Estonian Public Libraries

557 public libraries, ca150 inplaces where library does not have to be. According to the Public Library Act public library has to be in places where lives at least 500 inhabitants. In such places library usually is the only public institution and local authorities keep them because lot of public services can get in the library. Free Internet for public use is very much needed in smaller places.  

Last three years has been very difficult economic situation in Estonia, but it has been very interesting time too. For libraries there were many challenges, for examples how to organize the everyday work of libraries in view of significant budget cuts both – from the state and local government side. But only 2 part-time working libraries were closed this time. From 2009 library use is growing again. We are especially glad to witness that children and young people have come to visit libraries more in last couple of years. 2010 we celebrated the year of reading and lot of library events helped to get library more needed and attractive.  We even built some new libraries during these hard years. The most beautiful is of course the Tallinn  University of Technology Library. And several new buildings for public libraries in a bigger villages.

The most actual issue on the library field is the e- book and e-library subject.

There are rapid activities on e-books market in Estonia. Two major companies developing new technologies and business models for e-books. E-book aggregators are ready to provide e-books lending for libraries.  At the end of the year there will be e-books loan system in place for Tallinn Central Library. So far as private sector is preparing e-book lending model for libraries, public sector is not planning any infrastructure for e-book system. Main political issues for e-book is VAT and out of print works.  VAT for the regular books is 9%, but for the e-books it is 20%. There are some ideas to provide free e-books for certain readers like schoolchildren and kids. Ministry of Culture supports e-books for small children. There is also some discussion about e-books remuneration as a part public lending right system in Estonia. 

As I said, our biggest public library- Tallinn Central Library is going to lend e-books at the end of this year. This Library and a public center company Estonian Digital Books’ Centre (Eesti Digiraamatute Keskus) are making an e-book lending and reading environment software for e-books in Estonian.

[The e-book lending and reading environment is going to operate on the same principles as a physical library today. The library purchases a certain number of copies of an e-book, and the number of copies equals the number of users that can read the e-book at the same time.  It means that one copy can be read only by one reader at a time.

The registered library user can lend an e-book for a specified period of time for free. After a due date the user automatically looses an access to the e-book, if he or she hasn’t returned it already. E-books are going to be in ePub format and can be read from PC.]

It is not very clear today how the libraries are going to purchase e-books, because there are two different copyrights: one is for regular books and one for e-books. For instance, if the library borrows to a library user an e-book with an e-book reader, the author gets paid for the loan from the Estonian Author’s Benefit Fund (Autorihüvitisfond). But it doesn’t apply for e-books which are borrowed via internet.

The libraries want of course that the copyright would broaden to those e-books as well which are going to be borrowed via internet and can be read only one library user at a time. But it’s probably more likely to go this way that the libraries have to purchase e-books with higher prices than individuals – that the author’s fee is included to the price. 

A few words on publishing Estonian e-books. Until now, publishing books digitally has not been popular among publishers and therefore the collection consists of only a few works in pdf format, but we are hoping for a breakthrough by the end of the year as the Estonian Digital Books’ centre will complete digitising 1000 e-books in Estonian. The latter is not a web-based shop for purchasing books online but more of a page to connect authors, publishers and book retail dealers with each other.

Meeli Veskus
Adviser on libraries
Estonian Ministry of Culture

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