Much Ado About Publishing

OThis week (and possibly at secret locations), top officers and officials from ALA meet with publishing companies Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Penguin, and Random House publishers  in New York City. The announcement of these meetings has moved me to a place of cautious cynicism. As much as I had previously hoped for publishers to meet with the library community, I’m sketchy as to the possible results and benefits from these gatherings. The ALA’s list of demands starts off with a demand for publishers to listen to their demands and (I love this part) “deal with libraries and […] do this as soon as possible”. I’m unsure as to the origin of this Jack Bauer sense of urgency; libraries have already missed the eBook train. (And by missed, I mean “kept off of it”.) While some might see this as a time for catching up, I’d be more interested in what it would take to catch up as well as the terms associated. More than likely, if current eBook licensing arrangements are any indication, it could have the makings of a pill that is too bitter to swallow.

Publishers, for their part, aren’t in much of a better talking position. If they are counting on brick-and-mortar stores like Barnes and Noble to be their saviors, then libraries are a natural second choice for physical locations that supply books to a population. But, since we lend materials (and lending is a codeword  for “lost sale”, no matter if a person patiently waits three months to read a book), this presents a unusual hesitance for allowing the lending eBooks to libraries. Coupled with the fact that they have “new concerns about the security of our digital editions”, this might be a starting stalemate for any meetings.

Personally, I would *love* to hear any and all explanations given to this latter point. So, a person who downloads an eBook directly from Amazon or Barnes & Nobles is not a threat, but someone who is required to installs Adobe Digital Editions, make an account with Adobe, then use their library card through the library’s website is a threat? How different is the file in these cases that makes one a problem and the other not?

Simply put, this won’t be a “Come to Jesus” moment for publishers nor will it be a breakthrough for less restrictive library eBook lending. I’d like to imagine that these meetings would be productive, but I think that the only thing they will produce are press releases about their productivity.

Digital and First Sale Doctrine Thoughts

LISNews had this interesting article on the death of the First Sale Doctrine in the digital age. In rebuking ownership and proclaiming that the software, music, movies, books, and so forth are licensed, leased, or rented, people are denied the right to transfer (and for the specific purposes of this post, lend or give) a copyrighted work from themselves to another. While I will concede that my support for the establishment of First Sale Doctrine rights for digital property has major problems when it comes to how to transfer ownership, I can’t help but wonder if the elimination of ownership (or even the ability to lend or give) is a good thing or a bad thing.

My first reaction to the article was the immediate difference between purchasing and (in effect) renting. In disallowing ownership and some of the stakeholdership associated with it, does it transform our notions of pop culture into a transitory or disposable one? (Considering how quickly music groups and movies fly through our lives, perhaps this is a late discovery.) As much as companies might feel that lending is a lost sale, is this better than having people with no actual investment in a media or medium and treating it as such? Without ownership ties, does this effect how easily or readily people might give up on a band, book, or movie? I can’t help but feel like it does.

Following this, all I could imagine is what the management of digital rights must cost the industries involved and what it would be in perpetuity. As the number of works increases, it will involve managing those copyrights and their associated trademarks and brands. Considering the length of copyright protecting, this means that someone will have to be placed into the role of the ever vigilant observer to ensure these rights are protected till they expire. (Perhaps there can be some sort of pseudo-religious order founded on the basis of protecting copyrights since it’s going to take several generations of keepers to safeguards. Like the Knights Templar of Copyright or something.) How much of an actual cost will become? Is this a better allocation of resources compared to establishing some digital rights?

Given that companies have gone after file sharers and come up with a fistful of bad press and a negative cost: benefit ratio, there has to be a sensible middle ground.

What are your thoughts? Can First Sale exist in the digital age?

Andrew Sullivan on the Book Publishing Industry

Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan has a feature on his blog called “Ask Andrew” in which you email a question and he records a video response. As he is a critic of the publishing industry in its current form, I asked him:

In the past, you’ve made statements that the publishing business model needs to change to reflect our modern technological culture. In your opinion as an author, what would the publishing industry need to do to accomplish this?

I almost missed it, but I was delighted to see that he recorded a response. Take a look.

