Now What? We Do This

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, 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.


Other Thoughts

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.

12 thoughts on “Now What? We Do This

  1. Great ideas, Andy. While you’re at it, make sure you inform state and local politicians about HCOD. Public libraries are funded by tax dollars. Maybe our local and state governments can pass statements or resolutions regarding “disappearing” books. Libraries are funded by tax dollars, after all.

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  3. Thanks for posting this, Andy. Concrete steps like were exactly the sort of thing I had hoped people would contribute to my “Okay, Now What?” question. I’m still not sure a boycott is the most effective thing we can do. But your suggestions (the boycott included) are all things we are capable of doing.

    But I wouldn’t stop with HarperCollins. How can we extend our entreaties to the other publishers that refuse to work with libraries? Which Simon & Schuster or Macmillian authors are friendly to libraries, and stand to lose sales from these policies?

    What about Overdrive – how are they going to manage checkout limits if they come into widespread use across the board? Will we have advance warning of when these limits are reached? Is there any sort of grace period for books that have holds on them? Are they going to provide better pricing for books with finite checkout licenses? These are all practical considerations that will affect our purchasing decisions.

    The momentum is rolling, and it’s up to us to keep it going far and wide.

  4. What about a Public Library Cooperative buying group. Form an organization that purchass directly from the suppliers. Reduces cost when we buy in mass. That way we can begin to dictate cost. All of us small people buying separetly have no real say.

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  7. I did receive a response from Harper Collins–which said nothing except to thank me for contacting them, encourage me to continue the discussion, and provide an attached copy of the same statement they posted elsewhere.

    I haven’t received any response to my follow-up email.

    I cannot imagine buying ebooks for libraries on these terms.

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  9. Go boycott! Buying ebooks under these terms in an ineffective use of taxpayer money. As stewards of our communities tax money it would be irresponsible to waste it in this way.

  10. Our consortium offering of OverDrive content was one of the things we were able to point to last year and this when our state legislature wanted to dismantle library services. We said “look, we’ve provided services to even the tiniest of libraries in our state, with modern digital content and support” using a variation on the model we were proposing to the Leg. Several of the legislators found that sort of cooperative work compellling.
    Because of this, I think I’m most concerned about this creating a “wedge” in the e-content model (however flawed – and it is massively flawed, I agree) because I don’t want it to wedge open (and maybe break) the cooperative programs we’ve created.

    We have the additional problem that we also buy an Advantage program of e-books for our library’s users only, and we don’t want to find ourselves pressured to buy HC books because the consortium is not, or even vice versa.

    Thanks for your useful and level-headed words on the topic, Andy.

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