1. An E-Book Breakthrough?
Compared to previous years, 2013 was a good one for libraries in the e-book realm. Among the year’s highlights, Penguin expanded its library program to full throttle after exiting the library e-book market in late 2011. Hachette opened its e-lending program to include its entire catalog. And the final two major holdouts, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan both got in the library e-book game with pilot programs in 2013—and by year’s end Macmillan had expanded its program to cover its entire list.
With more consumers now owning e-readers or tablets, e-book borrowing from libraries showed significant growth. In December, 2013, leading vendor OverDrive reported that six library systems each recorded over 1 million e-book lends in 2013, a milestone for sure. And, this, despite many patrons still unaware that their libraries even offer e-book lending.
On the vendor side, competition has also heated up. Though OverDrive remains the dominant vendor managing library e-book lending, a number of competitors have made serious headway in the market, including 3M, Baker & Taylor, Recorded Books, and Library Ideas’ Freading. ProQuest, meanwhile, has fully integrated its acquisition of ebrary into its portfolio, EBSCO has integrated its purchase of pioneer e-book service netLibrary, and Ingram is expanding its platform, MyiLibrary.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in 2014, however, is for librarians not to be lulled into a sense of complacency. While there has been progress between librarians and publishers after a period of rising tensions, the library e-book market remains in its infancy. And, as PW columnist Michael Kelley noted in a recent Check It Out! column, despite modest progress, many librarians find the current e-book model to be virtually untenable over the long haul.
For consumers, accessing library e-books remains a cumbersome process. And for librarians and consumers alike, managing all the different vendors and plug-ins is complicated. E-book costs also remain too high, librarians say, with some publishers charging as much as three times the print cost for a licensed digital edition. Officials at the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio note for example that the library paid $28,730 for its 338 digital copies of Dan Brown’s The Inferno—that’s $85 a copy. And what about the rise of self-published materials? Where is the libraries role there?
The ALA Digital Content Working Group remains hard at work on these and other e-book issues, and certainly some of the progress over the last two years can be traced to their engagement with commercial publishers. But as more and more book readers become e-book readers, a reckoning draws ever closer for libraries.
Will 2014 be a year of more experimentation? Will the “ownership” model pioneered and pushed by Jamie LaRue and his staff at the Douglas County (Colorado) Libraries, for example, expand to more libraries? Will publishers experiment more boldly with new models? As LaRue noted in a March, 2013 PW column, there is more than money and readers at stake.
“Also at issue is the future of my profession—librarianship," LaRue wrote. “To me, the choices are stark: We can be passive and reactive, and sit back and wait for a handful of vendors to tell us how it’s going to be, at the cost of an ever-greater share of public funds being spent on ever-diminishing content and with less library control. Or, we can be active, and exploring, constantly trying new stuff, eagerly celebrating the earliest phases of what is clearly a revolution in publishing, and teaming up with other innovators to nurture a new generation of creators. Which one sounds like more fun? Which one sounds like the future?"
2. Google, GSU and Fair Use
Without question, 2013 was a victorious year for libraries in the copyright realm. And chief among its victories was judge Denny Chin’s 30-page decision dismissing the Authors Guild’s case against Google over the company’s library scanning program. In dumping the Guild’s suit, Chin not only found Google's digitization to be legal, he all but declared it totally awesome.
“In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits,” Chin wrote. “[Google Books] has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books,” he wrote. “It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits."
In October of 2012, Judge Harold Baer issued an equally emphatic endorsement of digitization in dismissing a parallel case, the Authors Guild vs. HathiTrust, in which the Authors Guild sued a collective of Google’s library scanning partners.
What might be most uplifting for libraries is that, in both cases, briefs submitted by the major library associations, written by Washington-based attorney and consultant Jonathan Band, were cited as influential in the outcomes.
For libraries, 2013 was the year when exercising fair use no longer seemed like such a risky proposition. “I think the fair use jurisprudence has steadily been evolving and expanding in response to new technologies and the inability of Congress to keep pace,” Band told PW. “In essence, the courts are allowing these new technologies that make copies so long as the rights-holders aren't harmed—and harm means harm to the rightsholder’s core market, not the loss of a potential licensing fee.”
