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I want to credit the cybersphere with having some real, heartfelt, and intelligent discussions about the future of eBooks — both for consumers and for libraries.  Discussions have happened in every medium with thousands upon thousands of people participating.

But who isn’t participating?  The American Library Association.

To date, a week after the HarperCollins debacle hit the press, there is still no formal statement from the American Library Association President, Roberta Stevens.  (Update: Roberta Stevens issued a statement on her personal Facebook page an hour or so after I posted this – for more on that method and the statement itself, read on). To add insult to injury, ALA’s digital magazine (American Libraries Direct) was released yesterday without this story at the top.  You have to scroll way down to the publishing section before you read word one about a story that hit the mainstream media.

Psssst, ALA! Your members are making news.  Your members are the ones who are upset, on behalf of their profession and their communities.  Your members are the ones who are making news by protesting a publisher’s short-sighted and antiquated decision that is not only anti-library but anti-consumer.  Perhaps you can listen to your membership, and cover what’s going on in a more intentional way.  Perhaps you can issue a formal statement to the press about what libraries believe in, and how publishers’ choices on how to sell or not sell digital formats to libraries is subverting a core value we hold dear.

The silence is deafening.  We’re waiting.

I originally posted the following as a comment to this post in response to others, but am moving it here for ease of following my thoughts:

I’m not asking ALA to officially endorse a boycott.  I am asking ALA to speak up on behalf of all libraries about this issue, and to do so immediately.  Roberta Stevens’s post on Facebook is something – but let’s see something official on ALA’s website too, not just on Facebook.  The decision about the forum through which the message is communicated, to me, seems like a cop out of responsibility for the message itself.  A wink and nod that ALA isn’t endorsing this statement.

In the vacuum they’ve left, other voices are rising — and none with the authority or community trust that ALA possesses.  Other voices are absolutely a good thing, but lacking a centralized voice speaking with authority we’re now left with disparate chaotic communications and no official leadership being taken.  Other voices are absolutely stronger than ALA’s right now, those of individuals and groups.  ALA’s voice should be a prominent one (if not the dominant one) in these discussions.  We, long time dues paying members, are looking for leadership and support.  We are looking for ALA to become visible on this issue, and now.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to wait patiently and quietly in my corner until June when somebody comes out with some official statement or report.

Speak out and speak out now, ALA.  Reassert libraries’ rights to lend materials.  Reassert libraries’ responsibilities to the public good.  And reassert libraries’ roles in our communities as cultural and thought leaders.  That doesn’t require anyone to say anything specific about HarperCollins or any other publishers, or endorse any specific action.  Give voice to our professional ethics and responsibilities regarding the content we provide, regardless of format.  Please, say something to the world–or the rest of us will keep talking loudly, angrily, and unofficially.  And those are the voices the press will pick up instead.  My guess is that is not what ALA wants.

“More on eBooks and Libraries”

  1. Jeff Scott Says:

    It seems that ALA cannot officially endorse a boycott. All that has come from ALA Council has been this update on PUBLIB http://lists.webjunction.org/wjlists/publib/2011-February/137849.html

    I don’t think they could come down on either side of this legally (or at least that would be their interpretation of it).

  2. Barbara Says:

    ALA is a heirachy, not nimble. Just today they posted. Here is ALA http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150118775313293&id=1344487837. No one asked them to boycott, just to respond.

  3. Barbara Says:

    Roberta’s statement doesn’t really make much of a statement, after all.

  4. Julie C. Says:

    Sarah,
    Do you have recommendations on eBook vendors that libraries should be going through? I’m a novice collection developer yet find myself the only librarian at a community college. Help! Right now our consortium uses NetLibrary.

  5. Wilson P. Dizard III Says:

    The last time a large organization provoked the nation’s librarians, the final score was: librarians KO feds in the first round.

    That was the bout in which the federal government, an entity with more than a million uniformed and armed combatants at its beck and call, plus nuclear weapons, tried to force the librarians to discard their privacy ethos.

    Comes now the American Library Assn. with a bid to provoke the nation ‘s librarians. No contest.

  6. Dan Nieman Says:

    Sarah, you said a mouthful.

  7. billsiarny Says:

    Why should ALA’s lack of speed and forthcoming surprise you? They have been slow on the uptake since the 1970′s, so why should things change?

  8. Ventristwo Says:

    26 views is way more than enough. How many books in public libraries you know of circulate even close to 26 times?

    We’re talking about a business here, where all costs are taken into account, even the hidden costs of storing unread books on book stack and public shelving year after year, easily ignored but still a small, steady leak in the budget.

    All well and good to wave the scarlet banner of intellectual freedom but when you partner up with profit-making businesses this is what you get. Have commerce with the Devil and soon the Devil will be calling the tune and making sure you dance to it.

    When you start doing things with electrons it costs money and continues to cost money, which is one advantage of paper books.

