A Message to All ALA Members from ALA President Maureen Sullivan
As we mark the halfway point of the 2011–2015 ALA Strategic Plan, the American Library Association (ALA) has made significant strides towards its goal to provide leadership in the transformation of libraries and library services in an increasingly digital information environment. I am proud to be part of this important work with ALA Immediate Past President Molly Raphael and President-elect Barbara Stripling. At the highest levels and across the organization, ALA has mobilized around ebooks and larger digital content issues affecting libraries of all types. A great deal of work was accomplished earlier this year under Molly’s leadership and with the very good work accomplished by the Digital Content and Libraries Working Group (DCWG) that she appointed. This continues to be a priority for the Association.
As ALA president, I am encouraged by where ALA has positioned itself. Though there has not been enough progress with publishers and distributors, ALA has made many contributions to library advocacy. I know through my professional work in organizational consulting that revolutionary change is difficult and takes time to work through, and that paths forward are not clear cut. I’m pleased that ALA is making a good effort to navigate this revolution with, and on behalf of, our members. For their contributions to ALA and the library community, I particularly thank the co-chairs of the DCWG, Robert Wolven and Sari Feldman; the members of the DCWG; and the ALA staff who support the DCWG.
As we head into the 2013 ALA Midwinter Meeting, I thought it would be useful to “round up” and share highlights from the past year, say something about some next steps, and invite you to join our efforts. A strong foundation has been laid, and there is much more work ahead in this dynamic sphere. In order to create real change, we will need to deepen and go beyond historical relationships, rethink how we leverage technology to best serve readers, and even shift paradigms—for instance, from repository to creator. There is no doubt that “transformation” is the right frame of reference for the work before us.
Relationship-building and communication with publishers
The first major milestone for DCWG and for me, personally, was a set of meetings in New York with several “Big Six” publishers in January 2012. ALA needed to make our case directly at the highest levels in order to establish direct channels of communication and develop a better understanding of publisher concerns and misconceptions.
One issue that became clear from those meetings is the influential role of intermediaries—aggregators and/or retailers—in library ebook lending. Examination of the issue of library ebook lending involves a much broader look at the entire ecosystem, including not only publishers and libraries but also intermediaries, authors, and even literary agents. These first meetings also introduced us to a central point of negotiation: How much “friction” is acceptable in order for libraries and publishers to do business together? While our patrons love 24/7 access to our digital content, publishers are concerned this easy availability might hurt sales. Of course, we librarians know that our waiting lists already constitute quite a bit of “friction.”
As a result of these meetings, we widened our net to include more players. We participated in new research and had deeper internal conversations about what “friction” means for libraries and our patrons and how this might translate into different business models. More information about these meetings—and those from subsequent visits to New York by the ALA delegation in May, September, and December, and meetings during the PLA National Conference in March—can be found on the American Libraries E-Content blog:
- Ebook Talks: The Details
- Ebook Talks Continued: ALA Meets with Distributors
- Ebooks: Promising New Conversations
- Focus on the Future
- On the Road for Ebooks: How ALA Advocated This Fall
Increased media outreach
In any negotiation, leverage matters. From the first news story about HarperCollins changing its library ebook licensing terms, outreach to media has been part of our strategy to raise public awareness of the issues and to increase accountability. Over time, ALA communications have become more immediate and more proactive. As we found some publishers taking steps backward (with increased prices or eliminated access), we responded more quickly and aggressively. We reached out to editorial pages and news reporters to make our case directly to the public, as well as to publishers. Not long after I began my presidential term, ALA published an open letter calling for more immediate action on the pressing issues facing libraries and our patrons.
In November 2012 with your help, we brought all of this experience together to launch the ebook media and communications toolkit to share what we have learned and extend our reach further. Among the tools are templates and guidelines for using them with editorial and news media contacts, news hooks you can use locally, tips for building relationships with media contacts, and links to examples of ebook-related editorials and news stories.
More information on this work can be found here:
Information resources and tools for libraries and library advocates
The principal leverage point, of course, is you. The influence derived from our 58,000 members and the entire library community is powerful. ALA has stepped up its efforts to inform our members and to work collaboratively with our library partners. ALA’s elected leaders, DCWG members, and ALA staff have given presentations and updates at forums ranging from the Public Library Association and the Association of American Publishers to chapter conferences in Colorado, Indiana, and New Hampshire, and even to international conferences in Italy, China, and Russia.
We have published and shared more information and updates online. American Libraries kick-started the E-Content blog in fall 2011 and published two digital supplements in 2012 featuring contributions from many DCWG leaders and collaborators. For their part, DCWG subgroups have: outlined business models, initiated a series of tip sheets to provide librarians with clear definitions, developed examples of how digital content and digital formats impact library services, and identified resources for further information on the numerous and often complicated issues in providing digital resources to their patrons and students.
ALA is working collaboratively with other organizations on a range of efforts. One major initiative is a series of studies on e-reading trends and libraries being conducted by the Pew Internet Project with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. ALA is a partner in the Big Shift, an IMLS-funded research project through OCLC. ALA is also participating in the ReadersFirst coalition initiated by New York Public Library, the Digital Public Library of America initiative, as well as in the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ ebook workgroup.
More information on these tools and initiatives can be found here:
As we start this new year, publisher merger talks are in the news and the landscape continues to shift. We must keep the pressure on large publishers, while also deepening existing relationships and building new ones across the ecosystem. For example, we will be connecting more with smaller and independent publishers, as well as with authors and literary agents. As we do so, we will keep you informed and create new tools for engagement along the way. We also will look more closely at increasing the possibilities for libraries to market, provide access to, and facilitate production of books. Self-publishing is an exploding area of growth. How might libraries play a role in this trend in furtherance of our goal to connect authors and readers?
DCWG members already are developing new resources related to ensuring ebook access for people with disabilities, as well as examining ebook business models for school libraries. Additional topics and goals are under consideration as we outline the work of the DCWG in 2013.
I have heard from many of our members across the nation on the critical importance of these issues, and I truly appreciate your interest and support. We have worked hard and well together over the past year, and there is certainly more to do in the year ahead. Please be assured that I am looking forward to the work ahead with all of you and our hard-working DCWG members and ALA staff to further advance our cause as we all work through the digital revolution.