The Other Shoe of #hcod

Lest anyone forget that there was more than one outrageous aspect in the Overdrive dispatch to libraries over eBooks, Karen Schneider reminded me that there was another bombshell that went with the limited eBook checkouts. I’ll quote the blurb on Bobbi Newman’s post and keep the emphasis that she added:

In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.). I can assure you OverDrive is not interested in managing or having any say in your library policies and issues. Select publisher terms and conditions require us to work toward their comfort that the library eBook lending is in compliance with publisher requirements on these topics.

My gut answer is “Um, how about no?”

In the same paragraph in which Overdrive assures that they are not interested in being involved in library policies, they accede to the publisher’s concerns by making it is a requirement to cooperate with those terms. I can only presume this was in done in the absence of consultation with their library “partners”. I’m not super familiar with partnerships in which one party simply tells the other what the deal is going to be without recourse; perhaps I cling onto an antiquated definition of partnership which includes bilateral communication. But if there had been some form of consultation as to the viability of these publisher fears, I would imagine their shock when they found out that what publishers want already exists.

First, libraries can pretty damn good at identifying who gets borrowing privileges. Whether it is a school, town, county, college, or hospital, one of the things that is well established in policy is who gets a card and who doesn’t. Generally this is shaped around who pays taxes or membership fees, who has active employment or enrollment at the school, or who simply works there, but I will concede there are a few exceptions. However, since library privileges are built around the concept of “who is in and who is out”, the publisher’s concerns have already been addressed. It’s a policy that is enforced everyday in libraries across the United States. Case closed.

Second, libraries already enforce patron qualifications as to who can remotely access materials through the library website. Long before eBooks appeared on the scene, databases were the outreach resource that could be accessed from outside the library walls. As a subscription service, libraries were pretty keen to ensure that only qualified parties could use these materials (especially there were a limited number of logins permitted). In order to access this content, an individual needs a library card; the same would be true with eBooks. As the issuance of library cards was handled in the previous point, the publisher’s concern is moot.

It really makes me wonder if publishers who are expressing these concerns are out of touch with libraries. They could walk down to their own public library or their kid’s school library or call up a university library and ask the very basic question as to what it takes to get a library card. Library card issuance policies are as clear cut as they get in the library world.

As to Overdrive, a little more consideration might be in order. Seriously, before making the mistake of rolling over to some unwarranted hand wringing, a little research might be in order. The answers might surprise you or already be in place.


So, here are my remaining questions as it pertains to this other shoe that Overdrive dropped:

(1) Who are these publishers that have concerns? Names would be good.

(2) What are these concerns in detail? What are these nebulous terms and conditions? Some details would be illuminating.

10 thoughts on “The Other Shoe of #hcod

  1. I’m shaking my head in amazement over this issue. Seriously, every library I deal with or work in has the requirements right on their library website. It’s a common question for reference and circulation. How could they not know this? Do they think we’re handing ebooks out to whomever feels like getting one? Seriously? Maybe they should try what their business is supposed to encourage, and which ours absolutely does: reading.

  2. Pingback: The Other Shoe of #hcod | The Digital Reader

  3. When I read statements like “library card issuance policies are as clear cut as they get in the library world,” I really do wonder about how in touch you are with libraries, yourself. Yes, your typical “resident” card (i.e. the person pays taxes to the library) is very clear cut, but those aren’t the issue here. At issue are the “non-resident” cards, and they are anything but clear cut.

    Every state has their own conditions about who these cards can be issued to and at what cost. Some have no regulations at all– I worked at a public library in one state that would allow anyone to purchase a card for only 25 dollars. Needless to say, we had cardholders nationwide who purchased these inexpensive cards to access electronic resources to which their own public libraries did not subscribe. Also needless to say, once the vendors caught wind of that, we had to stop allowing access to anyone outside of a certain distance from the library.

    I’m now at a library in a state with very specific requirements about who can purchase a non-resident card. If you live outside of the state, you cannot purchase a card and the purchase price is very expensive. On the flip side, anyone with a valid library card from the state can register it for use at any public library in the state. We had been allowing these reciprocal users to access electronic resources remotely. Again, once the vendors found out, we were ordered to stop.

    My point in writing this is to illustrate that card issuance policies are not as clear cut as you imply, and there is much precedent for vendors of electronic resources taking steps to limit access by geography. After all, their pricing structure is often based upon service population, so it is quite reasonable to make sure access is given only to people within that population.

    • My answer to you is commingled with my reply to Kelly below. And I thank you for your comment since it’s the first I had heard of such things. So now it makes more sense.

  4. The Free Library of Philadelphia will allow anyone to get a library card for $15 a year. They mail you the card and you get regular access to their OverDrive and NetLibrary collections. I can see why some people would have a problem with that.

    I spend a lot of time on a national book discussion board, and everybody with a new e-reader is immediately advised to get a card from Philly if their local library doesn’t offer e-books yet. There are dozens of people from all around the country who are heavy users of the Free Library’s e-book collection, all for the price of one e-book a year.

    • Well, there ya go. Now I can guess where all the hand wringing is coming from. And it totally makes sense in that context. However, how prevalent is something like that?

      If I looked at my own system, it’s $50 for an out-of-county card. What would be the requirements that they would want beyond that? Could they be a county over? (We are on the Delaware, so that means the next county over could be in Pennsylvania.) Within the state? How far is too far? Would we have to make special cards for those who are close enough to buy-in?

      Further thought, one that came from my dad: who cares who is borrowing if you have a limited license? The more it circs, the sooner you’d have to re-buy. Yes, this doesn’t work for databases, but if you have a limited license, wouldn’t you want this book to go out a ton? Isn’t that the point?

      These publisher concerns are just so damn nebulous.

  5. Perhaps I’m just overly skeptical or suspicious but I doubt that the publishing companies aren’t aware of these card policies. They are companies who are out to make profits and demographics are always useful to them. To finally get a little info that could help them with marketing, publishing decisions, etc. is probably worth this fight for them. And of course the hopes that protecting their interests even more strictly will earn them higher profits are strong motivation. I, too, would be interested in knowing the particulars. This seems like a door that’s opening down a shadowy path for libraries and patrons.

  6. In New York, state law governs who can get a card for which library. How can publishers make up their own rules for library cards when we are obligated to abide by state law? Ridiculous.

  7. Wouldn’t this simply be a matter of license language? We don’t have Overdrive, but all of our licenses say very clearly who we can (and can’t) use our licensed electronic resources. I’m at an academic library. The minute a student graduates, she’s cut off. If a student drops out – gone, baby, gone. I am not happy about it, but that’s standard license language. It would hardly be unfamiliar to most libraries.

    If publishers have a beef it should be with Overdrive, not libraries, if in fact their expectation was to limit access by residence. I doubt Philly’s other licenses allow those $15 memberships to access databases.

    The issue about consortia, though, is troubling – most small libraries have no hope of funding Overdrive individually. But you know, sharing things and banding together is kinda unamerican these days… [sigh]

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