The Concerned Librarian’s Guide to the 2012 ALA Midwinter Exhibit Hall

With a number of issues floating around libraryland at the present moment, there has been talk in some of the my social circles about what to do about them. Specifically, how to approach tackling them as it relates to library vendors who have expressed support for legislation that has the potential to impede or block access to information (directly or as collateral damage). As the ALA Midwinter Meeting is just around the corner, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for librarians to meet with company representatives to discuss their concerns about current contentious legislation (such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Research Works Act (RWA)) as well as ongoing concerns (such as library eBook lending). Lest some perseverate or advocate for delaying action, our professional conferences are the best venue to voice our concerns face-to-face for the wide array of actions that have the potential to interfere with information access and exchange. This is not the time to waiver on our values and principles.

Over the last couple of days, I have examined 424* conference exhibitors to determine their support (if any) for either of these pieces of legislation. In addition, I’ve made note of any publishing companies outside of the Big Six that offer eBooks. I believe that eBooks are an essential conversation that librarians should have with smaller publishing operations and to perform inquiries as to what policies they have about library lending (if any) and how the library can work with them so as to include their content in our collections. It is in these introductory conversations that I hope can lead to better and more promising arrangements for our communities and institutions.

* My list was current as of 1/3/12. They have since added 7 vendors to which I have not researched.

The Stop Online Piracy Act

Here are a list of supporters as supplied by Representative Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. (I’ve placed their exhibit booth number next to their names.)

  • Association of American Publishers (more on them later)
  • Cengage Learning [2219]
  • Disney Publishing Worldwide [1423]
  • Elsevier [2229, 2333]
  • Hachette Book Group [1613]
  • HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide [1528, 1529]
  • Hyperion [n/a]
  • MacMillan [1509, 1510, 1511]
  • McGraw-Hill Education (Part of the McGraw-Hill companies) [920]
  • Penguin Group (USA), Inc. [1426]
  • Random House [1728, 1729]
  • Scholastic, Inc. [1327, 1328]
  • The Perseus Book Group [1644]
  • W.W. Norton & Company [1522]

Within the member’s list of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) there are a number of ALA exhibitors. It should also be noted that their Board of Directors has executives from the companies listed above as well as other library vendor companies. Here are AAP members who will be exhibitors:

  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Inc. [2533]
  • AIP/Publishing [735]
  • American Psychological Association [2245]
  • Cambridge University Press [1251]
  • Columbia University Press [2456]
  • Galaxy Press [1454]
  • Grove/Atlantic, Inc. [1544, 1545]
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt [1628]
  • Ingram Content Group, Ingram Coutts [829]
  • John Wiley & Sons [1129]
  • Library of Congress [1829]
  • Morgan & Claypool Publishers [704]
  • Oxford University Press [1205]
  • Simon & Schuster, Inc. [1605]
  • Star Bright Books [1638]
  • Sterling Publishing Company [1417]
  • University of California Press – Journals [2451]
  • Wolters Kluwer Health/Ovid [1744]
  • Workman Publishing [1339]

NOTE: It should be stressed that association membership does not necessarily confer support for everything the association does. Of all people, ALA members should be able to able to understand that fine distinction. This doesn’t mean that you cannot approach these vendors about the actions being taken by their professional association.

Here are some other exhibitors worth mentioning but need a little explanation.

  • Abington Press (a member of the Church Music Publisher’s Association, which is a SOPA supporter) [1458]
  • Alexander Street Press (partners with companies that are AAP members) [2016]
  • JSTOR & Portico (part of ITHAKA which is an AAP member) [2405]
  • LexisNexis & LexisNexis Academic & Library Solutions (parent company is Elsevier) [2329]
  • Listening Library (parent company is Random House) [1728]
  • Nature Publishing Group (a division of MacMillan) [2010]
  • Palgrave MacMillan (part of the MacMillan group) [1305]
  • RAND State Statistics (parent company RAND is an AAP member) [742]
  • S&P Capital IQ (a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill) [924]
  • Wall Street Journal (owned by NewsCorp, a SOPA supporter) [2512]
  • Tor-Forge Books (part of the MacMillan group) [1505]
  • University of Tennessee School of Information Science (their university press is part of the AAP) [721]

Furthermore, after seeing the list of the AAP Board of Directors, I did some deeper examinations into a few library organizations and companies. Again, I will absolutely stress that any connections do not equate to support for actions associated with the organizations nor does it mean that individuals will be able to influence policy. I am simply relating what I found because I find connections (even casual ones) interesting.

