Jenica Vs. The ACS Volcano

If you work in an academic library and you haven’t been following the Jenica Rogers/American Chemical Society (ACS) story, you really need to clear some time to sit down and work your way through the whole thing. Hell, if you are the person who works with your library’s vendors, you will want to pay attention. There’s a couple of lessons to be learned here, especially in the public relations department. For an overall summary, it went down like this:

On September 12th, Jenica posted an entry in her blog, “Walking Away from the American Chemical Society”. The post details the circumstances and events that surrounded the decision to drop their ACS journal package for 2013. This is a big deal since the ACS provides accreditations to higher education chemistry programs and some of those accreditation requirements include subscribing to journals published by the ACS. (Just let that conflict of interest thought go for the moment, you can always come back to it.)

The short version is that it would have eaten too much of her acquisitions budget (10%) to cover one department at her university, an unacceptable expense. Jenica made the case to the chemistry faculty and worked with them to find a solution that could accommodate their research and classwork. While not a perfect solution, it was an acceptable one that sustains the academic pursuits of the university. Not all ACS publications were eliminated, but it was cut down to the essential ones along with resources coming from other chemistry publishers and providers.

This, of course, elicits a good amount of discussion since no one has done this before or at least written about it in such an open manner.

Skip ahead two weeks to September 26th to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “As Chemistry Journals’ Prices Rise, a Librarian Just Says No”. The writer reaches out to the ACS for a comment and receives this statement from Glenn Ruskin, Director of Public Affairs.

A spokesman for the American Chemical Society said that the group would not offer a response to Ms. Rogers’s blog post or the conversation that’s sprung up around it. "We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance, and common courtesy are not practiced and observed," Glenn S. Ruskin, the group’s director of public affairs, said in an e-mail message. "As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution." [Emphasis mine.]

And so the descent begins. I’m not wholly familiar with the “We have no comment but here is a comment about why we have no comment” strategy, but it doesn’t seem to really play out very well. It does set the stage for future dismissal of grievances posted online as they can be called illogical, unbalanced, and/or discourteous. But it certainly begs the question as to how Jenica’s blog post (or her overall blog): at which part or parts was her post illogical? How was what she wrote unbalanced? Where was common courtesy not observed?

On the Chemical Information Sources Discussion List (a listserv), Glenn provided a clarification of his statement:

Many thanks for sharing this with me.  Let me assure you that it was not my intention, nor the intention of ACS, to denigrate blogs or users/contributors of blogs or listservs. 

My comment was directed toward the blog that was the subject of the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) story.  Unfortunately, CHE did not use the totality of my comment as I think it would have been clear that I was speaking specifically to the blog that was the point of the story.  Here is the totality of my statement (bolded section was omitted by CHE):

“We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance and common courtesy are not practiced and observed.  As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution.  Therefore, we will not be offering any response  to this blog posting or the conversation that has ensued.

I respect and appreciate responsible bloggers, those that thoughtfully engage on those blogs as well as those that utilize listservs.  No insult was intended, and apologies to those that interpreted the comment that way.  These outlets provide important avenues to further dialogue and collaboration and are valuable assets in the ever evolving digital age.

The individual responsible for the above cited blog certainly has the right to her opinion, but that does not excuse rude behavior or her use of profanity and vulgarity in addressing ACS or its employees. While not evident in the most recent postings, I won’t repeat what she has posted in the past.  But I think you would agree that vulgarity and profanity postings do not lend themselves to meaningful, productive and civil discourse, thus our decision not to engage any further with her on this topic. [Emphasis his]

And thus the character assassination begins. Jenica is portrayed as someone who is rude, profane, and vulgar(1); but, oddly enough, not wrong. Instead, the blog post is presented as “her opinion” which, given the content, seems a bit silly. Pricing tiers could be argued as being fair or not till the end of time, but having something cost 10% of your budget is a fact. Unless the budget numbers go up or the price goes down, it will remain at that fixed point.

Jenica posted a very long response to this email which I’ll just link to; it really is too much to grab for a quote and it is quite comprehensive in rebutting Glenn’s clarification. It details the frustrations she has experienced with the ACS and its staff members that preceded this blowup.

