Skip Navigation
Back to Navigation

Equitable Public Access to E-Content

On this page you can find more information about why libraries need a more equitable purchasing model for e-content and how to lend your support.

Digital resources are continuing to outpace physical items in circulation at public libraries. Yet, how libraries purchase e-content like e-books and e-audiobooks for their collections doesn’t follow the same pricing model as print materials. This has led to increased costs for libraries and even lending restrictions for patrons.

As digital technologies become increasingly inseparable from the ways that people learn, work and interact, public libraries’ abilities to afford access to e-books, audiobooks and other e-content like streaming movies are more important than ever.

Fair and equitable access and pricing for e-content in libraries are crucial for communities across North America.

— Urban Libraries Council

What’s At Stake

While some publishers have models and pricing structures that are sustainable for libraries, major publishers have placed severe restrictions on e-book and e-audiobook lending models. This includes unreasonably high prices that far exceed the print equivalent, time limits on titles purchased, and purchased content that is removed from the lending library.

At the same time, there is a significant, rising demand for e-books and e-audiobooks, with a 34 percent increase in digital book borrowing since 2019. Without changes to how libraries build their e-content collections, taxpayer funded library budgets cannot adequately meet the growing demand and provide equitable access for all.

In 2019, ULC and Canadian Urban Libraries Council worked together on several efforts to highlight issues around decisions of major e-book and e-audiobook publishers. Publishers imposed increased restrictions on digital lending models for libraries, including embargoes on new content and ceasing perpetual licensing.

The corresponding resource webpage, Fair E-Book and E-Audiobook Lending for Libraries, offers an evergreen overview of the challenges facing public libraries and how ULC, CULC and member libraries responded at the time.

Statement of Support

In 2019, ULC and CULC organized nearly 120 city and county elected officials in the U.S. and Canada to sign a letter of support in recognizing the vital role that libraries play in building digital-ready communities. Signatories added their voices to the call for e-book and e-audiobook publishers to institute transparent and balanced lending models for libraries.

As the role fulfilled by the public library in our communities becoming even more prevalent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ULC is publishing an expanded statement of support on improving equitable public access to e-content. The statement asks major e-book and audiobook publishers and streaming services to institute fair, transparent and flexible licensing models for public libraries.

Download the Statement
Statement Equitable Access Econtent

If you are interested in being a signatory or would like to ask community leaders to sign, please download and share this version (Word document) of the statement that includes a signature line. Signed statements can be emailed to ULC Director of Communications Liz Bartolomeo at

E-Content Action Team

The ULC E-Content Action Team is a group of public library leaders and experts who have come together to create a solutions-based approach to critical e-content issues and advance sustainable library access to digital content. If you are interested in joining this action team, please contact Angela Goodrich, Chief Operating Officer,

Participating Libraries

Alberta, Canada

British Columbia, Canada

News & Updates