eBooks and the 21st Century Library: How Libraries have (almost) sold their soul


In my 2+ decades in this profession I have often worried about the struggles facing our profession and Public Libraries in general.  If I allow my imagination to run amok I ponder the eventual demise of the free public library at the hands of politicians slashing budgets or an apathetic citizenry… What I never imagined was the notion that one day- sitting at my desk- inquisitively researching a library topic that I would discover that we had sold our soul.  In hindsight, maybe I should have seen it coming….

 

It started innocently enough- I was sent the following article that intrigued me and set me off researching:

http://gigaom.com/2014/06/27/the-right-to-resell-ebooks-major-case-looms-in-the-netherlands/

Like many librarians and administrators eBooks are definitely on my radar.  As a reader and consumer they are at the foremost of the online products I buy!  I knew there were controversy’s but honestly- I was taking the “sit back and let them fight it out” approach.  And let’s be frank…I’m busy and have to pick my issues.  I didn’t realize this should be the top of my list.

If your are curious- below are the links I followed in my research:

http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/the-used-e-books-controversy/

http://ownersrightsinitiative.org

http://gigaom.com/2012/12/15/the-right-to-resell-a-ticking-time-bomb-over-digital-goods/

http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/bea-panel-suggests-publishers-still-clueless-about-library-e-books-and-piracy/

http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2012/06/22/libraries-patrons-and-e-books/

http://tempest.fluidartist.com/ebook-library-lending/

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bea/article/57603-bea-2013-is-e-book-lending-good-for-authors.html

 

To summarize so that you don’t have to read them all if you haven’t (this blog is a long one- pace yourself!)- in broad strokes and boiled down to its simplest (and yes- simple and broad means I won’t hit everything):

The primary hot issues appeared to be- permanence, access, ownership, and availability.  A BIG issue in the string I was following seemed to boil down to “licensed” vs “owned”.  Who owns it? What can you do with it?

Advocates of resale:

You bought it. It’s yours- do what you want with it-resell it, loan it to a friend, etc.

Opponents of resale:

You licensed it.  It’s yours to read and keep- but nothing more. For if we open the door to resale then piracy will run rampant- technology cannot stem the tide, publishing will meet its demise as the world spins out of control!

(Side note: Props to Marilynn Byerly because they are due to anyone who can work the coming Zombie Apocalypse into an article on eBooks. And yes I said ‘coming’…you’ve all been warned…no excuses!! )

So based on my read of the issues at hand- I begin to formulate the following opinion:

As someone who has made their life’s work about the free access to information and thus, inherently, the loaning of materials to many people… GET IT STRAIGHT SELLERS/PUBLISHERS.  You are either selling the book or loaning it.

  • If you  sell someone something it becomes theirs to do with as they will.
  • If you loan it, then you can set parameters for use.

Publishers can’t have their cake and eat it too.  If making it clear to buyers that you are loaning the eBook rather than selling it cuts into sales then that is simply the way it is.  If and informed buyer  chooses not to plunk down their money because of that information- tough nuggies.  But when sellers use terms like “buy”, “bought, “digital edition” in the purchase process they should not wonder why BUYERS believe they have BOUGHT the book.

Sell ebooks or loan them or both…decide!!

And when these issues continue to be on the table- is it any wonder that librarians continue to worry about the ownership and right to items in their collection that are in a digital format? We are all experiencing the effect of those slimmed down reference collections that seemed like such a great idea- right up until our access to those pricey online databases started to dwindle.

Those were my thoughts on the topic…and in fact, I thought I was finished and about to put “The End” on my blog…but then I noticed that all the info I was surfing seemed a tad old.  So I went looking for new news!  And what I found was so chilling it made Byerly’s Zombie Apocalypse pale in comparison.

Now perhaps it was due to the massive avalanche of information all at one time, like watching all the Game of Throne for the first time one season after another over a weekend marathon when you finally get “On Demand”.  But the articles I started with in 2012 and 13 seemed concerned, questioning, strong…  Librarians actively working to carve out a Library ‘clause’ in the business of eBooks.   Librarians outlining our expectations in this world of eBooks for access, retention, collection, buy-power, and managing our collections vs being TOLD how we would manage our collections. Yeah! Go us!!!

And then somewhere along the way it was as if we ‘drank the Kool-Aid’.

When I went looking for ‘new news’ I found VERY new… Something I had yet to stumble upon or hear about from any of my regular sources in Libraryland.

April 24, 2014

“Brooklyn Public Library Strikes deal with Simon & Schuster” :

Due to financial ‘woes’ the Library has struck a deal with Simon&Schuster to participate in a ‘pilot’ program that will bring the publishers entire collection of eBooks to the Library’s Patrons! Eventually rolling out to the NYC and Queens Borough Systems.

This seems great! So why is my blood running cold?  Ahh…the rub…

Only ONE of each title will be available. When it is checked out, patrons will be asked if they would like to BUY (or is it license?) the book instead.  And in return, the library will get 2% of the profits!!

This reminds me of some other model where the first taste is always free and everyone in the selling chain gets a bit of the profit…hmmm… can’t place it…

 

Head swimming- I sat back in my chair stunned.  How have I not heard about this?? How is the Library community not standing on tables somewhere screaming??!!  How did we sell our negotiating position in the world of eBooks without any of us feeling a disturbance like a “million voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced?”

