Category Archives: What I'm reading

Another alternative to breaking the “ebook blockage”

Run an ebook system without the “Big 6” like Douglas County:

In a free market, companies are free to set their prices. But we are free to seek a better deal – and we’ve found one. Instead of passively accepting what amounts to a 33% reduction in the purchasing power of the library, we’ll be extending our network of electronic publishers to include those who are more responsive to our needs and budgets.


We have now identified some 12 groups of publishers, comprising over 800 individual companies. We have purchased from them over 7,000 ebook titles, which are now available from our catalog. We are buying the titles at discount, and we actually own them. This model of distribution, created by Douglas County Libraries, is now being picked up by hundreds of libraries across the nation. And we’re signing up new publishers every day.


The best part of this Douglas County experiment I’ve seen so far has been this price comparison sheet (via No Shelf Required). Fifty Shades of Gray, for example, $50 for your local public library, $10 for you.


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What we could be doing instead of breaking the “ebook blockade”

EDIT 11/14 8:04 p.m. Please forgive the the tone of the following post. I’ve rudely overstated my point, that libraries should accept that publishers are being unreasonable in terms of ebook licensing. This is unfortunate and I hope at some point public libraries and big publishers come to an understanding. But, in waiting for something like that to happen, I believe in alternatives.

Above all, I’d like a healthy dialogue on this topic.

Breathless report on the ebook crisis(!) from our library neighbors:

Managers will share about a confusing and frustrating dilemma: publishers are not allowing libraries, including Pierce County Library, to buy e-books. Publishers have not provided a clear answer to their blockade of libraries or holding them hostage to outrageously inflated prices or heavy restrictions. With the advent of e-books publishers have drawn an arbitrary line and they are either not selling to libraries or doing so at costs 100-300% higher than the list price of books or with heavy restrictions. Currently, only two of the six major publishers will sell to libraries at either an exorbitant cost or with substantial restrictions. Pierce County Library wants to participate in the e-book business and supply the demand its customers are calling for from e-book choices. This month the Library will work to inform the public about the blockade and further tell publishers it wants to offer e-books to Pierce County residents.

Dilemma! Blockade! Hostage! Arbitrary!

If you’re unfamiliar with the issue between major publishers and libraries on ebooks, here’s some background.

But, basically, publishers have either not been allowing libraries to lend ebooks or putting on some pretty strict controls. And, honestly, I’m giving up caring about it.

First, it isn’t arbitrary (though it may seem so) for a publisher to want to control the at no cost distribution of their product. As much as I’d like to wish for there be no difference between ebooks and real books in the library/publisher relationship, there is. And, publishers don’t want to play, which is absolutely within their right.

Second, I’m wondering if its good for libraries to be so wound up about caring. I know a lot of our patrons now own ereaders (and tablets and phones). And, since we buy or lease a lot of copies of popular titles, we assume they we need to make sure our patrons can get those in any format available. But, at a certain point, if publishers don’t want that to happen… well okay, let’s move.

One thing I’ve learned in the last few year is public agency budgets are a serious zero sum game. If you’re not doing one thing its because you’re doing something else. So, lets ask: if we’re supplying popular ebooks from the big five publishers, what aren’t we doing?

My top priority would be cultivating local content. Digitizing essentially public domain titles we own that no one else owns (local histories, for example). Or, maybe local music.

I know this isn’t apples to apples in terms of patron interest. You wouldn’t be able to say to someone looking for “Graced, Dream Realms Trilogy, #3 – Part 1” by Sophia Sharp and expect them to walk away with an ebook of “How the West Was Once.”

But, getting back to the basics of public budgeting, what is the most important use of a public dollar? A great local history available no where else in the world? Or (something less local and more popular):


Laura has been reunited with Logan, and together they must face the elders. But this time, they have the angels on their side. It is a precious advantage, but only if used properly…


Okay, I was a bit rude using that passage to describe what I thought. I still think my overall point is valid. Let’s spend money on important things first, popular ebooks second.

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Re: Seattle library fact check experiment risky, but valuable

I’m not sure the participation by the Seattle Public Library in the Living Voters Guide was all that dangerous. From a somewhat old story by Monica Guzman in the Seattle Times.

This week I’ve been hearing the old trope about “if everything’s on the internet, what role do libraries have?” The question is set up to be a straw man for professional librarians to knock down by explaining the traditional role libraries play and will continue to play.

That said, everything should be on the internet and libraries should be helping put it there. Libraries should be about making information easier to find, not protecting their turf by hoarding yet to be uploaded material. That said, libaries and librarians should be ever-present on the internet, doing the sort of work Seattle Public recently did.

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After Penguin leaves Overdrive, what exactly are we paying for?

Aside from their lame reason for taking their content out of libraries, this article on Penguin’s decision not to go through Overdrive shocked me in another way:

Yet it is unusual among the “big six” publishers in that it allows e-books to be borrowed through libraries at all. Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not distribute any e-books (new or old) to libraries. Hachette Book Group does not allow new titles to be lent as e-books, and HarperCollins allows new e-books to be borrowed only 26 times before the library has to buy a new copy. This leaves Random House as the only big six publisher currently allowing unfettered access to its e-books through libraries.