  • ALA Treasurer James Neal is Vice President for Information Services & University Librarian for Columbia University. Columbia University Press is an AAP member.
  • OCLC President & CEO Jay Jordan serves on the Governing Board of Publishing for the American Chemical Society, an AAP member which also has representation on their board of directors. He also serves on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Board of Visitors; University of North Carolina Press is an AAP member. Also from OCLC, Vice President Lorcan Dempsey serves as a member of the Cambridge University Library Visiting Committee; Cambridge University Press is an AAP member. Edward Barry, Vice Chair of OCLC’s Board of Trustees, is a President Emeritus of Oxford University Press which is (as you guessed it) an AAP member.

In approaching vendors to talk about this issue, I’d suggest doing some research and coming up with some talking points and questions you want to ask. Jessamyn West has a great post about SOPA and libraries which includes links to other resources. Plagiarism Today has a wonderful blog post about avoiding the SOPA hype (both for and against) which is worth reading as well. On the more technical and legal side, the Stanford Law Review covers the nuts and bolts of what the bill would do. Eric Hellman talks about what it can mean for foreign libraries. Finally, Wikipedia General Counsel Geoff Brigham offers an excellent analysis of what the bill would do to the internet and to Wikipedia.

EDIT: Springer [2039] is actually Springer Science + Business Media, not Springer Publishing. They are supporters of Open Access. Thanks to Heather from Springer SBM for pointing out that out! I won’t have a chance to update the map, so be nice!

THE RESEARCH WORKS ACT

While this legislation is not as broad as SOPA, it does create ripples of effect in the academic/scholarly publishing world. SPARC sums it up:

Essentially, the bill seeks to prohibit federal agencies from conditioning their grants to require that articles reporting on publicly funded research be made accessible to the public online.

Or, as better and more specifically explained by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing:

That bill would prohibit all federal agencies from putting any privately published articles into an online database, even — and this is the kicker — those articles based on research funded by the public if they have received “any value-added contribution, including peer review or editing” from a private publisher. This is a direct attack on the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed Central, the massive free online repository of articles resulting from research funded with NIH dollars.

[…] NIH’s public-access policy, which requires authors who receive any NIH funding to contribute their work to PubMed Central within 12 months of publication.

The nexus of the uproar originates from a press release from the American Association of Publishers endorsing the bill. Basically, it creates a situation where the public would be required to purchase access to research projects and papers that are the result of publically funded grants and programs. (Or, as one title of a blog post on the topic put it, “You buy the cow, then I’ll sell you the milk.”)

Dorothea Salo went through the AAP member list and I matched it to the ALA vendor list to come up with a list of exhibitors who will financially benefit or otherwise be effected or influenced by the Research Works Act. Her criteria is as follows:

  • Remove book publishers unless they have an obvious journal arm
    (for example, Macmillan owns Nature Publishing Group.);
  • Keep scholarly societies;
  • Keep university presses unless they’re Rockefeller University Press;
  • Remove most service bureaux and other metavendors (I did leave one
    or two on; judgment call)

Here is the resulting list of ALA exhibitor vendors along with their space numbers:

  • American Psychological Association [2245]
  • Association for Computing Machinery [2533]
  • Cambridge University Press [1251]
  • Columbia University Press [2456]
  • Elsevier & LexisNexis [2229, 2333] [2329]
  • John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [1129]
  • Macmillan & Macmillan Magazines and Journals [1509, 1510, 1511]
  • Oxford University Press [1205]
  • RAND Corporation [742]
  • University of California Press [2451]
  • Wolters Kluwer [1744]

Like SOPA, I would suggest formulating some talking points and questions before you approach any vendors that provide journal publishing and/or access. John Dupuis has an extremely thorough collection of RWA related posts that provide many different angles and opinions on the issue. There’s also a great New York Times OpEd piece that nails the issues and the concerns. These are good starting points into the creation of talking points.

