is it ‘e’ you’re looking for?

i work at an academic library and a co-worker forwarded a blog posting from “librarian in black.” librarian in black  is really sarah houghton, director for the san rafael public library (california) and the posting is titled “i’m breaking up with e-books (and so can you)“(subtitled e-book suckitude). i like it!

[WARNING! DANGER WILL ROBINSON! it contains salty language! yes, the S-word and the F-word are used, sparingly, but used). still worth the read.

now, i’ll admit that at first glance, i took offense because i…love…e-books! love, love, love them! and paper books, tooooooo!

but upon further investigation, it turns out that sarah (i’ll assume it’s okay to call her sarah) isn’t breaking up with e-books but is breaking up with overdrive, the major e-book provider for libraries in the country. and she’s not planning on picking up with another suitor (sorry, 3m).

okay, this bandwagon i can jump on.  it just so happens that i met last week with one of our local community college librarians who wanted to talk about…you guessed it, e-books and e-book providers.

but, back to sarah and her upcoming bad breakup with overdrive. in her looooong blog post, she compares her library’s relationship with overdrive (through a consortium) with a relationship with a bad boyfriend. nice and shiny and full of promise in the beginning, but eventually all that wears off and you’re left with crap and you settle until one day… 

basically, she sees overdrive as a promise unfulfilled. not only that, but almost as though overdrive was fraudulent in their intent to begin with. 

i tried to highlight the basics in the article, but even the highlights (lowlights) stacked up, but here goes (by the way, this doesn’t mean i don’t want you to read the article!!):

  • the whole situation sucks:  “the copyright nightmares, the publishers, the fragmented formats, the ridiculous terms of service, the device incompatibility, the third-party aggregation companies libraries do business with.”
  • we have ourselves to blame:  “libraries have not been included at the table for negotiations on digital copyright, terms of service, licensing conditions, technology integration, none of it. And yes, that stinks. And yes, we’ve complained about it enough. We haven’t been heard largely because we’ve been too polite and too quiet for too long. It’s our fault. “
  • too many restrictions suck:  “We can’t buy from most of the major publishers, and even for those we can buy from we have extreme restrictions or highly inflated costs… lack of development of usable download processes, fair-use-friendly terms of use, and privacy options in keeping with libraries’ professional values and ethics.”
  • we didn’t get our fair share “eBooks never gave us as libraries–full selection, right-quick downloads, and sharing rights. We got no love at all, but our prettier sister, the consumer, got a better deal. Still not everything, as she also has to put up with restrictive DRM, licensing and not owning, and privacy violations.”

  • the promise of collaboration remains just that “publishers continually feed libraries the line that they’re “experimenting with different models” and “hope to continue to work positively with libraries in the digital space. Uh huh.  Libraries and eBooks aren’t shacking up anytime soon, not for real…not as long as publishers continue to falsely view us as a threat instead of a partner. “

  • maybe it’s just not ready “eBooks in libraries are a non-starter, their path has been set for the foreseeable future, and their future is determined by people who are not us. …those who produce them for profit…the publishers…the, until recently, necessary middlemen in the process between creators and consumers. Now that they’re not necessary to the process anymore, largely due to their inflexibility and inability to change in the face of rapidly shifting market conditions, they have attempted to salvage their failing business model with high prices, limited licensing policies, and technology so locked down that it remains impenetrable to many people.”

kinda in a nutshell. i know it sounds whiny, but i think rightfully so. even in an academic setting, there is still confusion over the e-books we have available in our catalog, i.e., ebsco, netlibrary, etc., that can be used on campus with some restrictions as far as printing, downloading, etc. and those e-books i call “consumer e-books” like the ones they download to their ipads and kindles and nooks from whatever vendor they choose any time they choose and keep for as long as they choose.

what’s a library to do? cliffhanger…spoiler alert!!

here’s sarah: “At our recent regional library consortium meeting, I said I wouldn’t give more money to OverDrive, beyond the bare minimum that the consortium’s contract required of us, and only until we can legally terminate our contract–at which point I personally want out of OverDrive.  The title selection is awful and getting only more so month by month, their policies are restrictive, and their business practices are unethical–including trading away core librarian values (user data privacy, no commercial endorsements).  I’m not going to give any money to 3M or Baker & Taylor either unless things change on their end, just for the record. I’m finished promoting an inferior eBook product to our patrons. I’m finished throwing good money after bad money. And I’m finished trying to pointlessly advocate for change when change has to come from places waaaaaaay above my influence level or pay grade.”

hmmmm. bold. brash. risky? now, granted this is a smallish, public library system. but, when consumers  encounter an inferior product, especially one that’s not a necessity, don’t they stop purchasing it or find an alternative? i don’t like it when the lights go out in my neighborhood due to lack of improvements to infrastructure from my utility company, but i don’t have much choice (unless i go prairie style and use candles for light and warm my water over a campfire). i’m a city girl, forget that!

but i don’t HAVE to have ebooks, i just like ’em. and libraries don’t HAVE to provide e-books. or do they? and if our patrons want e-books, should we just provide them any way we can and let them figure it out? or should we wait to provide them with the best product we can, even if we don’t know that product is coming?


side note: here is a great (and up to date!) chart provided by the colorado library consortium: Comparison of Library eBook Choices

and two other librarian bloggers seem to be on the same bandwagon: andromeda yelton and annoyed librarian.

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