Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Public Librarians, take a bow!

The past few days have been pretty exciting for libraries. There has been some amazing, and loud, debate surrounding Harper Collins' new policies surrounding library's purchasing their ebooks. In simplest terms, Harper Collins - working with Over Drive - will sell their ebook to a library, but that ebook can only circulate 26 times before the library has to repurchase said book.

Librarians are not pleased, and between Facebook, Blogs, and Twitter they are letting the world know how disgruntled they are. To see the crazy amount of noise that librarians are making for yourself, just go to and search for #hcod. You don't even have to log in or create an account, the results will pop up. Just be sure to come back here when you're done.

And it makes sense why librarians are up in arms. This would take collection development in a whole new direction. When library funds are limited it can be challenging enough to try and make your collection grow appropriately. But, as this youtube video highlights, Harper Collins' new policy would add even more constraints to collection development.

It would be like trying to buy gas, but for every five gallons, you would have to buy back the keys to your car.

I am finding this debate absolutely fascinating. Working in a medical academic library, we certainly emphasize electronic journals, but not so much electronic books. This issue is going to affect public libraries the most...

...While ebooks have been around for about a decade, best practices for delivering content to the masses still need to be figured out. Even for-profit organizations are scrambling. Traditional booksellers like Borders are going belly up while independent writers who avoid traditional publishing houses are making millions. And it's just as confusing for libraries. There has been a lot of discussion among my classmates on what the best answer is, and the debate seems to follow most debates in librarianship: services versus systems.

So, what's the best answer? I have no idea. I'm not sure anyone does. But that's not important. What is important is that librarians are contributing to the discussions. While many people argue that libraries are irrelevant in the 21st century, this debate is proving that librarians help shape the way individuals will receive digital content. Need evidence? Both authors and publishers are taking notice:

Marilyn Johnson, author of The Dead Beat and This Book is Overdue, posted on her blog that while publisher and authors need to be compensated, it should not be off the backs of libraries.While it may be lukewarm, Harper Collins themselves commented on the debate that librarians are stirring up. They call for collaboration, but it doesn't sound like they will change their policy.

I'm real excited to see where this debate goes. But I am mostly excited, and proud, of the way that librarians are refusing to give in without a fight.While I may only be on the sidelines, battles like this are the reason I went into library school.


  1. As a public librarian in Michigan, we're already facing cuts in state and local aid. We've been in a digital consortium for OverDrive for six years now and barely keeping up with the demands of patrons from our 25 participating libraries. While we raise our voices on Twitter and in blogs, I'm not sure this will be enough in the long run. We need a strong, united voice that will hit the airways and mainstream news in a big way.

  2. Thanks, kathyp, for your insights. I think the social media chatter is going to be a starting point. I know Andy at Agnostic, Maybe has started coming up with some alternative ideas. But you're right. It is going to take a unified, formalized effort to make sure anything gets accomplished.