But librarians shouldn’t spike the ball just yet. Both Google cases face appeal scrutiny, as does the 2012 verdict in the Georgia State e-reserve case.
In an October hearing, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals Court seemed unlikely to overturn the decision in the HathiTrust case. But just a month later, the 11th Circuit appeared to question the finding in the GSU case. "I just didn't hear much sympathy for GSU on the panel, while I heard a lot of sympathy for the publishers," noted Brandon Butler, practitioner-in-residence at the American University, Washington College of Law and a contributor to the Association of Research Libraries' Policy Notes blog.
In 2014, appeal decisions will surely come for both the HathiTrust and the GSU cases, and we’ll know more about the fate of the Authors Guild’s appeal of the Google case.
3. The Common Core's Rough Debut
Over the last two years, librarians have viewed the Common Core state education standards as a chance to strut their stuff. “[Common Core] is about the teaching of critical-thinking skills,” noted Barbara Stripling in an interview with PW contributing editors Margaux DelGuidice and Rose Luna. “It is a golden opportunity. There has never been a better time for us to step up and take a leadership role.”
But while librarians in schools and public libraries eagerly prepared to embrace an instructional leadership role in their schools, the standards themselves have run into a buzzsaw of opposition. And when the standards went into practice this fall, it was clear that many districts were simply not ready, adding fuel to the common core backlash.
Where librarians once looked forward to collaborating on lesson plans, resources, and research skills, they are now as likely to find themselves listening to confused parents, and navigating administrative challenges in school districts ill-prepared to handle the new standards.
“I had a tween and his mother coming into the library, with Animal Farm as the class primary text, with The Communist Manifesto as the nonfiction complementary text,” Nicolette Warisse Sosulski, business librarian at Portage District Library, in Michigan, told PW. “The mom was looking for ways to explain The Communist Manifesto to a kid in junior high school—and was a little bemused as to why her middle schooler now had to do this when the older siblings had not been required to do so.”
In 2014, librarians will continue to prepare for an expanded role under the common core. But it will be interesting to see how the standards can recover from their rough start.
4. What Happened to Copyright Reform?
Hopes were high that in 2013 some kind of copyright reform might begin. After all, in 2012, there were a number of developments that hinted at an overhaul, including the epic fail of SOPA (the Stop Online Privacy Act). Perhaps the most telling story of 2012, however, revolved around a young Republican staffer who authored a controversial, if celebrated report on copyright reform, which included among its provisions such third-rail proposals as shortening copyright terms and reintroducing renewal fees. The report was yanked within 24 hours, and its author, Derek Khanna was soon out of a job. But the cat was out of the bag: copyright reform for the digital age was coming. It was needed.
Well, not exactly nothing. There were a few unproductive committee hearings in 2013. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, urged Congress to consider “a forward-thinking framework for the benefit of both culture and commerce alike.” And the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a paper on “Copyright Policy, Creativity and Innovation in the Digital Economy,” seeking comments from the public. But the much anticipated first steps toward real copyright reform never materialized. And with a gridlocked Congress and midterm elections it is doubtful that Copyright reform is headed to the halls of Congress in 2014.
But on the heels of SOPA’s defeat, Khanna’s sacking, Google's court victory, and some unfortunate missteps from social network sites like Facebook, copyright did gain some public profile in 2013. And while a reform bill may still be in the distance, 2014 could be an important year in deciding how that bill will be written, and whose voices will be heard.
In the past, copyright was hardly a topic that mobilized the public. But in the digital age, that’s no longer the case. And while the big guns of the entertainment industry and the tech industry appear to be lined up on either side of the debate, the public is in the trenches. Will the interests of consumers—many of whom are also creators in this age of user generated content—be caught in a corporate crossfire? Or, will they prove to be the fulcrum on which worthy reform is leveraged?
