About that EQUACC Interim Report…

The ALA’s Equitable Access to Electronic Content (EQUACC) Task Force released its interim report today. The group is examining the challenges and potential solutions to “access, use, distribution and preservation” of digital content. The whole report is on the Library Renewal site. A couple of passages popped out at me.

5. Model Projects (Working Group: Linda Crowe, Mark Stoffan, Jamie LaRue)

The Task Force believes that librarians should be encouraged in testing new models for acquiring and providing access to e-content. These experiments will identify successful and do-able projects that will shape the e-content marketplace, reader interest, and carve out new roles for libraries such as publishing. (Emphasis mine.)

I was pleasantly surprised at that idea; why not get involved in content creation? I would be interested in hearing more of the pros and cons of such an endeavor.

EQUACC’s next steps are contingent, in part, on approval from Council as well as the need for additional funding. In that vein, the Washington Office submitted a proposal for 2015 funding on behalf of the Task Force.

Ok, I guess this is where my understanding of organizational bureaucracy, budgets, and funding gets hazy, so I’ll need someone to gently explain this to me. Because my gut reaction is to wonder what happens between now (2011) and then (2015). I’m sure it’s not as awful as my first impression felt, but a little education would be greatly appreciated on this one. 

Overall, I really liked the report. It was a good progress update on the Task Force as well as a succinct overview of all the issues that they are looking at. I wasn’t expecting any solutions to arise from it, but I did feel like the final report will be an excellent survey for current and future digital content issues.

At the same time this report was being posted, Cindy Orr posted an entry in her blog at Overdrive. As pleased as I was with the Task Force interim report, I cannot say the same for Mrs. Orr’s blog entry. The trouble for me starts halfway through. (Emphasis on the parts that really annoyed the hell out of me.)

On behalf of the Task Force, I would like to suggest that librarians study the issues, articulate what we would realistically like to see happen in this arena, and resist the urge to overreact. As Christopher Harris, one of my colleagues on the committee, says in a recent School Library Journal article, what we need is to discuss and talk through these issues, not lash out in rage. Librarians historically get their facts straight and check their sources carefully. We also uphold copyright law.

I would like to add that we need to educate ourselves and act within the arena that exists right now while we plan for, and try to influence the future. That doesn’t mean that we can’t work to revise copyright law, or try to negotiate new models, or change anything else, but it’s fruitless to argue that all works should be available to the public for free regardless of their copyright status.

It also means recognizing that, no matter what we’d like the facts to be, in most cases we don’t own electronic works, but license them. We also need to consider the reality that authors and publishers and wholesalers need to be paid or they will go out of business.

[…]

While venting anger at HarperColliins may feel good, we should try to remember that they were one of the very first large publishers to agree to take a chance on libraries. They have stated that they consider this 26 checkout model to be a “work in progress.”

I hope that we can remember that things in the digital world are still evolving quickly. Models will develop. New publishers will sign on. We’ll work it out if we stick to our principles of doing our homework, following the law, and advocating for a realistic solution in order to assure equitable access for readers now and in the future.

Wow. I think the most unfortunate part of that condescending passage is how it starts off, “On behalf of the Task Force…” So, is what I am reading in this blog entry what the Task Force really wanted to say to the librarian community? If I was to go all Freud on you, the interim report comes across as the superego and this blog post sounds like the id. Everybody calm down! We need to talk more! You don’t have all the facts! You’re lashing out! You’re not connected to reality!

After punching through all the straw man arguments (no one is arguing for free content, authors not getting paid, or circumvention of copyright), I’m wondering what the point of this blog entry was. It feels somewhere between a plea to give Overdrive (and by association, HarperCollins) a break and an admonishment for people moving forward and taking action on the situation.

As to the former, my perspective is that people seem very restrained; the majority of action taken is against HarperCollins eBook purchasing with only few going for a full boycott. The tone is rather civil, the explanations are clear and rational, and it is being carried out in a respectful manner. Overdrive seems to have a free pass on this one, a lucky break for a middleman company in this interchange.

As to the latter, there’s a pretty standard complaint about ALA not taking action quickly. If people take action in their own hands, then more power to them. To me, this call for doing more homework, more dialogue, and more study of the issue begs the question, “How much more time, talk, and information do you need?” For an direct assertion that people are missing important facts, there is no follow up as to what information they are specifically missing that would dramatically impact their decisions. A simple mention about a link to online resources does not make the case. (And for a group charged with examining digital content access issues for sensory and physically impaired, having resources only available online brings its own issues of the digital divide and online vs. offline librarians into the mix. Just sayin’.)

Overall, I’m interested to see the EQUAAC report when it’s done. I hope that it will be a good and comprehensive overview of the digital content issues. It should be the real “hot read” of the annual conference. Of course, who knows what the situation will look like when June rolls around?

7 thoughts on “About that EQUACC Interim Report…

  1. Initiatives that help to support the ALA’s Strategic Plan over the next five years are referred to as 2015 funds. The ALA Executive Board and Council approve the availability of these funds. So groups are applying for funding now so they can get things done in support of the current Strategic Plan. It’s not when the actual funding would be made available. I hope that helps!

  2. Orr sounds like so many other accommodationists I’ve met (on several subjects). She doesn’t want to rock the boat until we’ve gone through a million committee meetings and worked out a compromise.

    I’ve always heard a compromise between right and wrong is still going to be wrong. It’s better to get things done now. If we wait until later, we’ll be lucky to get HarperCollins to raise the checkout limit to 30.

    • As I commented elsewhere, it felt like she was trying to close the barn door after the horse had left, come back for its wallet, set the timer on its DVR, grabbed its keys, and left again. If this was written a month ago, it would have seemed reasonable.

      • I must have missed that comment from elsewhere. Which means I’m probably missing some context and why I’m not fully getting the horse comment.

        I’m newish to dealing with these issues, so I’m also not sure what you’re referencing when you say it would have seemed reasonable if writtena month ago. What’s the it?

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