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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Watch the candidates forum from tonight

The first of three library director’s forum happened earlier tonight and you can watch it here. Let me know what you think.

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Three things you need to know about the Timberland Library director search process

1. There are three candidates we’re considering: Ann Hammond (fact sheet), Cheryl Heywood (fact sheet) and Jeff Scott (fact sheet) .

A few months ago the board of trustees put together a subcommittee. Working with a consultant, we whittled a fairly long list down to the three finalists.

2. There are three chances for you to get out to see the candidates later this week.

Thursday, November 8
Timberland Administrative Service Center 6 – 7:30 p.m.
415 Tumwater Blvd. S.W., Tumwater

Friday, November 9
Aberdeen Timberland Library 10:30 a.m. – Noon
121 E. Market St., Aberdeen

Chehalis Timberland Library 3 – 4:30 p.m.
400 N. Market Blvd., Chehalis

Those forums, while not streamed live, will be available online soon after they’re completed. You will be able to find the forums here.

3. The board of trustees will meet on Saturday to first hand interview the candidates on Saturday. This will likely be an all day process and I’m not at all sure we’ll have any sort of news to report out of that meeting.

I’m very excited to get this final leg of the process going. I think we have a very good group to choose from. If you have any thoughts on the candidates, please consider attending one of the forums. Or you can comment here or email me at eoconnell (at) trl (dot) org

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Tracking down an old buddy (other services story and other materials for the next meeting)

Our next meeting is coming up in Salkum this Wednesday. Here’s one of the always awesome service stories (this one from Hoodsport):

A husband and wife stopped into the library and asked how to locate someone in Potlatch, WA. Since there is no official Potlatch city, we asked more questions. The husband was trying to locate a buddy who had served with him in Vietnam. They were split up during the war and he did not even know if his friend had survived. He gave us his name and we looked in the phone book with no success. However, the last name was uncommon and they had the phone number of another family with the last name. We knew them as regular library users, so suggested they call them. The couple walked out into the parking lot, placed the call, and found information that could lead them to Florida and locating his long lost, but not forgotten buddy. We have yet to hear the rest of the story, but hope someday we will.

Where else in the community would someone have been able to drop in an have an experience like this?

You can find the rest of the meeting materials here, including the meeting tentative agenda.

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My thoughts on updating the filtering policy

A few months ago, we began discussing in the Policy Committee our thoughts on updating the filtering policy (or policies actually). This discussion was kicked off by a desire by some trustees to revisit the topic following the decision in the so-called North Central Library case. In that case, the federal court (and state Supreme Court) held the North Central Library system could filter all computers, no exceptions.

Here is a story in the Daily World detailing our discussion so far.

Here are some documents that are part of our packet this month’s meeting, where filtering will be a topic.

Here are my thoughts in no particular order:

1. I’m fine with the current policies. I think they strike a balance between personal freedom of thought and public safety. Currently we filter somewhere around 60 percent of the public computers, with the remaining 40 percent with privacy techniques and the possibility that the default filter could be turned off. All of our computers in childrens’ areas are also filtered with no option to turn it off.

2. We always filter for child pornography, malware and software that could circumvent the filter in the first place.

3. Where I think we fail in our policies is explaining how we might make one particular branch all-filtered, no exceptions. In two cases (Elma and Salkum), TRL staff have removed the option to unfilter computers because of a risk to public safety. These decisions were made with board knowledge. While our policies are written broadly enough to allow for this practice, we should spell it out.

4. And, while I’m at it, just this final thought: let’s get beyond talking about filtering computers. Filters and censorware are obviously part of the library landscape. For now I think we’ve found a good balance between the rights and needs of our patrons and the sensibilities of our public. But, I don’t to make this filtering discussion the only time we get to talk about the internet on the board level.

If we think the internet is so bad it needs to be filtered, let’s get focused on making the internet a better place. More edit-a-thons, more answering questions on Yahoo Answers (or Metafilter or Reddit). More of embracing the internet and less keeping it at arms length.


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