May 30, 2012
Advocating for Fair and Reasonable Library Access to Commercially Produced Digital Information: There's an app a library association which does that
Last week, ALA published “E-content: The Digital Dialogue,” as a special supplement to the May/June 2012 issue of American Libraries. Quoting from the May 23, 2012 press release, New ALA report explores challenges of equitable access to digital content:
In the report, titled “E-content: The Digital Dialogue,” authors explore an unprecedented and splintered landscape in which several major publishers refuse to sell e-books to libraries; proprietary platforms fragment our cultural record; and reader privacy is endangered.
“Broad information access is essential for communities to compete in the global knowledge economy,” said ALA President Molly Raphael. “As more and more content is delivered digitally, we simply cannot afford to lock down books and lock out readers. This timely supplement addresses the need to protect fair and reasonable library access to digital information.”
In his "A Look Down the Digital Road," editional published in "E-content: The Digital Dialogue," the director of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy and editor of the supplement, Alan S. Inouye, provides a summary of the supplement's content:
We’ve gone mad about ebooks—both in terms of great enthusiasm and considerable consternation. We see the rapid rise in ebook demand from our patrons and know the promise that this still-emerging technology brings. At the same time, our relationships with a number of ebook publishers and distributors—and especially the largest ones—are in flux.
The American Library Association has heard member concerns. (Boy, have we!) In response, the Association’s Digital Content and Libraries Working Group has been busy the past several months. In the first article of this supplement, Working Group Cochairs Sari Feldman and Robert Wolven summarize recent activities and suggest directions for the future.
The next two articles delve into the constraints of ebook licensing regimes. Robert Maier and Carrie Russell recount a bit of the evolution (going back to the 2011 incident involving HarperCollins’ 26-loan limit) and discuss various licensing models. Instead of a focus on contract terms per se, JamesLaRue uses the stakeholder lens—whether reader, writer, bookseller, publisher, or librarian—to explain the real-world implications of such ebook licensing terms.
If the publisher-library relationship is indeed challenged, then the first step for improvement is communication. In her article, Lisa Long Hickman urges both librarians and publishers to take initiative and engage each other, as there are considerable mutual gains to be had.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone explores the difficult challenges ebooks and other forms of digital content pose to privacy and intellectual freedom. She provides a cautionary note that access at any cost or under any terms may well not be desirable access. We are librarians; we promote and protect important information values for our communities that must not be jettisoned for contract expediency.
This supplement concludes with Peter Brantley’s explanation of how today’s proprietary platforms and systems impede universal information access. Brantley argues that we are approaching a widespread disconnect in which we will not be able to read, experience, and share the same stories. By contrast, open-source tools are increasingly available so that we can all tell our own stories—and he recommends that libraries should aggressively enable this personal storytelling.
Inouye's final paragraph in "A Look Down the Digital Road" makes it clear that ALA consumer advocacy efforts are not just limited to eBooks.
While the recent ALA emphasis on ebooks from the “Big Six”—the largest trade publishers—is necessary, it is not sufficient. Ebooks represent only one component of the larger digital revolution facing libraries, and today’s licensing regimes may not work well for future ebooks with highly dynamic features. In the months ahead, you will be hearing more from ALA on ebooks and much more on the wider world of digital content. Some of the work in this supplement reflects this broader thinking about both the here and now, and what is to come down the digital road.
ALA may not be the best damn library association on the planet. No doubt some members have justifiable criticism of it. But when it comes to consumer advocacy for its institutional buyers and their patrons, AALL doesn't even come close to measuring up to ALA. Will we hear the chatter of more zombie library association ideas about how AALL is restrained by the bondage of antitrustism in Boston?
I'm hoping that The CRIV Blog's sidebar countdown, image right, is hinting that the answer will be "no." [JH]