Category Archives: eBooks

Public Libraries must take a Stand with the Big 5 on eBooks


Library Journal “ALA, Publishers Talk Ebook Lending Terms for Libraries

I saw the headline and thought “Excellent! I hope this means ALA has made real progress toward open access to ALL content regardless of format!” and then I read the article.

“ALA highlighted the valuable role of libraries in the publishing and reading ecosystems and thus why more flexible and favorable terms for library eBook lending are in everyone’s best interest.”

Publishing ecosystems? Huh? Where’s the mention of providing equal access to information regardless of format?

“This visit represents ALA’s ninth such delegation effort over the last several years.”

Ninth delegation!? Seriously? And yet here most of us sit with abysmal title selections and outrageously priced contracts. I don’t think the strategy is working…whatever it is.

“Libraries have a prominent role in the discovery of books and authors, whether in the physical or virtual worlds.”

True. We all love our reader’s advisory and putting those new books in people’s hands.

“Indeed, the opening of a brick-and-mortar store by Amazon is a major acknowledgment that physical place is important, even for an online-based service. “

True…Library as 3rd space. We have been saying this for a decade. Wait…is the delegation saying these publisher’s should think of the libraries as their “brick-and-mortar” presence for their eBook trade? Hmm..starting to feel a little uncomfortable… where is this headed?

“In our meetings, we came away with a few possibilities for strengthened collaboration with publishers to promote discoverability as well as reading and literacy.”

OK- even less comfortable. Let’s break down this sentence. So in addition to promoting reading and literacy which we all do and love…the delegation is suggesting we promote discoverability…of the publisher’s eBooks. Why is it that this sounds a bit more like promoting for revenue than simple reader’s advisory?

“One idea that received some traction is tying discoverability with a particular subject matter, such as health or workforce issues. Library services or programming in an area would be developed and highlighted on a national scale, and publishers’ titles on these subjects would be featured. Publishers would offer print or eBooks through a favorable promotion to stimulate participation by libraries and, in turn, by the public.”

I’m sorry…what? Let’s read that part again “publishers’ titles on these subjects would be featured”. And…“Publishers would offer print or eBooks through a favorable promotion to stimulate participation by libraries and, in turn, by the public.” Now I’m officially uncomfortable and we have turned into shady ethical territory. Consider this: It is one thing when we host a children’s program with a magician and then put out a display of books on magic. It is ENTIRELY another when a book seller comes to the children’s librarian and says “If you will pay to put on a program with a magician- I will SELL you these books on magic at a discount and then you agree to ‘feature’ those books at the program”. How many of us would pull back from that offer instinctively?

But now we read an article with ALA is actually presenting this as a serious idea. ARE YOU KIDDING!?? Libraries are not peddlers of the publisher’s product! Libraries are not about free advertising for authors! Taxpayers do not give Libraries their hard-earned tax dollars to have us craft services and programming to promote a for-profit venture.

“Most fundamental, however, for these meetings is to further develop the library–publisher relationship at the executive and national levels. Publishers and libraries have similar overall goals—to promote and advance reading and literacy—and are allies in many respects.”

And why is it that each time I read about Library/Publisher talks or pilot programs I always see the same New York area libraries represented? Why are the New York area Libraries driving the national agenda and conversation on eBooks? Why are they some of the ONLY libraries to have ‘deals’ with the publishers? Proximity? Hogwash!! We all know how to get on an airplane. I have as much or more respect for NYPL and its neighbors as anyone (I’ll admit it may nearly bordering on a bit of hero worship); but I would like to see a broader spectrum of folks invited to the table for these negotiations.  Perhaps this is a banner that the new Librarian of Congress or ALA’s new Director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and Freedom to Read Foundation, Jamie LaRue. With his appointment, I have the first high hopes I’ve had for awhile when it comes to serious progress from ALA.

And lets not overlook the bit about similar goals.  Unless it’s a charitable tax write off or a form of promotion, do we really believe the Big 5 have any other goal at the end of the day other than to make money? What better way than to get one of the most trusted of public institutions to hawk their products?

Let’s stop kowtowing to the Big 5. Stop telling them how good we are for their product and begging for scraps. Please ALA, do not sell the soul of the Public Library – the public trust that Libraries are one of the only remaining ‘commercial-free zones’- for a better price on the latest best seller. We are not the pawn of the Publishers. We are not their salesmen. Instead stand up for EXACTLY the reason we Public Librarians are here! To ensure that all Americans, regardless of their means, have access to ALL content/information REGARDLESS of format.

THAT SHOULD BE OUR MESSAGE TO THE PUBLISHERS. We will NOT allow them to throw our ability to create open access to information back into the dark ages because the technology of this bright new century allows them to maintain a strangle hold on content. Access to information is a right of all. NOT just those who can pay. That is why the FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY was created. How DARE we let these publisher disregard this basic tenant of our democracy!

Perhaps in the 10th meeting Libraries will make a stand.

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