Welcome to episode 5 of What Sarah Said, I’m Sarah Houghton. And today’s question comes from Amanda. She writes:
OK, I know this may be forcing you to speculate a bit, but honestly, where do you see the line being drawn for most libraries when it comes to this ridiculous drama over eBooks and publishers, concerning limited copies and accessibility in particular. We really aren’t good at standing up for ourselves but this is getting insane. I looked at our OverDrive account the other day and it was very common to see 100-200 holds on 10-20 eBook copies of a particular title. Unbelievable. And off of that, okay, it’s a two part question–is that acceptable? [of course it is] If we don’t draw a line, how badly are libraries going to suffer from being eBook/publisher roadkill? Are we really just going to let our customers and organizations become victims of greed and lack of forethought?
Wooooow! OK. You guys know, you get me started on eBooks and I can go on for an hour, but I will make this as brief as possible.
Where do I see the line being drawn over access to eCopies in terms of them being limited numbers of copies and accessibility. I agree with Amanda that we’re not very good at standing up for ourselves, but I do think that we’ve gotten a little better in recent months about standing up for accessibility of titles based on ADA standards, based on cross-device compatibility.
In terms of the limited copies, you know the one copy/one user model. I don’t know that that’s necessarily that that’s the wrong model. It’s one that harkens back to the print, but there are things we’re asking them to adhere to as well, so I don’t know. This is the wild west time for eBooks so I’m not going to rule out the one copy/one user model as not working yet. I think that remains to be seen.
However, what you mention about it being very common to see 10 holds on every single copy of something. Well, that’s a question of allocation. So, I know in our consortium we have automatic holds fulfillment at 5 holds per copy. And that means we’re spending a lot of money on holds fulfillment. But that also means that we’re buying lots of copies of things that people want a lot of. In our old consortium that we belonged to it was common to see titles with 1-2 year waiting lists for a popular title. And that’s not meeting user demand. It’s not meeting user needs for these titles.
So I think you have to ask: How much are you allocating to purchasing digital content vs. physical, and what’s the return on investment? And if your holds lists really are that long, that means there’s more demand than you’re able to meet with your current budget allocation. So it does warrant another look.
And your second part, in terms of how badly are libraries going to suffer from being eBook and publisher roadkill… I don’t think we are. I think that just as we saw with the PATRIOT Act, we’re just starting to see libraries and librarians stand up, do a little fist pump, get angry, get excited, say “This is what we think the future looks like, and we want you guys to be a part of it with us–publishers, and authors, and vendors. Let’s come together and find a solution that works for everyone.”
And so I don’t think we’re going to be roadkill. I think if we continue to accept products that are locked down from companies that are not transparent or outright lie to us. Or we continue to accept content that doesn’t work across platforms, that has tons of digital rights management laden inside of it, I think that’s where we veer off into roadkill territory.
So as long as we continue to stand up for the ethics and principles that librarians hold dear: open access to information for all, long term preservation of information, accessibility to information. As long as we listen to those core values that were created, you know, a hundred years ago or more, I think we’re in good shape to be able to move forward in a positive way with digital content.
It’s not all doom and gloom. There are positive models being created. And one I often point to is the Internet Archive’s Open Library project, and I encourage you all to go take a look at that as one possible model of a successful future for digital content for both libraries and consumers. One that is transparent, one that is open, and one that is user driven instead of corporate greed driven.
So with that, thank you so much for your questions Amanda. And I hope you all will tune in for our next episode of What Sarah Said. Thanks for tuning in to this one!