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At the beginning of October The Danish Research Library Association (DFFU) organized a conference for Nordic university librarians, Scholarly e-books in your native language – why, why not or when? The goal was to bring together publishers, aggregators and librarians to start a dialogue and learn from each other how to solve the problem of working with e-books, which is keenly felt on both sides. A special focus of this conference was on e-books in the native languages of the Nordic countries. The two-day conference featured invited papers that presented problems as well as some interesting and unexpected solutions.

The librarians from Copenhagen University Library (Kira Stine Hansen), Uppsala University Library (Karin Byström) and National Library of Finland (Iina Peltonen) were mainly concerned with the lack of communication with publishers, though it seemed that in Denmark and Finland the first ice is breaking. However, the main problem of the scarcity of e-textbooks in local languages is very far from being solved in any of the participating countries.

The representatives of major aggregators, ProQuest (Katinka Bratvold) and EBSCO (Jens Deutscher ), positioned themselves as servants to both, libraries and publishers, and demonstrated their services of getting e-books from publishers by simplifying their entry into e-book publishing and to the academic libraries by becoming one point in negotiations. However, it was clear that the proportion of the local language books that they deal with at the moment is negligible. The only exception was the Danish e-book supplier eReolen, but it reaches only public libraries (Mikkel Christoffersen), like Elib in Sweden.

Basically, academic librarians are facing the reality of the book market and the fears of publishers who emphasize the necessity of keeping the commercial models intact for the supply of university textbooks and scholarly monographs. The publishers suggest that perpetual access is impossible as it is a left-over from printed books. They require that access to an e-book should be limited to one user at a time as if it were a paper one. Both presentations by publishers (Danish Publishers Association (Christine Bødtcher-Hansen) and DJØF Forlag (Anette Wad)) reflected the perspectives of Danish commercial publishers, who seem to be much more flexible than those in Sweden. Nevertheless, the fear of losing the market were quite clear, especially when British presenter Vivien Ward introduced JISC’s experiment of self-published university textbooks. This project also greatly disturbed the representative of the Danish Authors‘ Association regarding writing and publishing commercial non-fiction.

Another presenter from the UK Frances Pinter introduced an innovative and very interesting model of publishing open access scholarly monographs that can bring together both libraries and scholarly publishers. Round two of the experiment and call for libraries for participation has been anounced recently. I think that it is a very good solution for small presses, especially at the universities, but whether it will appeal to the big publishing houses is not yet clear.

The Assistant Director General of the National Library of Norway, Roger Jøsevold, presented the ongoing work of the national digital library in Norway, showing one possible way to solve most of the problems through thoughtful cultural policy directed towards augmenting the public good and the impact of culture on society. Though it is difficult to imagine another government that could direct this amount of financing to a similar activity, it can be achieved through thoughtful and persistent longer-term planning. The author of this post, presented a research perspective on the publishing and library work related to e-books to some extent summarising the discussions of the conference.

The conference programme and some of the presentation slides can be found on the DFFU Website.

It is difficult to guess what will be the impact of this conference, but one can expect that the dialogue of all involved parties could be continued on a larger scale. The access to study and scholarly materials in native languages is already impoverished by thoughtless requirements for publishing scholarly articles only in international journals, which quite effectively stops the development of native scholarly languages in all disciplines. Losing study materials and moving to English may even more strengthen this trend and threaten not only the native languages, but also the plurality of scholarly and study perspectives.