Better yet- how did we sell our foundation of free and open access like a 30sec time slot during the Super Bowl??

http://www.teleread.com/library/brooklyn-public-library-strikes-deal-with-simon-schuster/

WHERE IS ALA???

And then I find them- providing an encouraging smile while we tentatively hold our solo cup of KoolAid

June 26, 2014

ALA Pres Barbara Stripling announces on the first day of annual conference that the program will go national!

“Today represents an important milestone for improving the ability of libraries to serve the public in the digital age. America’s libraries are the quintessential institution in connecting authors and readers. We have always known that library lending encourages patrons to experiment by sampling new authors, topics and genres. This experimentation stimulates the market for books—with the library serving as a critical de facto discovery, promotion and awareness service for authors and publishers.”

REALLY?? Because I thought America’s libraries existed to provide equal open access to enable an informed citizenry that can self-govern???  Now I find out we are a marketing service for authors and publishers?  Well, to be fair, Ms. Stripling couldn’t have been more blunt! I at least appreciate her honesty about the sell out.

She goes on in her statement to say that these conversations began in 2012 and the players had very different perspectives on the lending of eBooks. But that much has changed and ALA is pleased they have moved the effort from a pilot to a ‘mainstream business’ for the company.  Again, thank you for your honesty Ms. Stripling.

http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2014/06/ala-applauds-simon-schuster-nationwide-expansion-library-ebook-lending

But wait! As with any good Zombie Apocalypse tale there has to be some hope! The band of hold outs rushing up in their Mad Max vehicles and big weapons just as the zombies close in on the bedraggled band of non-zombies (yes, dear reader I watch to many movies…but back to the point).  This tale can still have that too!!

June 28, 2014

http://goodereader.com/blog/electronic-readers/simon-and-schuster-mandates-libraries-act-as-retail

“…libraries have public trust because they are funded by community dollars. People have disclosed that they feel that libraries are leveraging their public trust in order to become a bookseller.”

Over a century of public trust risked for 2%….really? Is that what it is worth to some?

Now Read that last bit:

“The buzz around ALA was uniformly nasty.  Librarians do not want to play the role of showroom or bookstore.  Others claim this is a slippery slope with the potential to lose the public trust.”

Librarians:  If you have thought to yourself, as I did, “This can’t be happening!!” You are not alone! “Uniformly Nasty!!” GO US!!! Throw out that KoolAid.  Stand up and be counted.  So many times we think, as I did, “I’ll let the ‘big players’ sort this out” or “I can’t really do anything about this issue. ALA and the big systems have gotten the ball rolling”.  NO! Enough! THIS  is too much!!

The selectors, the management teams, the administrators, the librarians in every library small or large have the ultimate power to stop this.  Stand on our ethics.  We are not bookstores.  We are not a marketing service for the publishers. And HOW DARE anyone- including and especially ALA-  try to tell us otherwise!!  We are the FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY in everytown.  We are entrusted by the public to create the one space they know will never be a pawn of the marketplace or swayed by commerce or make any decision based on profitability.

The zombies are banging on the locked door.  Grab your pen and when the invoice or email or option to sign up comes…strike it down!

 

6 Comments

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6 responses to “eBooks and the 21st Century Library: How Libraries have (almost) sold their soul

  1. The sign of a great nation is the access to free materials for sustaining a great nation. Profiteers have never seen that vision. The idea for libraries in the beginning was to educate it’s society and expand the nations thinking. Publishers are profiteers and will in the end stop the printing presses, close the printing facilities, eliminate the jobs in those facilities, and go digital with everything. The courage is each library pulling the plug and the internet on them. If a library is our nations fortress than there is a Trojan Horse that has entered it’s walls.

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  3. Anonymous

    We can ALWAYS tell when something underhanded is going on, because it never gets introduced with fanfare. It gets slipped under the door like something created in a sleazy backroom of politicians. Once the publisher profiteers get their foot in the library door, how long before they start calling the shots about library policy? “Well, if you want to retain access to this material, you’ll have to change your policy on…………”

    • Kimberly Matthews

      You are absolutely correct! Once we open the door and become dependent on the money, we will start to lose ourselves more and more at each demand and request. It may take years but it will happen. Like a puppy growing, you barely notice until one day you realize your puppy is a dog.
      The slippery slope!

  4. David Keyt

    I have not dipped my toe into the digital book or digital music world, for a number of reasons, but one of them is the very fact of ownership. If I buy it, it’s mine. Just like a real book or music CD.
    But, this issue you have raised is a scary one…. I hope that America can fix this issue and that the Public Libraries there can stay as they have always been.
    America is often seen as the Leader of the Free World, which is surely only because of the size of the population plus the military might….because I don’t remember an election…. But, if America’s Public Libraries lose this fight, then other countries will have no choice but to follow suit….. Australia, England, Europe, etc….. if any of them try to stand alone, their patrons will go to the Black Market…

    Stand Firm America’s Public Libraries! Remember who you service and who comes in through your doors every morning! Certainly not the eBook Publishers….

  5. Pingback: eBooks and the 21st Century Library: How Librar...

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