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.

Bless me, O Biblioblogosphere, for I have sinned.

I have betrayed the trust of my librarian people by *gasp* loving my Kindle like I am told I would love a child if I had any interest in being a parent, which I don’t.  But I do have an interest in reading digital content on a sleek, affordable, and easy-to-use device.  Thus the Kindle.

In true geek fashion I recorded my Kindle unboxing (complete with Space Invader wall clings in the background).

Let me tell you why I love my Kindle so.  But before I gush like a schoolgirl in love with Edward Cullen, let me tell you that I feel guilty for loving it.  I boycott the Kindle as a librarian but love it as a consumer.

  • Stellar User Interface Design: The Kindle has a gorgeous form factor.  It’s easy to hold in your hands — light, smooth, and perfectly sized for my hands anyway.  The user interface is easy and intuitive, end of story.
  • Smooth Content Delivery: The simplicity and speed of getting content is amazing.  I’ve been using the Kindle app on my Android phone for months now, and it literally takes you 5 seconds to buy and start reading a book from the Kindle Store. How long does it take to start reading a library eBook from the point you decide to download it? On the Kindle itself it’s just as easy.
  • Cross-Device Content Delivery: Amazon was brilliant in being the distributor for the device, the content itself, and the interface/software used to access the content. But they were doubly brilliant in offering the content & interface on other devices through Kindle Reading apps, so you can use your desktop, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Android phone, etc. to access the Kindle universe of eBooks.  The Kindle device itself is secondary…they really covered their bases.
  • Seamless Syncing: Amazon’s Whispersync technology syncs up your library and where you left off in your books without you having to do anything. Not having to think is good, yeah?  Steve Krug would be proud.
  • Public Domain Title Access: You can get free public domain titles onto your Kindle through free eBook sites like Project Gutenberg, all linked to with instructions from the Kindle website.

Now that we’ve covered the pros, here’s why I detest the Kindle as a librarian:

  • No Access to Library-owned eBooks (for shame): As you probably know, the Kindle is the only eReader devices that doesn’t allow library digital content onto it.  The nook, Sony Reader, the sad little kobo, and even the iPad all allow library digital content.  Amazon would rather only sell you their stuff.  In the case of eBooks, Amazon does not support the standard EPUB format.  It only allows for content that is in one of its approved formats: their proprietary DRM-format (.azw), plain text files (.txt), unprotected (read: no DRM) Mobipocket files (.mobi or .prc), unprotected (read: no DRM) PDF files (.pdf), and this odd and not-often-used Topaz format (.tpz). There are programs (like Calibre) that can convert non-DRMed EPUB files into unprotected Mobipocket files so they can go on your Kindle.  And since there are scripts you can run to convert DRM-ed EPUB files into non-DRMed EPUB files, you can indeed get these books on your Kindle…but illegally unfortunately.  The fact that Amazon doesn’t allow library-owned eBooks onto its devices is a travesty.  It’s wrong on every level.  But Amazon has no real motivation to open it up.  They make money from selling people books.  If people could get those same books on their Kindles for free and without paying Amazon, just by logging in with a library card number, Amazon is going to lose some business.  And losing business for the sake of looking like you love libraries is sadly not a winning proposition in our society.  Here are some straight-forward instructions to help you get around the idiotic DRM rules and get some library eBooks (MOBI only) onto your Kindle.  This does clearly violate Kindle’s terms of service, the library eBook vendor’s terms of service, and even copyright law.  But you know what?  All you’re doing is accessing an eBook your library owns and wants to check out to you on a device of your choosing.  Goddess forbid we can actually provide content that isn’t device-exclusionary!  So you know what?  Go for it.
  • No Sharing or Selling (err, legally): Update: You can now share selected titles (none of the 13 on my device now, sadly), share a title once with another Kindle or Kindle app user for 14 days, and only U.S. residents can share their titles). As with almost all consumer-purchased eBooks, Amazon’s Kindle eBooks forbid the transfer of the book to any other user or to a different (non-Amazon) device.  This is a violation of the First-Sale Doctrine which guarantees someone like an individual or a library to share the book once it’s purchased, loan it out, or sell it.  None of us can do this with eBooks or other digital media like movies and music.  It’s wrong and many people find ways around it because, frankly, the Kindle was not that hard to crack.

Perhaps someday I will make peace with the fact that the Kindle universe makes me happy.  Perhaps someday Amazon will allow digital content from libraries onto its devices, will accept industry standards, and stop being an inbred walled garden of capitalist greed.  But I’m not holding my breath.


You can now see my appearance on the #TWIT Network’s Tech News Today show at: The main part of my appearance starts at 9:45, but I show up periodically after that main part too.

The TWIT Network, This Week in Tech, is based up in Petaluma CA (not far from my house) and has the tagline “netcasts you love from people you trust.”  It’s an all-internet-based technology news network with over 20 different shows that you can watch live (& participate in live interactive chat during the show), stream later in audio or video, or download as podcasts or videocasts.  I listen to about a dozen of the shows religiously, using my 3-4 hours in the car every day to catch up on what’s going on with technology of all different sorts.  It definitely helps me do my job a lot better.

So, as a fan of TWIT, I was all aflutter when they opened up a contest for an open mic show where fans of the show could go onto the Tech News Today show as guests.  I applied and somehow by the grace of the binary gods was accepted, along with the other two guests (Joshua Caleb and Derrick Chen) who are likewise geeked up.  The experience was a ton of fun and I’d welcome the chance to do it again.

And really, people, if you bother to read my blog or follow me on Twitter and don’t yet watch or listen to any of the TWIT shows, you are missing out.  Check out This Week in Tech & Tech News Today first and then build your healthy addiction from there.  Because addiction will follow….and the voices of Leo Laporte and Tom Merritt will be like honey upon thine ears, and music to thy soul.  Well, at least you’ll learn stuff anyway 🙂

Privacy and Freedom of Information in 21st-Century LibrariesThe newest ALA Library Technology Report, of which I am a contributing author, was just published: Privacy and Freedom of Information in 21st Century Libraries.  I wrote the chapter on internet filtering, which like the other chapters is kind of a Cliff Notes version of the major issues with filtering and intellectual freedom issues for libraries.

The cover is truly awesome. Good job ALA!  Also, let me acknowledge the other authors for their stellar work: Jason Griffey, Eli Neiburger, Barbara M. Jones, Angela Maycock, and Deborah Caldwell-Stone.  I read through it and learned a lot about intellectual freedom in today’s digital libraries.  I think you will too!