smart librarians and ebooks and dinosaurs, oh my

I haven’t weighed in on what I think of as the H-Cod fiasco (also known as the HarperCollins-Overdrive announcement in which HC has demanded that Overdrive limit library lending of licensed ebooks to 26, Twitterified as #hcod), largely because other smart people are talking about it more smartly than I can, and I knew that, left to their own devices, someone would say what I was thinking better than I would be able to.  And today, I got what I was looking for.

An ebook plan by Iris Jastram and Steve Lawson.

Steve and Iris are distinctly different people — Iris has more gentleness than I’ve seen in nearly anyone, and Steve is a noted contrarian smartass — but those differences make them a more potent thought-partnership. I think of them as being in the same category of librarian, in that I’ve had the pleasure of working with them both, and they are undoubtedly two of the most thoughtful and dedicated librarians I’ve met in academia. They do the kind of thinking and arguing that makes me sit back and think, “Well. That’s new. Except really logical. And maybe not new at all. But I hadn’t thought about it that way.” And then I wonder what it is about how their brains work that lets them make the connections they make.

And Iris’s chosen pull quote does just that.

“We believe that the publisher should publish, and the library should own, lend, and preserve.”

Well, yes.  That. That does make it pretty simple, doesn’t it? Publishers publish, and libraries own, lend, and preserve.  It’s what we do, and it’s who we are, on both sides of the equation. Similarly, I agree that

“The problem is not that the number of circulations set by the publisher is too small; the problem is that no publisher should be able to control these aspects–really any aspects–of the library’s workings.”

Amen to that, as well.  It’s hard enough running a library that effectively meets local user needs without adding an externally-motivated layer to our policies and procedures.  We should not agree to this. When we have agreed to these restrictions in the past — printing limits, complicated authentication processes, limits on downloads — we have regretted it as it played out in user confusion, increased internal workloads, and nigh-endless wrangling of licenses and contracts. We need to learn from that, and remember it.

The thing that gives me pause is that what Iris and Steve propose also requires a culture of respect and trust between publishers and the libraries that are their customers. I don’t believe that we’re there. I don’t think publishers have any respect for libraries, not when the motivating factor in their decision-making is a pairing of “profit” and “fear”.  I believe that the publishing industry is running scared, having watched their brother the Music Industry be eaten by lions, and that in their terror of what the digital future means for them, they’ve set their sights on an easy target: Libraries.  We’re the slow-moving behemoth that they can target while the smaller and faster (and more dangerous!) enemies are violating copyright and copying their property left, right, and center.  We’re the T-rex.  The average digital pirate is a raptor. Who’re you going to aim at?  The one you can hit.  So I get it. I can see why they want to “fix” libraries first.

The problem is that they see us as a problem. For Steve and Iris’s plan to work, they need to see us as partners.  Like Toby Greenwalt, I’m not sure that boycotts and protests and manifestos will get us to the boardroom as partners.  And if we don’t get there, they’re going to keep shooting until one of us dies.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: