On February 17th, I posted a link to a survey that a library school student was doing about book challenges and removals in libraries.  Here are the results.  Granted, the people who will take the time to fill out this survey are likely interested in book challenges already, so we may get a higher rate of incidents reported.  But the results are still disturbing — that challenges and removals of library materials are grossly under-reported to ALA.

Book Challenges and Removals Survey Results

Of the 73 respondents: 9.6% worked at academic libraries, 67.1% worked at public libraries, and 23.3% worked at school libraries.

How many incidents of material challenges have you received in the last five years?
160 challenges reported from 73 respondents (average of 2.19)
How many incidents of material challenges have you reported to the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom in the last five years?
33 challenges reported to ALA (20.6% of the 160 actual challenges)
How many incidents of material removal (following the library’s challenged material policy) are you aware of in the last five years?
23 challenges resulted in removals per the library’s policy (14.4% of the 160 actual challenges)
How many incidents of material removal (bypassing or ignoring the library’s challenged material policy) are you aware of in the last five years?
56 incidents of material removal in violation of the library’s policy (over twice the number of “per policy” removals)
The primary that jumps out at me is the gross under-reporting of incidents to ALA–only 20%!  Is this because libraries don’t want the professional stigma associated with challenges (especially removals or book-relocations)?  Or is it simply bad record-keeping?  Or apathy?  I don’t know.  But if I was a powerhouse in the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom, I’d be planning a way to figure out if and why this is happening in member libraries.
The other thing that bothers me is that twice as many items are removed ignoring or violating the library’s challenged materials policy as are removed in keeping with the policy.  This says to me that people either take it upon themselves to make a decision and just remove something (perhaps to placate an angry interest group or parent) -or- librarians are just too irritated by the formality of the policy (and again, perhaps the stigma) so they just remove the items the easy way by just de-accessioning them from the catalog.
What do you think?  Have you experienced, like I have, a “hiding” of materials challenges in your library?  Have you seen them go unreported to ALA?  Have you experienced customers or library staff removing items or moving items in the collection?  Tell me your stories!

Below is the text from a letter that my library, the San Rafael Public Library (CA), sent to HarperCollins regarding the change in library licensing for their titles in digital format.  I shamelessly stole words, phrases, and concepts from the many wonderful open letters that other libraries, librarians, authors, and book-lovers have made available on the web (thanks people!).  Likewise, feel free to shamelessly steal from us.

Some libraries are boycotting HarperCollins materials (print & digital), others are boycotting digital materials only, and still others are finding new creative ways to protest HarperCollins that their libraries are more comfortable with.

If your library has not yet sent a letter to HarperCollins regarding HC-gate, it’s definitely not too late.  The more individuals and libraries they hear from, the more the conversation continues.

Dear HarperCollins:

The San Rafael Public Library is strongly opposed to your new eBook licensing policy for libraries.

The policy you propose is contradictory to the spirit of libraries and damaging to the relationship libraries have long held with publishers. You are demanding that libraries rent eBooks from your company, but if the same title were to be purchased in paper copy we would still own them. This seems to encourage paper-only purchases from HarperCollins, something that would not help your company’s brand or financials.

The arbitrarily chosen “self-destruct” number of 26 circulations is not reflective of the reasoning you gave in your public statement. Paper copies, hardback or paperback, last much longer than a year and many books see much more than 26 total circulations in their first year alone. As written, your new policy seems greedy, especially considering the low cost involved in producing an eBook “copy” as compared to a paper copy.

The larger practice of digital content licensing is profoundly destructive to the burgeoning eBook market. Libraries help authors find audiences – and therefore help your bottom line. A 2007 study done by ALA (see: http://bit.ly/dYk84S) shows that 40% of adults and 36% of youth purchased a book after checking the same title out from a library. Discarded library copies find new audiences with book sales, donations to schools, and more. In addition, libraries receive donations from individual consumers who purchased a book but are done using it. With the current model of licensing, consumers cannot donate eBooks. This removes one additional way for your authors to get more exposure – and future sales – through library check-outs. Libraries raise exposure for your authors and your books. Let us continue to play that vital role for your company.