While you’re at it, you might want to make yourself familiar with the Open access movement in publishing. Peter Suber offers a large and comprehensive overview of Open Access which can answer a lot of questions (and possibly raise a few others). Take the time to read it over and ask vendors about how they feel about it.

I felt that it is important to include a list of AAP members who will not be exhibiting at ALA Midwinter, but still stand to benefit from the RWA legislation. For those of you who are not going to the conference, consider contacting any of these vendors that you deal with in the course of your work for their stance on RWA.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Anthropological Association
  • American Association for Cancer Research
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • American Chemical Society
  • American Dental Association Publishing
  • American Discovery Publishing
  • American Foundation for the Blind
  • American Geophysical Union
  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • American Institute of Physics
  • American Mathematical Society
  • American Medical Association
  • American Nurses Association
  • American Physiological Society
  • American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.
  • American Scholars Press
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology
  • ASIS International
  • Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
  • Fordham University Press
  • Gallaudet University Press
  • Georgetown University Press
  • Harvard Business Review Group
  • Harvard University Press
  • HighWire Press- Stanford University
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
  • Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, Inc.
  • International Association for the Study of Pain
  • Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development
  • Modern Language Association of America
  • New England Journal of Medicine
  • New York Botanical Gardens Press
  • NYU Press
  • Oncology Nursing Society
  • Optical Society of America
  • Pearson Education
  • Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Princeton University Press
  • SAGE Publications
  • Silverchair Science & Communications
  • Society for Applied Spectroscopy
  • Stanford University Press
  • Thieme Medical Publisher
  • University of Chicago Press
  • University of Hawaii Press
  • University of Illinois Press
  • University of North Carolina Press
  • University of Tennessee Press
  • University of Texas Press
  • The Wildlife Society
  • The Woodrow Wilson Center Press
  • Yale University Press

Honorable mention goes to MIT Press which has come out against RWA in an email from their director Ellen Faran:

“The AAP’s press release on the Research Works Act does not reflect the position of the MIT Press; nor, I imagine, the position of many other scholarly presses whose mission is centrally focused on broad dissemination. We will not, however, withdraw from the AAP on this issue as we value the Association’s work overall and the opportunity to participate as a member of the larger and diverse publishing community.”

Another honorable mention goes to BioMed Central [1860] and their embrace of Open Access policies.

EDIT: As people in the comments have pointed out, “National Academies Press has since 1994 made all their works available for free online, and as of June 2011 now offer all their PDFs as free downloads:http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpine/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=06022011“. They are still AAP members, but they deserve an honorable mention as well. Sorry for the mixup, but thanks for the clarification!

EDIT: JSTOR & Portico [2405] disavows the RWA, but will continue to stay with the AAP. Same for Pennsylvania State University Press.

EDIT: Springer [2039] is actually Springer Science + Business Media, not Springer Publishing. They are supporters of Open Access. Thanks to Heather from Springer SBM for pointing out that out! I won’t have a chance to update the map, so be nice!

[Once again, many heartfelt thanks to Dorothea for her invaluable help for this section. I literally could not have done it without her. -A]

eBooks

When I was examining all the exhibitors, I made a note of publishers that offer eBooks. I would encourage my fellow librarians to stop and have a chat with the people at these companies to see what their policies are, what their plans are (if any) for library lending, and how we can help them make their books available to the public while assuaging their concerns.

Here’s a list of the non-AAP member non-Big Six Publishers vendors who offer eBooks in one form or another:

  • 3M Library Systems [2239]
  • Abrams Books [1604]
  • Alibris [825]
  • Allen Press, Inc. [2453]
  • AltaMira Press [913]
  • Ambassador Books and Media [1944]
  • America Speaks Spanish [1717]
  • Bearport Publishing Co. [1710]
  • Bloomsbury / Walker Books for Young Readers [1506]
  • Bloomsbury Academic [1501]
  • Casemate Publishers [2509]
  • Chafie Press [1456]
  • De Gruyter [1720]
  • DK Publishing Inc. [1432]
  • Dorrance Publishing Company [1824]
  • EBL-Ebook Library [1851]
  • ebrary / EBSCO Information Services [2207]
  • Eerdmans Books for Young Readers [1413]
  • Egmont USA [1633]
  • Emery-Pratt Company [1404]
  • Facet Publishing [1905]
  • Gareth Stevens Publishing [2421]
  • Greenwood [931]
  • Groundwoods Books [1544, 1545]
  • IGI Global [939]
  • Infobase Learning [2022]
  • James Lorimer & Company, Inc. [1556]
  • Lerner Publishing Group [1832]
  • Lexington Books [913]
  • Mackin Education Resources [2409]
  • Marshall Cavendish Corp [1828]
  • Midlandia Press [1557]
  • OECD [822]
  • Omnigraphics, Inc. [1824]
  • Orca Book Publishers [1712]
  • Peachtree Publishers [1704]
  • Pickering & Chatto Publishers [1261]
  • Rosen Publishing Group [2305]
  • Rowan & Littlefield Publishers [913]
  • Scarecrow Press [913]
  • Swets [1105]
  • Taylor & Francis Group [1245]
  • Transaction Publishers [2455]
  • University Press of America [913]
  • World Almanac [2022]
  • Zondervan/Zonderkidz [1535]

I don’t have a listing of Overdrive’s partners or if they work with other library or library consortiums, so some of these publishers might already be working with public libraries. If so, offer them thanks on behalf of the profession for working with us to bring their content to our members.

And just in case you forgot, here’s a listing of the Big Six Publishers and their respective library eBook lending policies.

  • Hachette – This company formerly allowed library eBook lending, but stopped in 2009. (Source) It claims to be reconsidering that decision. (Source)  [1613]
  • HarperCollins – Library eBooks licenses purchased are limited to 26 checkouts before they have to be repurchased. (Source) [1528, 1529]
  • MacMillan – This company does not allow its eBooks to be lent by libraries. (Source) [1509, 1510, 1511]
  • Penguin – A few months back, they pulled of their library eBooks. While they have restored older titles, at present they do not make new titles available for library eBook lending. (Source) [1426, 1429]
  • Random House – This company allows library lending of its eBooks, but has stated that it is currently evaluating that policy. (Source) [1728, 1729] (I’d give these people our thanks for their cooperation in working with us on eBooks. They deserve it. –A)
  • Simon & Schuster – This company does not allow its eBooks to be lent by libraries. (Source) [1605]

You may want to pay these publishers a visit as well to express your concerns about their library eBook lending practices (and, for Random House, our appreciation of their partnership).

You and Your Trip to the Exhibit Hall

In order to make best use of your time at ALA MW and not have to go completely blind trying to mark down exhibitor numbers on your exhibit hall map, I’ve taken the liberty of creating a color coded map for ease of use. It is sized for 8”x11” landscape printing, but you can print it out in any size you need.MW12_concerned_librarian

Click to embiggen.

You can also download a copy of this picture from my Flickr account.

In Closing

Lest people forget, we are customers to these companies. As a target consumer demographic, we do have certain economic based powers within the relationship. Personally, I’m all in favor of diplomacy in opening communications and conversations with the people who provide the content for the communities we serve. But there is and should be limits to the terms and conditions under which we will purchase or license their content for our members. Without vendors to provide content, we are limited in our offerings; but without communities to support us and trust in our business practices, we are nothing. We cannot abdicate our fiduciary responsibilities to make the best use of the resources our communities give us to spend or use on their behalf in the name of providing them with the best, latest, or greatest when the requirements for such content are unreasonable, unfair, or unsustainable.

If you use this post as a guide, good luck, good judgment, and remember to be a good ambassador for the profession and your community.

Now, go kick some ass.

Aftermath

Here’s a district dispatch from the ALA Washington Office. Also, here’s a release from the Special Libraries Association (SLA). The Council on Library Information Resources just realized that they are AAP members, much to their own chagrin.

Eagle eyed Iris Jastram noticed that AAP changed their press release supporting RWA by removing a portion from a  paragraph without any editing indication. The passage removed read:

“Additionally, it would preempt federal agencies’ planned funding, development and back-office administration of their own electronic repositories for such works, which would duplicate existing copyright-protected systems and unfairly compete with established university, society and commercial publishers.”

Before/After:

     

They also added a link entitled Why AAP Supports the Research Works Act that goes into greater detail as to the reasons to support the bill. Or, rather, all of the myths (their term) around it.

