Toby Greenwalt’s recent post asked “Okay, Now What” in regard to the HarperCollins/Overdrive debacle along with a couple of very good questions. These questions are important because they signal negotiating positions from where librarians are (roughly) coming from: what our ideal eBook lending environment would be and what price we would pay for that. They are also important because that kind of introspection examines a more basic question as to whether or not eBook lending is even a viable option.
In watching the conversations develop on different fronts, I believe that what I am about to outline is the best course of action moving forward.
Between Now and March 7th
[March 7th is significant since that’s when the new licensing agreements start. Overdrive will move them into their own catalog on that day.]
(1) We work on getting actual communication going with HarperCollins (one blog post statement that simply restates their reasoning is not bilateral communication). I have yet to see anyone post a reply they have received to their messages send to library.ebook@HarperCollins.com, so I’m not sure if that is simply a black hole for people to air their discontent or an actual feedback channel. If anyone has heard anything, I’d love to see it.
HarperCollins, if you are actually reading this, consider hosting a conference call that librarians can dial into. We’d like to hear from you in more detail and ask a few (dozen) questions. That might be the easiest way to reach a good number of people who have interest in this issue all at once in a short period of time. This email thing is not working too well here.
(2) We expand to contacting authors, readers, library board members, trustees, and friends to educate them on what this change means for us. I’d suggest a sample letter or notice for each group that explains the importance of the perpetual collection and the cultural record that the library maintains. There are other avenues of pressure that should be utilized and we should be looking to expand support for our side.
March 7th and onward
(1) I believe that boycotting HarperCollins eBooks is the most effective tactic at our disposal. It doesn’t deny physical print to patrons and addresses the problem as we see it (the eBook licensing agreement). Since it is a matter of the licensing agreement changes, to make that the recipient of all the protest and attention would be the best and most compelling action.
(2) We continue sending letters and emails to HarperCollins, Overdrive (as a client), authors, library patrons, and readers everywhere. We look to both librarian and non-librarian news outlets and take our cases there. We are not out of forums for our discontent, not by a long shot. It is just a matter of continuing to push.
How long? Till we get the change we are looking for.
I think a total boycott is overreaching since the problem is with the eBooks, not the entire line of HarperCollins products. I think accepting these terms and continuing to do business is an even worse decision for it puts the future of eBook collections entirely at risk. As much bellyaching as there is about a disruption to the workflow since all of the HarperCollins titles will have to be reevaluated for purchases when they hit the magic twenty six number, I assure you that NO ONE will be happy when they are doing it for the ENTIRE eBook collection.
For those who suggest that boycotting is against service to patrons or assault on reading, I disagree. Service to patrons is not done in a vacuum; the idea of “giving them what they want” is not without outside considerations for space, staffing, budgets, or means. To ignore the greater issues of future information access in order to give our patrons an eBook now is a complete abandonment of professional principles. The library cannot maintain the cultural record if it surrenders the very materials it wishes to keep to a third party. Art museums do not store their collections at the artist’s studios; neither should we allow publishers to offer eBooks on the electronic equivalent of a yo-yo string.
Service to patrons is also not blind devotion in which parting with good judgment or business sense is a prerequisite. This myopic rationale surrenders the future of eBook access in favor of what is easy, what is convenient, and simply another chapter of going-along-to-get-along in the history of librarianship. The people today who are flabbergasted by the idea that library did not order more physical copies of their favorite title will think us stupid when it comes to not having an eBook available because of an expired license. And they will be right.
This is a situation in which we as individuals will have to stand together to be the change we want to see in the treatment of eBooks. There is no one who is going to come to our rescue; not the ALA, not our state associations, not authors nor readers. The future of lending and collecting eBooks is what is at stake here. And as they become a greater part of our collections, how eBooks are handled and treated matters all the more. It is important to act now and decisively. It is important for the continued future of eBooks in libraries.
Now is the time. Take action.