John Dupuis has a great “here be all the links to everything” post up right now if you want to delve into the nitty-gritty. I’d recommend reading posts on the subject by Walt Crawford, Iris Jastram, Jacob Berg, and Chembark as well as Jenica’s followup post.

Ultimately, I see this as a “how not to handle public relations” moment. If you’re not going to comment, then don’t. Providing an explanation as to why you are not commenting that takes a shot at someone is, well, commenting. It’s not letting the story burn out on its own so much as it is now putting gasoline on the fire. Even if I wasn’t Jenica’s friend, this story may make her look bad, but it certainly makes the ACS seem worse. It would seem that there cannot be a public dialogue, even without the bad feelings exhibited.

It is yet another cautionary tale for librarians and library vendors and the relationships they seek to build… or break. I admire Jenica standing tall and (to use her phrase) own her words and back them up. As she states in the post that started this, no one generally wants to be the first out of the gate. But, quite frankly, I can’t think of a better person to lead on this topic. Whether ACS likes it or not, the discussion will continue. It’s simply a matter of time to see what results.



(1) Full disclosure: By Jenica’s own admission she has used profanity to describe how she felt after different encounters with ACS staffers on her personal Friendfeed account, but not found in her blog about the dropping the ACS journal package or other blogs posts. The first two accusations of her posts being illogical or unbalanced still remain unanswered or unexplained.

Thoughts on Library Programming for Adults

About a year and a half ago, I took over the responsibilities for adult programming at my little library. At the time, it was a mixture of a few regular monthly programs along with the occasional one night special class or presentation. I set out to offer a wide range of topics and programs; as an ongoing endeavor, I’d say I’m successful. As I’ve been wanting to write a post on the topic for awhile and got a nudge to do so from the Zen Master of Adult Programming Janie Hermann on Twitter, I’ll give it a shot.

Programming is a lot like juggling.

You have keep a multitude of objects aloft at the same time. Like the plethora of items that people juggle, each has its own needs to remain aloft and can require a certain level of care in doing so. How you catch and toss a tennis ball doesn’t matter as opposed to a bowling ball, knife, or chainsaw. Likewise, programs can be an easy booking with not much setup or a series of protracted steps to arrive at the final product you want.

Booking a program isn’t always the first step. Finding programs, free or paid, can be the first real time consuming activity that goes into this endeavor. There are plenty of free programs out there between governmental agencies and non-profit organizations. The local health board or a group like Habitat for Humanity have staff members who make presentations for the public, either as part of their public service duty or as a means to spread the word of their mission. From my own experience, I have found local residents who are subject experts who are willing to come to the library to share what they know (both paid and unpaid). It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.

It’s also a matter of being receptive to those approaching from the outside. Program proposals come in all shapes and sizes, from an in-person presentation to letters and emails to library member word of mouth. I’ve gotten some great presentations from all three sources. It’s important to verify their credentials and references (really, you don’t want some random guy babbling on about trains because he liked them when he was five), and ultimately it can be an excellent source of library programs.

Once a program is scheduled, the juggle continues on with publicity. It’s important to advertise in your own place as well as in local media outlets and relevant community spots. Flyers can take many forms from the letter sized ones that you staple to a bulletin board to quarter page handouts you give people when they check out material. The local and regional newspapers sometimes have community calendars either in print or online that people use to find out what is going on in their area. A press release is a snappy introduction to the program that you want people to attend that gives them all of the details about the program as well as the time, date, and location. If a program is geared towards a certain group (teen, seniors, kids, etc.), the ability to put publicity out in those areas is also key. This includes social media outlets and go beyond any library Facebook page or Twitter feed; some communities have their own online groups. I post regularly on my town’s Facebook group to let people know what is going on at the library.

If the program is a paid gig, this is where the fabulous payment paperwork happens. Since there are different policies in place all over the place, I’ll just say “Do it in time so the people are paid on time.” Whether that it before the program, the time, or afterward depends on your situation. Otherwise, even with an unpaid gig, you may want to consider an honorarium or gift card to compensate people for their time if they are really going all out for you.

