It’s not me, it’s the user

One of our recent collection initiatives has been to expand our e-book offerings, particularly in subject areas in which we have off-site programs or where online access works better than print access.  Tech books is where the second comes into play for us; do you want to consult a book on SQL at your desk while you work, or by going to the library to check it out? We’re betting that “at your desk” is the answer for the majority of users, so we want to give them what they want and need.  In the case of our off-site programs, the value of online content is pretty obvious.  Faster, more easily accessible, not physically limited.  Again, in the best interest of our users.

The problem is that ebooks are, as far as the publishing industry is concerned, a “new” medium.  The old rules don’t apply.  But they want them to!  And so do we!  We want to order the stuff, own it, and use it the way we want to, just like we always have.  They want to sell it to us at the highest possible profit while protecting their investment in the content, just like they always have.

The problem is in figuring out what those things mean to each of us.  And from where I stand, figuring out what’s best for the user.

Right now, I’m arguing with a salesman about ebooks that we want to buy.  He made promises about “no copying or printing restrictions” for the books.  We, thinking like librarians who try to look out for the user, expected that to mean “no copying or printing restrictions” for the books.  What it really means, to Legal at the vendor whose job is to look out for the corporate bottom line, is “you can print 30 pages at a time per session, but to print more you must log out and log back in.” To us, this means that users will hit a 30 page print limit on a 45 page chapter and, in most cases, believe that they cannot print more. To us, this does not, therefore, mean “no copying or printing restrictions”.  The vendor disagrees.  And so we are at an impasse.  They won’t change their license.  We won’t accept less than we were promised when it means the user is done a disservice.  They do not license their content outside of their platform.  We don’t agree with the terms of use on their platform.  It’s not their primary job to care about our user.  It’s not our primary job to care about their bottom line.  We’re both right, and we’re both wrong.

The user suffers.

I don’t know what the right answer is.  And maybe that’s because there isn’t one yet.  Scholarly communication and the publishing industry that’s so integral to it are in serious flux. The internet is a disruptive technology in the information industry.  Some pieces are shaking out faster than others, and we’ve all got our lines in the sand about How Things Are Supposed To Be.

History will declare the victor, I suppose.

One thought on “It’s not me, it’s the user

  1. Romeyn Prescott

    I think the right answer is that eBooks shouldn’t be printed at all! Not because of copyright/licensing issues. But because they’re EBOOKS!!! *E*

    Dammit.

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