True or false? Beliefs concerning the e-library and the e-library project

The entire project group preparing a joint e-library for all Finnish municipalities has been hard at work since January 2022. Progress has been made in all sectors. The project group has met with library staff from all over Finland at various remote events, technical issues have been resolved on schedule and meetings with publishers, authors and other copyright holders are underway.     

A lot of work certainly remains to be done to ensure that all Finns will have an equal and easy access to e-material in the future. The goal is to have a joint e-library available to customers from all Finnish municipalities at the beginning of 2024.    

Certain beliefs and even misconceptions related to the e-library and the e-library project have come up in discussions between various parties as well as in news and opinion pieces published in the media, and with this news item, the e-library project wants to clear up these misunderstandings. We have listed here some of these beliefs and our responses to them.  

Photo: Ella Tommila


1. No compensation will be paid to authors for e-library loans  

There has been a lot of discussion around the compensation paid to authors for e-material, particularly at the beginning of 2022. The e-library project also participated in the discussion through an opinion piece published in Helsingin Sanomat on 12 March (in Finnish). The current library loan compensation that authors receive for printed books under the Copyright Act is based on the number of loans and financed from the state budget, whereas the earnings logic of e-books is based on the publishing contracts between authors and publishers. Libraries have no role in these publishing contracts. Among other operators, the Finnish literary copyright society Sanasto is engaged in advocacy work directed at decision-makers to ensure that in the future, library loan compensation will be paid for e-material in the same way as currently for printed books. The e-library project believes that authors and translators are entitled to receive fair compensation for their work, regardless of the form in which it is published.     

2. The e-library project is responsible for the library loan compensation matter and can promote it  

Library loan compensation is copyright compensation paid to authors for the library loans of their works. Libraries do not pay loan compensation, they do not decide on compensation amounts, and they are not responsible for loan compensation in any other way either. Libraries purchase material for borrowing and the state pays the library loan compensation. Therefore , the e-library project is also not responsible for the library loan compensation matter. An act related to copyrights is currently being prepared at the Ministry of Education and Culture based on a draft proposal by the Finnish Government. The e-library project feels that the library loan compensation matter related to e-books needs to be resolved as soon as possible. This is also in the interest of the joint Finnish e-library.    

3. The e-library project is promoted by the Ministry of Education and Culture  

The e-library project is led by the Helsinki City Library. The Ministry of Education and Culture has granted a special allowance for the project. The e-library project is therefore not a state-driven project.    

4. A nation-wide/national e-library will be created in the e-library project  

In connection with this project, the term ‘nation-wide’ is misleading, as it easily turns thoughts to state involvement and state funding. The e-library project is creating a joint e-library for all Finnish municipalities, i.e., after the project phase, the e-library operations will be funded by the Finnish municipalities. For the same reason, the term ‘national’ is also incorrect in the e-library context and should not be used. Furthermore, the National Library of Finland is responsible for producing national library services. The e-library, however, will be a joint venture of the Finnish municipalities.    

5. The Ministry of Education and Culture has granted EUR 3 million in funding for the e-library project  

The Ministry of Education and Culture has granted the e-library project one million euros of funding to be used between 1 September 2021 and 31 December 2022. In addition, approximately EUR 300,000 was granted to the digital media project, or the study phase preceding the e-library project. So, up until now, the project has received approximately EUR 1.3 million in funding.     

6. The e-library will give customers instant access to all material  

The e-library will work with the same logic as a normal library, in other words, customers may have to queue for the most popular items in the same way as with printed books. However, if an e-book or audiobook required by the customer is readily available, it can of course be accessed immediately. The e-library is looking to invest in a varied and extensive collection (including special and minor publications, local publications and also older material) so that customers will also have access to works that are not available in bookstores.  The number of e-books purchased to the e-library will always be limited.     

7. The e-library will destroy the commercial market for books  

This is certainly not the goal of the e-library. Public libraries and content producers (publishers and copyright holders) need each other. Without a healthy publishing industry, public libraries will not survive. Libraries also significantly support the operations of content producers, both by purchasing their material and through our own marketing efforts for the consumption of content. The e-library project wants to cooperate closely with the book and publishing industry to ensure that all possible stumbling blocks can be eliminated.    

8. The e-library will launch its operations in pilot form possibly already this year, and full operations will be launched in 2023  

Our schedule is not quite as optimistic as this, but we aim to have the joint e-library available to customers at the beginning of 2024. Naturally, we will be conducting various usability tests before this, and the joint e-library will be opened for test use. During the test use, libraries will continue to provide their current e-library services.   

9. Libraries will no longer have a say in e-collections and content   

In the current model, libraries have very little say and only a limited ability to influence their data or material selections. In the future, libraries will have more say in the matter. By establishing more direct relationships between the entire book industry, we aim to increase the libraries’ ability to influence the material and data acquired.    

10. The e-library will cost Finnish municipalities a lot of money  

Our aim is not to have the joint e-library increase the costs of municipalities.  Finnish municipalities will be responsible for funding the e-library and a separate organisation will be created for running its operations. This organisation will handle all tendering and contractual matters in a centralised manner. Libraries’ material budget is unlikely to increase, but digital material’s share in the procurement costs will rise.    

11. Librarians who currently select e-collections will have to give up a part of their work that they enjoy  

Selection work will still be carried out, but instead of a library-specific collection, the selection will be made for the joint e-material collection.    

12. Swedish-language material will no longer be available in the future  

Our aim is to have at least the same amount of Swedish-language material available in the joint e-library as in the current systems.     

13. The establishment of the joint e-library means that the local library network will be gradually run down.  

This is not true at all. Even though we are establishing a joint e-library, physical libraries will still be maintained. The Public Libraries Act alone states that every municipality must have a library. This library must have a floor, walls and a roof, and it may not be just an online service. Libraries are much more than just the material borrowed from them. They are important gathering places as well as meeting and event facilities. The e-library will be a part of municipal library services.    

14. The e-library wants to receive/will receive material from publishers free of charge   

The libraries will pay for all the material they acquire for borrowing, so this is not true. In 2021, Finnish libraries spent in total EUR 2.5 million on the procurement of e-material. The demand for e-material is likely to continue to grow.  

15. Only best-sellers or outdated books will be purchased for the e-library  

Our goal is to obtain as extensive and varied a collection as possible for the joint e-library, so it will not just be bestsellers or older books either. The libraries will be jointly responsible for the material selection. The e-library will help extend the life cycle of books, which means that older works will continue to attract new readers.     

16. The e-library project is set on creating such an expensive and sophisticated technical system that in the end, there may not be any money left for content  

Our goal is not to create an expensive and sophisticated technical system, on the contrary: we want to create as cost-effective a system as is possible. We do not want the content to suffer as a result of technical costs.    

17. All libraries are involved in the e-library project  

The e-library project is a joint venture of public libraries. In other words, university libraries or any other types of libraries besides public libraries will not be involved in the joint e-library for Finnish municipalities.