What You Can Do about Ebooks and Libraries

Posted Monday, January 14, 2013 - 12:02

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8 steps to start (and continue) the conversation regarding library ebook lending
Here are concrete steps you can take to help resolve the current impasse over ebooks and ensure that they are available to all library users in all our communities at a fair and affordable price.

I wanted to share ideas about what you can do to help solve the problem of publishers who will not sell ebooks to libraries.

Stay informed. The ALA Transforming Libraries website and the American Libraries E-Content blog provide breaking news, as well as information about various studies, and reports. These  include recent ebook research, information on economic models, and tip sheets on ebooks and e-content. It also covers local library initiatives and public awareness campaigns.

Make your patrons aware. Users are questioning libraries on a daily basis about unavailable ebooks, and this offers a great opportunity to explain the situation. Public opinion is the most powerful tool we can bring to bear on publishers, and tens of millions of library users, who are also print and ebook  buyers, cannot be ignored.

Make community leadership aware. Let other departments, other community organizations, and your elected officials know about the situation. It is important that they understand that publishers, not libraries, are denying access. They can help spread the word, building public support. Schedule special briefings at community meetings.

Make local media aware. Publishers want favorable publicity, not unfavorable publicity. Write a guest editorial (you can use my open letter as a starting point), or a letter to the editor of your local paper from the Board of Trustees, or meet with a ­local editorial board. Extending our reach through media is one of the best ways to strengthen our collective voice.

Let publishers know. Tell publishers your users need access to ebooks. Some libraries have also encouraged patrons to contact publishers. Remember that library users are also book and ebook buyers, and as heavy readers, library users serve a key role in spreading the word on new books.

Work with your state chapter. Many state chapters are organizing public awareness campaigns or shared action plans. State officials also need to be aware of the need for ebook access.

Work with other libraries. Many libraries belong to automated networks, consortia, and other collective groups that already provide shared and/or statewide e-content to libraries. Many of these are exploring or implementing ways for libraries to work together to provide increased access to ebooks.

Where we stand. Most of the thousands of small- and medium-size publishers of ebooks are working with libraries. Of the Big Six, Random House and HarperCollins make ebooks available to libraries, although at pricing much higher than that for individuals. Macmillan, Penguin, and Hachette are all engaged in limited library trials, so our efforts have focused on extending these ­pilots as soon as possible to all libraries. Of the Big Six, only Simon & Schuster has taken no action.

ALA’s Digital Content and Libraries Working Group (DCWG) has focused its efforts on addressing member concerns about library access to the full range of ebook titles. Two subgroups within the DCWG focus on communications and awareness—both providing tools and resources to help librarians, as well as tips on strategic outreach to the media and external audiences. These groups have created a media and communications toolkit for librarians.

The toolkit provides librarians with templates to support activities such as issuing a press release, obtaining op-ed placement in the local newspaper, writing letters to the editor, and working with the media.

We welcome your help in getting the word out and hope you’ll act on these ideas yourself.

Working together, I know that we can resolve the current impasse and ensure that ebooks are available to all library users in all our communities at a fair and affordable price.

MAUREEN SULLIVAN is an organization development consultant to libraries and professor of practice in the Managerial Leadership in the Information Professions doctoral program of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston. Email: msullivan@ala.org.