Last night I was poking around TRL’s downloads for a new ebook to read and came up short. I ended up going over to Smashword and then Feedbooks and found something in their free downloads to read. I thought at the time our selection seemed thin, but didn’t put too much to it. But, knowing that three of the six large publishers don’t allow us to stock their content at all makes it very clear why it seemed that way.

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Clearing out the links

I have a back log of things I’ve meant to blog about, but haven’t gotten to since early September. So, instead of just letting them fall of the radar, I’m going to just start posting links in batches until the archive is clear.

1. Making the Case for Support of Libraries

And you must share not just with people that are using your services, but especially with those who don’t ever visit the library: the elected officials, the high income voters, the leaders in your communities, and the potential private funders. Contact the media, speak at local community meetings (neighborhood associations, rotary, PTA), have a booth at the farmer’s market or grocery store one week, set up meetings with local leaders, do whatever it takes to be visible.

This point is the most important, getting the word out to civic center of your community the good work the library does. OCLC calls these folks the “greater good.”

2. Amazon May Soon Launch a “Netflix for Books”

Mix together one part rebranding fines as “extended use fees” or just a Netflix program and one part mailing books to patrons, and you have Netflix for Books.

3. Information Outlook: Advocating for Librarians – Versus Libraries

Libraries are buildings, librarians are the service.

4. Library Future.0

5. Revolutionising Libraries with Social Media

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This concern for mico-libraries is a bit much


Lauren Comito, a Queens librarian and communications director for advocacy group Urban Librarians Unite, sees niche libraries as a threat that “perpetuate the myth that libraries are ‘a bunch of books on a shelf’ and that anyone could be a librarian, you just have to like to read.”

“At least one of these ‘DIY’ libraries is a doghouse full of books,” Ms. Comito said. “Well, if people confuse [public libraries] with being just a bigger version of a doghouse full of books, then yes, they could weaken our finances by cheapening our value from a profession to a hobby.”

Okay, just remove the “I’m a professional, so don’t you pretend you know what I’m doing” haughtiness of that comment. Even after that, I think she’s missing the point totally on these super-local, super-personal libraries (yes, they really are in every sense, libraries).

I’ll be the first to point out that any library (micro, dog house, or New York Public) is not a structure full of books. But, neither are these micro-libraries. They are a physical extension of a reading and learning community.

And, that’s what the best aspect of these micro-libraries, they represent an active community around them. The best libraries do this, reflect their communities.


While public libraries continue to struggle financially and bookstore chains succumb to the e-revolution, privately funded micro-libraries like Mr. McMullan’s are popping up around the city. Their founders—mostly artists and bibliophiles who tired of Googling their way to enlightenment—share a reverence for conventional libraries and their tradition of community programming.

“The internet is an incredible information tool, and Kindles seem very convenient,” Mr. McMullan said. “But they don’t satisfy a need we have for local, real-space exchange. These libraries are meant to help neighbors meet, know, and help each other.”

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“Web wins” user segment and a Lifehacker post

I’ve been meaning to write about my impressions of the “web wins” segment outlined in OCLC’s great report “From Awareness to Funding.” The report divides library supporters into various segments, aligning them in a pyramid. Top supporters at the peak, with less enthusiastic supporters all the way down.

Web Wins is a segment in the third tier,  which means while they might support library funding, they’re significant barriers to their support, and that when you build a levy campaign, you can’t really count them in.

What put me over the line to write about the Web Wins group was an important blog for that segment, Lifehacker, dissing libraries. A few days ago, Lifehacker listed the Top 10 Ways to Find Better Answers Online (that Aren’t Google) and didn’t mention library reference services like Ask-Wa. I left a comment asking a bit indirectly why libraries weren’t listed, and I got one supportive answer.

The OCLC report seems to accept the storyline that if you’re a digital native and that you’re comfortable using the web, there’s very little that the library can do to drag you from the web. But, if you dig deeper into the data, you actually find some very important lines between the group and the library.

In their survey responses, Web Wins people use the library less than the average in most categories (check out fiction, check out non-fiction, read newspaper or magazines), except for two categories.

Web wins uses the library more than average to do homework or study (35 percent vs. 27 percent) and do research/work for business or place of employment (31 to 26). My reading of this is that while the web wins for this segment in general, when push comes to shove, they use the library.

Looking at these two unique uses of the library, as a work and study space for serious endeavors, there is a route to bringing the Web Wins group into the fold. Just from their name, it’s obvious that information is important to this segment, libraries are just being out-competed.

When you look at their level of library support, it seems like this group is just on the other side of the line of being at least average library supporters. On OCLC’s scale, Web Wins is at 90, with the average being at 100 and the lowest probable supporter segment at 136. The line isn’t very far away for Web Wins.

What I don’t think will happen is that libraries will drag this segment off the web, but the web services the library already provides (and will develop and provide in the future) will become an important part of their tool belt.

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