You may, if lucky, see some financial benefits in the short-term in more affluent areas of the country that can still afford to ascribe to your model of rentals. However, in the long term libraries will be forced to stop offering your eBooks and increasingly rely solely on paper books. That does not help your bottom line or public image.

Libraries want to buy your titles – in print and in digital copies. As publishers’ most loyal and long-term customers, it is extremely confusing to be punished for wanting to give you money. If, however, HarperCollins is no longer interested in selling to libraries, libraries like ours look forward to the long list of independent publishers and self-published authors waiting to fill the gap you will be leaving in the market. We realize that these newer methods of publishing are perceived as a threat to business by traditional publishers like HarperCollins. This change in the market will only grow exponentially faster in response to decisions like your “rule of 26.”

All of the limits you have placed on library digital content are short-sighted, at best. eBook licensing, and the digital rights management that comes along with it, acts like a tariff in its inhibition of the free exchange of ideas, literature, and information – the ideas, literature, and information that your authors have worked so hard to put out into the world. We encourage you to maintain your positive relationship with libraries and sell your eBook titles to libraries outright, not rent them.


David Dodd – Director, San Rafael Public Library
Sarah Houghton-Jan – Assistant Director, San Rafael Public Library

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.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights is a statement of the basic freedoms that should be granted to all eBook users.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks.  I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.

These rights are yours.  Now it is your turn to take a stand.  To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others.  Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work

I care about digital content in libraries.  And I am about to lose my cool in a big way.  No more patience, no more waiting for advocacy groups to do their work, and certainly no more trusting vendors to negotiate good deals for us with the publishers.   I am angry, I am informed, and I am ready to fight.

Overdrive CEO Steve Potash distributed a “State of Overdrive” letter that includes three highly controversial pieces of news, all highly unfavorable to libraries.  This letter from Overdrive (after quite a bit of going on about how wonderful things are) then quietly drops the three bombs.  Below are the excerpts, along with my commentary:

OverDrive is advocating on behalf of your readers to have access to the widest catalog of the best copyrighted, premium materials, and lending options. To provide you with the best options, we have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).

Sarah’s comments: Josh Hadro at Library Journal got the scoop that the publisher is HarperCollins, and their demanded limit is 26 lifetime uses per copy.  Just to be clear, this means that eBook ownership now expires after a set number of uses.  Libraries no longer “own” the rights to the purchased titles for perpetuity.  This is a radical change in library collection development and removes the thin veneer remaining of our ability to act as preservation entities for digital content. How could you even put this content in your catalog? You’d have to track circulation and then remove the title from your catalog once you hit your cap.  Can you imagine the workload impact? This creates a dangerous precedent that other publishers are likely to want to follow. This change, yet again, creates another dividing line between how the same title is treated differently in print and in digital format.  It also creates a dividing line between how libraries and consumers are treated radically differently for digital content, but not for print content.  Remember though that libraries do not have the right of first sale with digital content — we never have.  What we need is for digital copyright laws to change (libraries need an exemption for digital content, just as we have for physical content).  We also need legislation introduced that specifies that libraries, as public lending institutions, are not required to comply with consumer-intended terms of service.

More from Overdrive’s letter:

In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.).

Sarah’s comments: Requiring stringent jurisdictional borrower authentication is another huge change. Here’s an example from California.  Any California resident can get a library card at just about any public library in the state. Getting cards from libraries other than your own is not rampant, but of course many people live in one jurisdiction but only use a library in another jurisdiction—perhaps closer to work or school.  In our town (San Rafael), some library customers belong to the actual San Rafael Public Library jurisdiction while other customers fall under County Library jurisdiction…all based on who we pay our taxes to.  But we’re all in one library consortium, so it doesn’t matter for lending. But if we are required to authenticate at the residence address level for Overdrive or other digital content vendors, it will only increase customer confusion and prevent people from even trying to use this content.

And finally from the letter:

Another area of publisher concern that OverDrive is responding to is the size and makeup of large consortia and shared collections. Publishers seek to ensure that sufficient copies of their content are being licensed to service demand of the library’s service area, while at the same time balance the interests of publisher’s retail partners who are focused on unit sales. Publishers are reviewing benchmarks figures from library sales of print books and CDs for audiobooks and do not want these unit sales and revenue to be dramatically reduced by the license of digital books to libraries.

