesting dilemma in our digital world. On one hand, 26 seems like a rather low, arbitrary number. I have been reading the numerous blogs, articles and tweets on the issue since the announcement was made and haven't found the answer to that yet. Certainly most library books of decent quality can be circulated more than 26 times before they disintegrate in our hands. However, on the other hand, unless formats change radically in the next few years (which is not out of the realm of possibility), HC has a point that digital copies don't have the wear and tear of paper books and therefore they could lose money on replacement copies. If my memory serves me right from library school, I believe most books go out of print within 5 years, so finding replacement copies for some books may not even be possible anyway.
But to get back to the topic at hand, have we created this through current licensing practices? We basically rent most of our subscription databases on an annual basis. My library spends thousands of dollars a year for access to World Book, Historical Newspapers, all of Facts on File's products, Global Issues in Context and a number of other resources. My patrons don't have access to those resources if I don't get the bills paid every year. Have we already set the precedent of being willing to pay for some digital products and rent others? I'm not saying HC is correct in their actions, but this is yet another issue that needs to be sorted out in our digital world. Librarians have the right to choose who they purchase their materials from and, as long as publishers are upfront about the purchasing rules, this issue should sort itself out soon.
I don't know the solution, but with today's social networking tools it is amazing to follow how quickly the issue was taken up, blogs were written and boycott HarperCollins web pages were created.