Even though the decision could possibly signal a lessening of fear among some publishers, DRM will remain an integral part of the library lending workflow for the foreseeable future. Whatever rethinking is going on among publishers, and that in itself could be a positive, it still remains that what a publisher decides to do with DRM on the retail side does not necessarily correlate to anything they will do with DRM on the library side.
A number of publishers, such as Osprey Publishing (parent of Angry Robot), F+W Media, and O’Reilly Media, make books available without DRM, but this does not translate to the library channel, which relies on DRM as the mechanism to control one of its quintessential functions – the loan—as well as to impose the one-book, one-user lending model.
It’s a good point that the way library ebook lending currently works actually requires DRM, despite the problems with DRM in the public marketplace. I would argue that DRM used in that context makes some sense in that it allows us to lend ebooks. But how long are we going to cling to the old metaphors that require us to treat ebooks as if they are physical books (i.e. one book, one user)? Is there a better way we could be doing this? The only comparison I can think of offhand is to PDFs of journal articles… should libraries and publishers be figuring out a way that libraries can allow patrons to download ebooks like they do PDFs? (What would the pricing for that look like?)