Libraries & E-Book Lending

Pull Quote #1

As the digital era unfolds, the role of libraries in the distribution of e-books has emerged as a significant issue of contention.

This misses the broader issue. In a piracy paradigm environment, ANY use by ANY consumer or organization that cannot be metered, measured and monetized is, de facto, “a significant issue of contention.” Former AAP executive director Patricia Schroeder made this apparent a decade ago when she made now infamous remarks about libraries expecting publishers to give their content away. The “digital era” was in full swing when Schroeder made her remarks in 2001, and libraries’ role in the [free] distribution of books was “a significant issue of contention” for publishers even then.

What has changed, though, is the corporate publishing industry realizes it finally is facing the same issues the recording industry faced in the late 1990s. Corporate publishing executives know they can’t stop it, and they don’t even know how to contain it. Unlike the recording industry, though, publishing cannot fall back on a lucrative format shift market to bail them out, and Amazon is viable enough an option for writers and self-publishers that both groups can opt out of standard contracts that, if signed, would make them indentured servants.

Now the smart libraries will figure out a way to pull an Amazon and connect writers (both for trade and scholarly publishing) with readers — and do so in a way that doesn’t compete with Amazon, and which doesn’t rely on advertising. Hard work, yes, but it’s not like libraries can afford to wait on municipal or institutional funding.

There’s another way to go for librarians and library executives: forget about being super smart and competing with Instead, just be professional: know what is in your electronic content contracts, and learn how to negotiate better terms and conditions for your institution and patrons. Or connect with someone or some institution that does.

Connecting writers and readers as I imagine above requires extraordinary resources and access to extraordinary talent. Those things may not be within reach for every library. On the other hand, every time a librarian signs a license agreement without understanding its terms and conditions, he or she is committing professional malpractice. It is inexcusable, especially when tens of millions of dollars are at stake each year. Turn in your MLS and find another line of work.

Written by Dr. K Matthew Dames

12/15/2011 at 08:25

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