At some relevant point between booking and the actual date of the program, be sure to find out any seating, tables, or AV requirements for the presenter. This information may need to be relayed to another who is setting up the space for the program (or in my case, me). Getting the space ready is a small but important step in the programming juggle.

As the date approaches and if the program has a registration, it is important to remind people of their attendance. Taking the time to write the email or make the call can insure that people will actually show up especially if they signed up for it more than two weeks in advance. I have never had anyone yell at me for providing them with a reminder so it’s a good practice. Also, if there is a waiting list, it can lead to last time cancellations that move people into the program.

Whether you are physically there for the program or let coworkers handle it is a very contextual situation. Certain programs really do need you there to make sure everything goes off right; most of the time it can handle itself. It really does depend on what the program is, who the presenter is, and how complicated it is.

In wrapping up the program, you can analyze it for the future. Did it get the attendance that you hoped for? Was the time and day of the week good? How was the presenter? Was it a good use of staff time and library resources? Should I arrange for this person to come back again? There are a ton of other questions that can be asked, but these are the most basic.

Even this analysis, it is a matter of wrapping up. For any program (paid or unpaid), I always make it a point to call or email the presenter to thank them. I get some feedback from them about how it went and any questions they have for me. If payment arrangements still need attending to, I make sure it’s all set.

And then, as they say, it’s on to the next.

Programming is like juggling. The more you do it, the more things you can keep going at the same time. You will drop some things, you will completely miss, and you will mishandle something. It’s just the way it goes and the lessons that you’ll get over time through practice. But once you get going, you can take any budget and make it into something amazing for the whole community. There is programming out there for everything. It’s just a matter of grabbing and getting it.

If you have tips of your own for programming, add them in the comments.

That Whole Hachette eBook Price Increase Thing

The big news at the end of last week was Hachette, a publisher dipping its toe back in the library eBook market, announcing that it was going to raise prices on its current library eBook catalog by an average of 220%. Here’s a quote provided by Infodocket from an email that Overdrive sent out notifying their customers of the change.

Hachette will be raising its eBook prices on October 1, 2012 on their currently available eBook catalog (~3,500 eBook titles with release dates of April 2010 and earlier). On average prices will increase 220%.

Here’s a post from the Overdrive corporate blog regarding the price increase:

As announced yesterday, Hachette Digital is raising prices on its currently available library eBook catalog (roughly 3,500 titles with release dates of April 2010 and earlier) effective Oct. 1, 2012. Examples of the new pricing include: “Breaking Dawn” by Stephenie Meyer will increase from $22.99 to $34.99; “4th of July” by James Patterson will go from $13.99  to $20.99; and David Sedaris’ “Me Talk Pretty One Day” will go from $14.99 to $37.99.


We understand that any cost increase comes as unwelcome news at a time when library budgets are tight, but we’re encouraged that Hachette has opted to continue participating in library lending.

Let me pull out my nitpicker for this one. In the first paragraph, they picked out three popular authors to give for the price change example. They represent a price increase of 152%, 150%, and 253%, respectively. Since the average was 220%, there have to be at least price increases of 290% to balance out those 150%’s. Even then, that’s assuming that 150% is the low end of price increases. For every step below 150%, there would have to be a corresponding step above 290% to make it average out to 220%. This does not bode well for collection development librarians across the country.

In the second paragraph, it embodies an aspect of the librarian debate over eBooks that I really, really hate: people arguing that continued participation is some sort of magical mitigating factor for bad behavior. It’s not. The idea that librarians should be happy, nay, grateful that publishers are still allowing library eBook lending and that it should negate some really shitty actions and attitudes is absolute insanity. If you went to friend looking for relationship advice and their first response was that you should consider yourself lucky that someone is willing to date you, you’d kick that friend’s ass. It’s a worse argument than saying that libraries should provide to every member’s needs, costs and contracts be damned. And that’s saying a lot.