Sarah’s comments: I don’t even know where to start with this one. Consortium collections are the only thing making digital collections feasible for those of us in public libraries with consortium lending agreements. From discussions with Overdrive about our consortium’s contract, it looks (unconfirmed) as though they are going to flat out refuse any cooperative buying and lending models–or charge an arm and a leg for them.  Let me also point out that the last sentence (bolded) seems to indicate that the publishers want to make sure that libraries choosing to buy digital copies aren’t doing so as a replacement for physical copies.  And if so, apparently we’re being bad and the publishers will come punish us with more restrictions and fees.  What’s so bad about putting more money each year into your digital purchases in order to meet growing demand and user preferences?  It would seem we’re being discouraged from digital format purchases, outright.  And that, friends, is pure bullshit.  That doesn’t benefit libraries, library users, or Overdrive.  The publishers seem to think it benefits them, but they’re wrong.  Add restrictions and lose customers.  It would almost seem as if they’re trying to force us back to print only. Oh what a sad day for publishers. You are killing your own businesses.

I responded to this story when it quietly broke late yesterday, and am quoted in Hadro’s article.  I reproduce my statement here because the summary of my anger and riotous outrage is more toned down that I can manage at present:

Consumer market eBook vendors like Barnes & Noble and Amazon don’t let publishers get away with the amount of nonsense that we get stuck with through library eBook vendors. I fault the publishers for not realizing what a huge mistake they are making by not realizing that new formats are opportunities–not threats to be quashed. I fault the library eBook vendors for not standing firm and saying “no” to asinine demands. And I fault the library profession for, to date, not standing up for the rights of our users. Our job is to fight for the user, and we have done a poor job of doing that during the digital content surge.

I cannot over-emphasize that we are in trouble my friends.  The lack of legislative leadership and advocacy in the last decade has created a situation where libraries have lost the rights to lending and preserving content that we have had for centuries.  We have lost the right to buy a piece of content, lend it to as many people as we want consecutively, and then donate or sell that item when it has outlived its usefulness (if, indeed, that ever happens at all).

I call on as many libraries as possible to contact Overdrive (email the CEO at [email protected]) about the information contained in its letter.  Ask questions, express discontent, and suggest alternatives.

I call on as many libraries as possible to contact HarperCollins (email them at [email protected]) and express dissatisfaction.  Beyond that, if have decision-making power at your library I suggest you boycott their content completely–or at least boycott it in digital format.

I call on as many libraries as possible to seriously consider dropping digital content vendors with restrictions and move toward only providing open access titles and formats.  Yes, that means forgoing most popular titles.  But you know what? Unless we take a firm stand we will not be heard.

Many voices have come out at once recently about libraries and digital content.  If you want your voice heard, check out the following groups, get involved, and scream out loudly:

A good friend is doing some research and asked if I could post the following survey asking how many book challenges and removals your’e aware of at your library: Book Challenges and Removals @ Your Library

How many book challenges and outright removals do you think happen a year that go unreported?  How many at your library?  Is that information even shared with the staff?

From my own experience, I’ve had a removal occur that the director didn’t even bother to share with the manager of the branch in question until I happened to overhear a conversation about it and suggested that the incident should be revealed and explained to all staff in all branches.  I’ve had a director who moved books from adult to teen without telling any of the managers.  I’ve experienced a book removal that was done covertly by a Library Assistant with no involvement from anyone else, because of her own feelings about a particular topic.

I think book challenges and even removals happen a lot more frequently than we’re told.  I think all managers and directors should be 100% transparent about every challenge, move, and removal with the entire staff.  And hopefully this survey will at least tell us how many we do know about, as a starting point.

Below is my presentation for my keynote at ALIA Information Online in Sydney.  Enjoy all of my lovely new Australian library friends!


