Friday, November 14, 2003

Libraries told 'stop lending'

Yoshikazu Suzuki Yomiuri Shimbun
Staff Writer

Authors and public library officials recently discussed the practice of libraries lending out large numbers of newly published books, including best-sellers, to find a way to coexist.

At a symposium organized by the Japan Pen Club in Tokyo last Saturday, both sides discussed the protection of copyrights and lending services of public libraries as they did last year.

On one hand, the number of books sold last year was estimated at 740 million copies, declining for the sixth year in a row.

On the other hand, the number of books lent by libraries in fiscal 2001 reached a record high of 520 million.

The prolonged economic slump lies behind the sluggish book sales, but authors organizations and publishing houses feel public libraries are becoming a problem, too.

They also blame second-hand book stores that are selling relatively new used books, as well as coffee shops with libraries of comic books, which are increasing rapidly.

In last autumn's symposium titled "Debate Between Authors and Libraries," authors said that lending a large number of new books would lead to a violation of their copyrights.

But public libraries refuted this claim, saying that lending out new books would increase the number of readers and the public service did not undermine book sales.

Authors proposed introducing a system requiring libraries to compensate authors financially according to the number of books they lend.

Countries in Europe recognize the right of libraries to lend out books to the public. Britain, for example, has a public lending law.

Authors requested that libraries not lend out new books for three to six months after publication.

Library officials were opposed to the proposal, saying that, with their budgets cut, they could not afford to pay compensation.

They also said a delay in lending books would deprive libraries of the opportunity to offer readers the latest information.

At this year's symposium, Kazuo Nishino, director of the Kawasaki Municipal Nakahara Library, voiced opposition to introducing a delay in lending books on the grounds that libraries guarantee the right of the public to read. He was sympathetic to the authors, though, saying if libraries thrived and book stores went bankrupt, it would be due to a failure in library administration.

Library directors have the power to restrict the number of new books the library lends, he also said.

Last month, the Japan Book Publishing Association and the Japan Library Association released the findings of their first joint survey on library book stocks and library lending practices.

The joint survey is regarded as the first step the two sides have taken toward resolving the problem.

In the past, they did not see eye-to-eye on whether libraries had too many copies of books for lending.

According to the findings, in major cities, each library had an average of 4.2 copies of each of the 11 literary best-sellers. Meanwhile, in towns and villages, each library had about one copy of each best-seller.

The more than 2,700 public libraries are faced with severe financial difficulties. With municipalities in dire financial straits, book-buying funds have decreased, falling below the 30 billion yen mark for the year.

Masahiro Mita, a managing director of the Japan Writers' Association, said that companies publishing a small number of copies would go bankrupt if libraries did not purchase a wide variety of books.

"Let's start a campaign to increase budgets for libraries," he said.

As the chairman concluded that the time of confrontation between authors and public libraries was over, authors and libraries showed signs of reconciliation.

The discussion was productive as both sides tried to increase the reading population and invigorate the publishing culture.

Although this year's symposium was titled "Authors, Readers and Libraries," few people spoke from the viewpoint of readers. How to handle best-sellers, which are in high demand by library users, and the establishment of a respite for lending should be discussed in respect to local situations, including the number of book stores in an area.

Understanding the needs of readers also will be indispensable in discussing this issue.

Copyright 2003 The Yomiuri Shimbun
Daily Yomiuri On-Line

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