I do have to admit that I liked the ALA response if nothing more than setting the tone for future action. Pull quote:

After these tentative steps forward, we were stunned to learn that Hachette plans to more than double triple its prices starting October 1. Now we must ask, “With friends like these …’

“We are weary of faltering half steps and even more so of publishers that refuse to sell ebook titles to libraries at all. Today I have asked the ALA’s Digital Content and Libraries Working Group to develop more aggressive strategies and approaches for the nation’s library community to meet these challenges.

I’ll be interested to see what sort of follow-up comes out of it, but I am left hopeful. For a refresher of the previous ALA/Hachette meeting, here’s the ALA statement about meeting with Hachette back in May of this year:

We had a very promising meeting at Hachette. As you may know, Hachette discontinued offering their new ebook titles to libraries as of April 2010, though Hachette continues to sell its backlist (i.e., titles with publication dates prior to April 2010). Going in to this meeting, we were hoping to establish a relationship with Hachette and to persuade them to give serious consideration to providing libraries with access to its newer titles.

It quickly became obvious that Hachette Book Group executives and digital strategists have spent considerable time thinking about the library ebook market. Hachette sees libraries as strong partners because of our benefits as direct customers and marketers of their titles, and they recognize libraries’ place as an integral institution in communities that must be supported.

More specifically, we were pleased to learn that starting this spring, Hachette is conducting a pilot with two ebook distributors for libraries, which will bring a selection of HBG’s recent bestselling ebooks to 7 million library patrons. These pilot programs will help HBG learn more about library patrons’ interests, usage, and expectations, and help the publisher devise the best strategy to reach the widest audience of ebook readers in libraries.

My, how times flies.

The esteemed eBook guru and Douglas County, CO director Jamie Larue has the best take on the price increase I’ve seen so far. Money quote:

“When publishers shoot themselves in the foot, why do they keep looking for a bigger gun? Here’s the deal: the job of the library is to gather, organize, and make publicly available the intellectual content of our culture. By pricing themselves exorbitantly, a publisher will lose library sales, and lose the exposure their authors might otherwise have experienced. Nobody wins, everybody loses.”

He makes the same basic case that has been made before with the Random House 300% price increase and the HarperCollins limited checkout. Libraries are deep into the reader market. If it doesn’t reach our shelves (real or virtual), it won’t be something that can be passed onto the market share that comes to our locations. Libraries will still support authors and readers, but that support will be found elsewhere with the materials that can be reasonably purchased.

Game, set, match.

Jamie is a hard act to follow, so I won’t go on and repeat the same arguments for affordable eBook pricing and liberal eBook lending policies. I will add something else to the mix that I noticed.

I have yet to see anyone write or report about it, but the date that Hachette stopped selling eBooks to libraries (April 2010) really stuck out in my head. Then I found an article that made the connection:

On September 6, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote approved a $69 million settlement to be awarded to consumers who purchased agency-priced ebooks between April 2010 and May 2012, as part of a state antitrust suit filed against HarperCollins, Hachette SA, and Simon & Schuster. [Emphasis mine]

There couldn’t possibly be a coincidence between the date they stopped library eBook sales and the adoption of agency-model pricing, right? In taking away the library eBook option away from the consumer, they would have no other choice but to purchase the artificially inflated agency priced eBook. Considering how publishers get a higher royalty per eBook while authors lose out, it makes sense that the better royalty (eBook) be subject to more controls in regard to distribution and pricing. This could also explain why Hachette insists that authors who publish the same title in different markets with Tor Books (a ‘no DRM’ publisher) to have DRM reinstated on their Tor books. Finally, this library eBook price increase nicely dovetails with the multi-million dollar settlement they just signed. “With friends like these…”, indeed.

If this is how they plan on nurturing and growing the eBook market, then we (libraries, consumers, readers) are in for a bumpy and vastly uncomfortable ride. And if your library isn’t looking for alternatives to this arrangement, now is the time to do so.

‘Information Overload’ Exaggerated (Just Like the Study That Says That)

Via Stephen’s Lighthouse:

“Information overload” may be an exaggerated way to describe today’s always-on media environment. Actually, very few Americans seem to feel bogged down or overwhelmed by the volume of news and information at their fingertips and on their screens, according to a new Northwestern University study.

Interesting, I thought. Could the Clay Shirky ‘filter failure’ of 2008 be a relic of the past? Have people gotten a hang of drinking from the information fire hose?

