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The ReadersFirst Initiative

Released: 06-07-12

Digital Downloads

Maybe you're the owner of an ereader who uses the library's digital download service, or maybe you're someone who's tried it and wondered why it's so difficult. Maybe you're disappointed in the selection or the time that you have to wait to get a poplular title. Libraries nationwide are taking steps to change the digital book borrowing experience.

Why is the selection so limited and the process so frustrating?

Basically, it's because publishers limit what they sell to libraries, and some publishers won't sell to libraries at all. Many publishers create barriers to borrowing by using digital rights management tools to make the borrowing process somewhat more cumbersome than it would be to purchase the same ebook.

"Libraries don't own e-content because publishers and distributers prefer to sell directly to the consumer," Pima County Library Director Melinda Cervantes explained. "No matter what it costs, if the library doesn't have access to e-books and other e-content, we can't provide access to this material to the public."

Cervantes went on to say that it is important for the public to understand that they will lose free access to information if e-content providers decide to cut out libraries altogether.

What's the library doing about this?

Pima County Public Library (PCPL) has joined with more than 70 library systems in the U.S. and Canada in calling on e-content providers to give the public a better, less cumbersome experience accessing e-content for free through their libraries. The purpose of the ReadersFirst Initiative from the Urban Libraries Council is to lift restrictions imposed by e-book service providers that can limit what libraries can actually offer.

Cervantes contends that, in practical terms, "Publishers need us because libraries are an early entryway for authors and their books," pointing out that library-sponsored author events, book clubs and book festivals actually help boost book sales.

The ReadersFirst Initiative states that e-content providers must offer products that:

  • Makes it simple to locate ebooks and audiobooks in the same catalog that library users access to find other items.
  • Allows users to access the same website to manage both their library card account and e-content account.
  • Allow the content to be compatible with a variety of devices and provide a more seamless user experience.


Pima County Public Library is committed to meeting the needs of our community by making information available in a variety of formats. Learn more about the library's support of the ReadersFirst Initiative here (PDF).

Pima County Website