or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



A Few Notes on the Current State of Ebooks

   March 8th, 2011

Boycott paintingI've stayed mostly quiet on this whole HarperCollins/Overdrive ebooks situation, mainly because what I have to say is negative, and doesn't add much to what others already said. But I noticed a couple things in the last few days that I wanted to share.

First, my consortium is (one of many) considering boycotting HarperCollins ebooks. This makes me happy: happy in that I think it's a good move, but also happy in that lots of other librarians are thinking like me.

Also, Sarah has had a couple good posts - one from Thursday about the ALA's apparent inaction on this issue, and another Monday with a sample letter to express opposition to HarperCollins' policy.

But it seems as if the ALA isn't as totally out to lunch on this issue as they may seem. Michael is blogging the ALA's Electronic Content Access Task Force Retreat (official ALA page). The first post didn't mention this ebook debacle directly, but I can't imagine a group of librarians meeting to discuss electronic content access and not tackling this issue head-on, so I have hope.

Something else I recently learned about is the ALA's Emerging Issues website, which has a section devoted to ebooks. There's not much meat there yet, but at least it shows this issue is on the ALA radar, which is also a cause for hope.

Ultimately, I don't know how this will play out, but I can't really see library access coming out on top when it comes to ebooks - at least not without legislative action. But I do strongly believe that this should be the modern watershed moment for the ALA - if you can't be the voice of American libraries and resource clearinghouse on such a critical issue, there is no real reason for your existence.

For some more views on ebook lending, check out Well done, HarperCollins: librarians must change old thinking (via LISNews), and the Ebook Library's non-linear lending model - perhaps the way forward is in one of those.

Update 3/9/11:
I saw the dispatch below on a listserv after I posted this:

American Library Association tackles new challenges in the e-environment
March 08, 2011

Recent action from the publishing world in the e-book marketplace has re-ignited interest and sparked many questions from librarians, publishers, vendors, and readers. Two ALA member task forces - the presidential task force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content (EQUACC) and the E-book Task Force - were recently created to address these complex and evolving issues. EQUACC met this week in Washington, D.C., to provide ALA with guidance and recommendations for a coordinated ALA response to the challenging issues.

In light of recent publisher changes affecting libraries' ability to provide e-books to the public (e.g., restricting lending of e-books to a limited number of circulations) and the refusal of some publishers to sell e-content to libraries entirely, the task force will:

  • Work to establish meetings between ALA leadership and publisher and author associations to discuss model lending and purchase options for libraries.
  • Establish mechanisms for interactive and ongoing communication for ALA members to voice concerns and pose questions to ALA leadership.
  • Establish communication and solicit input with other ALA member divisions and units, including the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

In addition to the above, the task force recommends that ALA pursue the following:

  • Conduct an environmental scan to understand the current landscape and project future scenarios.
  • Work with appropriate partners within and outside of ALA to improve access to electronic information for all, with a particular focus on people with disabilities.
  • Identify and support new and emerging model projects for delivering e-content to the public.
  • Develop a national public relations and education campaign highlighting the importance of libraries as essential access points for electronic content.

ALA members and the public can communicate with ALA on these issues through a new website dedicated to the challenges and potential solutions in libraries for improved access to electronic content. This site will be live within 10 days, and the URL to be announced at launch. These efforts reflect on libraries' long-standing principles on equitable access to information, reader privacy, intellectual freedom, and the lawful right of libraries to purchase and lend materials to the public.

ALA calls upon all stakeholders to join us in crafting 21st century solutions that will ensure equitable access to information for all.

Also, Jessamyn linked to http://readersbillofrights.info/, which is worth checking out.




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8 Responses to “A Few Notes on the Current State of Ebooks”

  1. Adam S. Says:

    This is why I torrent all my ebooks, then delete the file when I’m done reading. That’s kind of like using a library right? Right!?

  2. Swiss Army Librarian » A Little Rant on the Current State of Ebooks :: Brian Herzog Says:

    [...] Swiss Army Librarian or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk « A Few Notes on the Current State of Ebooks [...]

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Adam: In theory, that’s exactly what should be done, but DRM is an entirely different kettle of fish.

  4. Links of interest: March 11th, 2011 « A Modern Hypatia Says:

    [...] at Swiss Army Librarian, has a roundup of links and conversation about the current ebook situation and Harper [...]

  5. A few words from Amy · Librarians against DRM Says:

    [...] in case you hadn’t heard, there’s been a kerfluffle about DRM (Digital Rights Management) and the stance that HarperCollins is taking with regard to [...]

  6. Swiss Army Librarian » What I Learned at CIL2011 :: Brian Herzog Says:

    [...] The only good DRM is no DRM When I was babbling about the HarperCollins fiasco, I focused mostly on their ridiculous policy approach, and [...]

  7. Swiss Army Librarian » Warner Video Restricting DVD Sales to Libraries :: Brian Herzog Says:

    [...] Warner Video Restricting DVD Sales to Libraries    October 18th, 2011 The cataloger at my library found out last week that Warner Home Video has initiated a new policy that puts a serious crimp in the way libraries can buy DVDs – and I'm surprised it hasn't met the same uproar as HarperCollins' ebook policy. [...]

  8. Lisa's Library Stew Says:

    [...] way libraries can buy DVDs – and I’m surprised it hasn’t met the same uproar as HarperCollins’ ebook policy. Share this:TwitterFacebookDiggLinkedInRedditStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]