Credit where credit is due:

  • Dorothea Salo for her help with the Research Works Act section.
  • The members of the Library Society of the World and their vigilance, encouragement, and help sharing and tracking down links and stories for this blog post. Their help is sprinkled throughout this blog post and would not be as robust as it is without their assistance. Many thanks for all their hard work to help this blog post come into being and the team spirit throughout.

As with all complicated systems, blog posts of this length and size are no different. If I made a mistake, missed something, or am wrong, please let me know so I can remedy it. Thanks. -A

Change log:

EDIT: Moved National Academy Press to the honorable mention section of the RWA portion as per feedback from comments. Thanks Monica and Barbara!

EDIT: Removed Springer from the SOPA list since it’s Springer Science + Business Media and not Springer Publishing (the actual SOPA signer). Adjust your maps and lists accordingly. Thanks Heather!

EDIT: Changed JSTOR and Penn State in the RWA section to reflect their stances. Many thanks to Catherine Pellegrino for tracking these announcements!

EDIT: Added Aftermath section with various reactions from library entities as well as AAP changing their press release.

My Interview with “I Need a Library Job”

My interview with the website I Need a Library Job went up today. It’s a neat little website for library jobseekers. I was glad to participate in the “In Six” interview series where they ask librarians six questions. (Pretty simple, right?)

Earlier that day, I did a Skype interview with Steve Thomas for the February episode of the wonderful Circulating Ideas podcast. I’ve been told that it will be coming out on Valentine’s Day (queue comparisons to the St Valentine’s Day Massacre). I’m pretty sure we had enough material to do a double episode and we hit a very wide range of subjects. I’m looking forward to hearing the final product. (Well, that’s a lie. I dislike listening to myself so I look forward to hearing from people who listen to it to tell me how I sounded.)

Be sure to check out some of the other interviews on I Need a Library Job as well as some of the other people who have been interviewed on Circulating Ideas.

Three Library Predictions for 2012

After covering the lessons learned in 2011, I want to look ahead to 2012. In considering current trends and trying to read the library tea leaves, I opted for just a few predictions for the upcoming year. In addition, I’ve rated them in the likelihood they are to occur.

#1: Here Come The Embargoes!

Publishers and other content creators are looking for ways to push people towards their revenue streams (namely, to buy the book or movie). In their estimations, the only way to do this is to have later release dates for books and movies for libraries. Penguin Group has removed its newest content from the digital library shelves (with the idea of adding them back in at a later date) and Warner Brothers is delaying releases to libraries for four weeks. Given the relatively minor ripples of reaction to these moves compared to the HarperCollin’s limited 26 checkouts shitstorm, my hunch is that publishers will move towards holding back digital editions for a few weeks in order to (in their thinking) push people towards buying the book. None of the Big Six publishers have pursued a limited checkouts idea and that move is coming up on its one year anniversary. But, in holding back content for a few weeks, it will skirt the issue. Sure, libraries will get it a little later than everyone else, but they’ll still get it.

(Of course, far be it from me to point out that one of the things that really moves sales is a quality product (when it comes to movies) or getting people to talk about authors and their latest releases (when it comes to books). I guess we can use our free marketing and shelf space for other things.)

Likeihood: 80%

#2: A Shift to Community over Collection

While some of this is based on content being under siege from the previous prediction, I feel that it will be an impetus to revamp the form and function of the library. While it will not be the bookless library of the Cushing Academy, the shift of a physical reference collection to digital combined, the expansion of digital collections (think backlist), and pressures to demonstrate greater value to the community will take the libraries being constructed now and those being renovated to eliminate shelf space in favor of other space use. Digital creation labs, community use rooms, or even just an expansion of seating and reading areas are just a few ways that the library will be finding new uses for their current spaces.

To repeat myself, I don’t think libraries will be eliminating the physical collection. I do believe that the expansion of ereaders (one in six people and growing) compared with already existing space considerations will put less physical objects on our shelves. In doing so, it will means that there will be more space for other activities and purposes.

Likelihood: 50%

#3: Overdrive gets competition

I’m mildly shocked that they didn’t get direct competition last year, but I think this year could see a viable competitor to Overdrive. Although, given the beating Overdrive took with the HarperCollins business and Amazon just about eating their lunch when it came to the Kindle lending program, I’m not too sure how eager anyone would want to be to step into the ring. However, if they can provide greater assurances for content security to the Big Six than Overdrive, than it eat Overdrive alive.