Well, not quite.

“There’s definitely some frustration with the quality of some of the information available,” said Hargittai. “But these frustrations were accompanied by enthusiasm and excitement on a more general level about overall media choices.”

The few participants who did feel overwhelmed were often those with low Internet skills, who haven’t yet mastered social media filters and navigating search engine results, Hargittai noted.

That last part sounds right up my alley: teaching people computer skills as well as showing them the tools to help them find what they seek. It’s a simply premise of the library being able to provide the latest to the people who are computer savvy while teaching those who seek to learn how. Plus, it totally fits into the extended mission of the library.

Although, to be honest, I’m not completely sold on the study and I don’t even need to read the actual paper to come to that conclusion.

“[R]esearchers recruited vacationers in Las Vegas to participate in focus groups. Seven focus groups were conducted with 77 total participants from around the country.” (Emphasis mine)

So, out of seventy seven people who went to Las Vegas (a sensory overload of another type but I digress), most people liked all the information in their lives and a couple of people didn’t. I’m not certain what this paper really proves except that it needs bigger and deeper studies.

This really makes me wonder what people consider to be ‘tons of options’. Would it be the first page of results on Google? All one thousand results from the search query? The reported billions and billions of results that it says are out there? And more media choices, what exactly does that mean? Netflix and iTunes?

In the giant pie chart of knowledge, this one seems like it falls squarely into the category, “Shit you don’t know that you don’t know”. What do you think?

Front Seats at the Information Big Bang

I think it was reading someone else’s lament about people writing papers or giving presentations about the ‘future of X’, where X is something I can’t remember but it was something that annoyed the hell out my friend. It got me to thinking about the present and looking at what is going on now and not what people think will happen. It is not a matter of whether they are right or wrong (being irritating is another measurement) nor is it one that rejects any sort of prognostication (Lord knows we need it), but just glancing around at the world as it exists at this very moment. It is the mindfulness of the present for tomorrow never comes, as they say.

I am a science geek at heart and perhaps it was hearing the theme to the TV series Big Bang Theory over and over again as my girlfriend and I work our way through the series that I began to think about the information explosion of the last fifteen to twenty years. As I kept thinking about it, parallels began to emerge in my reckoning.

Prior to the Big Bang expansion, the universe existed in an incredibility tiny mass where even photons (light) couldn’t move. This would be akin to the scarcity of books and other printed materials that rarely (if ever) moved beyond the hands of their owners. Knowledge was locked up in formats that were centralized within the hands of nobility or religious orders. Even as the centuries progressed into the 20th, the medium was still limited albeit a bit more agile in its movements. Illiteracy combined with communication and transportation limitations still kept information relatively locked down to its place of origin, a higher education institution, or a centralized location (like a library).

The implementation of the commercial internet (not the previous military incarnation) is the moment of the information universe expansion; call it an information Big Bang, if you will.. With the addition of faster communication mediums (phone modems, cable modems, fiber optics), the acceleration of the expansion increased exponentially. Like the atomic components that would come to exist in the hearts of stars, the explosion of mediums and platforms followed in this expansion. Digital mobile devices along with handheld computers combined with online platforms that encompassed the many varieties of social interactions that humans have come to adapt.

I was curious to see if I could find some data to back this kind of idea. While my search is by no means exhaustive, it felt that it was illuminative. While the trend is upwards, the measure of the data is not always consistent.


Granted, there could be some quibbles about estimating the amount of information in the world in terms of bytes. I tried to find data sets that are roughly parallel in their measurements and didn’t really dig to find older estimates. But I don’t think it refutes the idea that the librarian profession has front row seats at the information Big Bang.

Unlike cosmologists, we have the luxury of being at the beginning of the expansion of the information universe. I’m not entirely sure what that means. At the moment, I’d say it means being mindful of the current state of expansion and examining the directions it is taking, whether it is computing, mobile, or personal device.

Moreover, we stand at the beginning of an even greater information universe that is only going to grow faster. It’s up to us to work with it, to shape it where we can, and to try to understand it for others. Now is the time for such things.