  9. Sarah Houghton-Jan (Librarian in Black) Says:

    @Ventristwo – Many, many of public libraries’ print books circulate more than 26 times in one year, much less for the life of the item. And many of them don’t wear out because we pay attention to binding and mending our print books so they last. For the popular fiction and non-fiction titles, which is almost exclusively what we buy in digital format, the print titles in the first year circulate way more than 26 times. Randomly (honestly, I swear) grabbing 20 titles about a year old in our own public library, I found that 18 of them had circulated more than 26 times in that year. 7 of them had circulated over 50 times in one year. 3 were over 80 times. So…26 times, for me, is a total joke of a number. Books do not wear out after 26 uses. That is an arbitrary number created by a flailing company trying to prop up a failing digital content business model.

    Also, the cost of producing and maintaining an eBook is infinitesimal compared to a print title. For print books, you have to consider printing, shipping, processing, labeling, storing in a building requiring rent/heat/etc., shelving, checking out, re-shelving, re-checking out, re-shelving, re-checking out, etc. For eBooks, you’ve got digital storage costs, the costs of the circulation platform software, and that’s it. Over 10 years (or simply a few months and 26 check-outs if HarperCollins gets its way) the costs are not comparable at all. Print costs a thousand times more to create and circulate.

  10. elvenrunelord Says:

    Sarah, I have to take issue with one thing you said in an above comment:

    “That is an arbitrary number created by a flailing company trying to prop up a failing digital content business model.”

    The way that sentence sounds to me, you are saying that the entire concept of ebooks as a content business is a failing model.

    Maybe I took what you wrote the wrong way, but to clarify my opinion, I believe that ebooks will eventually be the only way consumers will be willing to purchase books. Once they understand how much cleaner their air will be along with the secondary impact of cost reduction in wood based products, I believe that consumers will move to ebooks in mass.

    While not a failing model, I do see small groups of very powerful and rich people loosing their power and authority in this wholly democratized method of book publishing that is occurring.

    Just a decade ago, the majority of the writers who have published good books on Smashwords and other independent content sites would have never had a change of being read, or making any income off of their content.

    The doorkeepers of the publishing industry are feeling threated and by locking their content behind closed doors they are only hastening what is happening naturally from the bottom up…..people are abandoning traditional publishers at an alarming rate while reading more content from providers that offer the content for free or for a much smaller fee than any traditional paper publishing company can.

    Its a wild ride and in the end, it matters little what the AMA says. Much like government telling unions they can’t collectively bargain. They act as though they have the right to tell us who to do business with and through and they most certainly do not. General strike can prove that point quickly and overwhelmingly.

    That is why I chose to boycott HarperCollins. I’ll never buy one of their books again, even if the y change their policy. Corporations have to learn there are consequences for their actions and the nonrecoverable loss of customers is the result that occurred when they implemented this policy. I also will never borrow one of their books from a library as well. As far I am concerned HarperCollins is non persona grata in my book.

  11. Sarah Houghton-Jan (Librarian in Black) Says:

    @billsiamy – ALA’s organizational weakness does not surprise me. But it does disappoint me greatly as a member.

    @elvenrunelord – I am not saying eBooks are a failing model. I am saying that the way publishers choose to license (not sell), lock-down, and limit eBooks is a failing model. It’s not sustainable in the long term. I agree that eBooks (and all forms of digital content) are the future. Whether the model is licensing or purchasing, and what limitations are and are not in place, is what I now challenge. eBooks can be a success without DRM. Music and movies can also. I am personally boycotting HarperCollins too, and I congratulate you on your decision to stand by your ethics.

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  13. elvenrunelord Says:

    Thank you for clarifying that point.

    At this point I am close to recommending to people to simply break the DRM and actually own the book they purchased as I am not completely sure what the publishing companies are doing is totally legal.

    I know they think it is, but at least here in America, there has been some precedent law indicating that a person is entitled to make copies of their files in order to safeguard them from harm.

    In the case of ebooks the breaking of DRM would safeguard them from becoming outdated by allowing to you change the format as needed over time.

    Sorta shady gray area law there, but when citizens can’t get any other relief then we have to make a stand and create our own relief.

    And it really does not matter if companies pull back from the ebook. So many pirates now have cheap automated ebook copiers and scanners that virtually any book will be in ebook format on the net rather quickly. Companies can either work with the consumer or the consumer will work with those who work with them. Even if they are pirates. Myself I have no need to pirate ebooks as I already have enough free ebooks to last me for years and I keep adding dozens to my collection every month.

    I do see the writing on the wall and there are literally millions of people who grew up in the digital age that will not think twice about pirating an ebook much like they have music and video.

    Thanks for the ethics comment but I’m letting you know my ethics are sorta the revolutionary kind of ethics. We the people need a remedy and if publishers do not work with us, we will create that remedy ourselves.

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