This is, of course, if publishers don’t withdraw into their intellectual property fortresses and stop library lending altogether.

Likelihood: 25%

In looking in my crystal ball this year, I didn’t have anything that really stood out. I think some things will stay the same (library association members running for office will offer platitudes how awesome libraries are and how they’d love to be their president without contrasting themselves with their opponents, people complaining about ALA and lack of jobs, and a whole lot of time will be wasted in committees, workgroups, and task forces while social politics trumps their efforts). It’s this lack of other trends that makes for few predictions when composing a list for this year.

In taking a quick look as to how I did last year, I made seven predictions. I’d say I got one right (there are more paywalls to content. Thanks NYT!) and the rest were just “I’m sure it sounded good at the time, but what the hell was I thinking?” Otherwise, I recall something I read earlier last year about how predictions of pundits tend to be worse than average. It seems their ideology tends to get in the way. In keeping this in mind, I’m going to get out of the way.

Any predictions you’d like to share for 2012?

A Reference Dilemma

A few months back, I was doing my shift at the reference desk when this gentleman approached me with a question for which helping him has kept me pondering to this day. He asked me for assistance in locating a program that he had heard about which gave free cell phones to low income people. I had never heard of such a program and offered to show him how to do an online search in the course of trying to find this program. (Sometimes people want to learn how to find it themselves online, so I always make that offer when it is appropriate.) He agreed and off we went to the library computer he was using.

In typing out what we knew into a Google search, he had enough information to get the website he was looking at the top of the results list. However, in glancing down the rest of the list, I couldn’t help but notice that they were all websites which proclaimed the program as a scam, rip-off, and other terms that fired off alarms in my head. I pointed out these other results and told him that he might want to do some research before giving any information to this program. He ignored me, clicking on that dubious program’s website, and then started searching the visually intense welcome screen for the sign up link. When I repeated my concerns in extremely unambiguous terms, he looked at me and gave me a reply that I will paraphrase:

“I don’t care. I just want a phone. I don’t have anything, so what can they can they steal from me?”

At this point, I walked away. It was clear that he had made up his mind and was going to sign up for this program even if it wasn’t clear as to whether it really existed, how it worked, or what problems other people had with it. To this extent, at the time I decided that I wasn’t going to help him any further because I could not do so with a clear conscience. Since that day, it’s been one of those puzzlers to me as to where my fiduciary duty begins and ends (or if it even exists), the limits to which people can be helped or stopped from putting themselves in harm’s way, and what my role is as a public librarian as it relates to educating people about the information, resources, and materials that fall into this grey category.

Personally, I’ve subscribed to the idea that personal responsibility plays a major role in terms of information seeking behaviors. I want to leave it up to the individual in placing as few restrictions or obstacles as possible on people using library resources, no matter what I or other people think of their inquiries. It is none of my business nor my judgments and I try to keep it that way.

In terms of controversial online access, I am bound by policy to shut down access to pornography when discovered (and the law when it comes to child pornography or exposing minors to pornography), but no such bureaucratic or legal requirements when it comes to depictions of violence. I do have leeway in terms of discretion for computer use, but it seems internally incoherent to me that someone who is watching two people have sex gets automatically shut down while another watching a video of a mujahidin fighter slitting the throat of captured Russian soldier during the Soviet-Afghanistan war yields a “You’re making people uncomfortable, please stop” style of conversation.

Back to the issue at hand, I wonder at whether it was my place to stop someone from doing something that set off danger bells. Suppose instead that he wasn’t trying to sign up for a free cell phone, but was signing up for cancer treatments. Instead of going with his doctor’s advice, he was going to sign up for a program that yielded the same search results calling it a fraud and a scam. Do I stop him then? Do I refuse to let him use the computer? Do I refuse to give him further assistance? Do I beg and plead for him to do more research before giving his personal information?

Where is the line?

I would reckon that this would make a good class discussion for an MLS class, but I’m wondering how other reference librarians think about this situation. I felt that I did the right thing that day, but it’s the days afterward that having me wondering. What do you think?