Below is my presentation for my pre-conference at ALIA Information Online in Sydney.  Excellent group, and a wonderful conference!  Enjoy the presentation.  Hopefully you’ll learn one or two useful tools for your own library.

cover of Behemoth by Scott WesterfeldBelow is a description of a library from a user’s perspective, an excerpt from the most excellent steampunk teen novel Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld.  This book is the second in the series that started with Leviathan.  (Westerfeld’s website is really quite nicely designed incidentally, and properly steampunky of course).

Look to the text below for three negative user experience themes that we hear over and over again in libraries (and sometimes ignore to our detriment):

  • the intimidation factor of libraries
  • closed information systems means no serendipity or independence (and users like these things)
  • privacy concerns about information requests made to staff

An hour later Deryn was standing on a broad marble stair….Before her stood…the newest and largest library in Istanbul. Its huge brass columns gleamed in the sun, and its steam-powered revolving doors gathered and disgorged people without pausing. As she passed through them, Deryn had the same jitters she’d felt in the saloon car of the Orient Express. She didn’t belong in any place so fancy, and the bustle of so many machines made her dizzy.

The ceiling was a tangle of glass tubes, full of small cylinders zooming through them, almost too fast to see. The clicking fingers of calculation engines covered the walls….Clockwork walkers the size of hatboxes scrabbled along the marble floor, stacks of books weighing them down.

A small army of clerks waited behind a row of desks, but Deryn made her way through the vast lobby, headed toward the towering stacks of books. There looked to be millions of them, surely a few were in English.

But she found herself halted by a fancy iron fence that stretched all the way across the room. Every few feet there was a sign that repeated the same message in two dozen languages: CLOSED STACKS–ASK AT INFORMATION DESK.

….Did every wee sliver of knowledge have its own number? The system was probably quicker than wandering through the ceiling-high shelves, but what other books might she have found, doing it herself?

She looked up at the calculating engines that covered the walls, and wondered what they were up to. Did they record every question that the librarians had been asked? And if so, who looked at the results?

Now: here is my task for all of you. Think about your library. Think about how some of these factors might be barriers for your own users. What can you change about the physical environment to lessen these concerns? What about your digital environment? What can you change about policy or procedure? Staff training and instruction? The way-finding and workflow of you users’ experiences?

My guess is that there is a lot you can think of right now that you can change. And despite what you may think, you do have the power to effect change in your organization. Talk to your co-workers. Share this excerpt and think about what would make someone feel this way about your own library services and staff. And then start to change it, one step at a time. Just start. The rest will follow.

Sarah’s New Job

January 11, 2011 | Comments (45)

I am pleased to announce that I recently accepted a position as the Assistant Director for the San Rafael Public Library, my hometown library.

Earlier this year San Rafael voters approved a $49 parcel tax specifically for the library which is allowing the library to increase staff positions, hours, and more.  I look forward to finding innovative ways to spend some of that money (of course with the permission of the Library Director, David Dodd — who I’ve known for 9 years and who was incidentally my boss at my first librarian job out of library school).

This means that I will sadly be leaving the San Jose Public Library after 3+ years working as their Digital Futures Manager, a job I love and passionately pursued.  My team is amazing.  We’ve done a lot of things (a mobile app, a new website, Database Delight online training, halfway through an augmented reality site/app, etc.).  It’s been a very interesting and exciting ride, and in many ways I am sad to be leaving.

At the same time, I really look forward to the opportunities a small library brings.  San Jose has about 1 million residents while San Rafael has 60,000.  San Jose has 19 open locations while San Rafael has 2.

This is a big change for me, but I will definitely be managing my new library’s digital presence.  There are so many things I want to do, so don’t count me out of the uber-tech game yet.  I am going to have to re-learn my coding skills, since I have left most of them un-used as a tech manager (one of the hazards of moving into management at a large system).  So I’m inviting coding resource recommendations from all of you for CSS, PHP, MySQL, HTML5, etc.  Bring it on because I’m going to need a refresher for sure.

My work here on LibrarianInBlack will continue, as will my other writing, training, consulting, and speaking for libraries and other institutions.  I’m not really going anywhere–not virtually, at least.  So, yes.  That about covers it.  Wish me luck and stop by San Rafael sometime.