One thing is certain: calls for some kind of meaningful reform are growing. And however the process unfolds, librarians are gearing up to play a critical role in representing the public interest.
5. Pew Finds Americans Love Their Libraries, But Use Is Declining
In 2013 the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project completed the third phase of a two-year research project on Americans’ attitudes toward their libraries, and the impact of digital technology. Overall, the news was very good for libraries. Throughout each phase of project, respondents enthusiastically praised libraries.
In the latest survey, released in mid-December, some 94% of Americans said that having a public library “improves the quality of life in a community," and 67% of respondents said it would affect them and their families if their local library was to close.
But that was the extent of the feel-good moment. For the survey also revealed some critical points of concern for librarians. Just over half of those surveyed (52%) said they do not need libraries as much as they used to. And library visits are on the decrease: counting physical and web visits, 54% of Americans used a public library in the past year, down from 59% in 2012.
“As a perception study, it is reassuring to know that Americans still have a warm and fuzzy feeling about their public library, observed PW columnist Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains (NY) Public Library. But digging behind the data to address patron’s concerns, as well as their visions of the library’s future, Kenney noted, is the task at hand.
Nevertheless, Pew research offers some valuable insight for librarians. The first phase of Pew Research “Libraries, Patrons, and E-books,” was released in June, 2012, and looked at the rise of digital reading. The second “Library Services in the Digital Age,” was released in January, 2013, and examined how libraries are “transitioning their services" in the digital age.
The latest Pew report comes just weeks ahead of the ALA’s annual Midwinter Meeting, set for January 24-28 in Philadelphia. And on Sunday, January 26, Pew director Lee Rainie, also the co-author of Networked: The New Social Operating System, is scheduled to discuss the latest survey at ALA Midwinter, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the Pennsylvania Convention Center room 201 B.
6. A Bookless Library?
It sounds like a clickbait headline, a bookless library?—and indeed, the fact that San Antonio’s newest library held no physical books generated national headlines in 2013.
In early 2013, when the library was first in its planning stages, PW contributing editor Peter Brantley visited with its visionary, County Judge Nelson W. Wolff, “a progressive politician,” who impressed Brantley with his plans to get the most service for his money by going digital.
The library, dubbed BiblioTech, opened its doors September 14. Located in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood where many households lack Internet access, it offers iPads, laptops and 50 desktop computers. Its has a modest collection, 10,000 e-books to start, as well as resource-sharing with a consortium of nearly 700 public and academic libraries throughout the state, including access to 51 electronic full-text databases.
A self-professed book lover, and collector, Wolff acknowledged that the model isn’t for everyone. Nevertheless, he delights in its prospects, not just for San Antonio, but for all libraries.
“The opportunity to reshape libraries in San Antonio is significant,” Brantley observed, “and with it there is an opportunity to inform what libraries will look like across the globe.”
7. The NYPL Goes Back to the Drawing Board
In late 2012, the New York Public Library unveiled ambitious plans for a renovation of the Schwarzman Building—the landmark library building with the iconic lion statues, on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Among the features of architect Norman Foster’s plan, seven floors of book stacks were to be removed, with the volumes heading off to a state of the art storage facility in New Jersey, to make room for a modern four-level circulating library collection. Almost immediately, however, the NYPL’s proposal was trashed, and in July a suit was filed to stop the plan.
In 2013, NYPL officials began to dig themselves out and a subsequent proposal to keep more volumes at the Schwarzman library somewhat mollified a group of critics. But the damage was done.
As PW library columnist Brian Kenney observed, a faulty communication strategy created enemies where it could have created allies. And winning over those critics will not be easy. “The NYPL was depicted in the court of public opinion as out of touch with its users, driven by the bottom line, besot with trendiness, and having lost its way,” Kenney noted. “Almost overnight, the NYPL went from a benign, if not beloved, institution to an evil book burner in the minds of some key thinkers.”
In late 2013, NYPL officials announced they were delaying the release of a revised plan until 2014. Indeed, the eyes of the city will be upon the NYPL in the coming months—and one critical set of eyes belongs to a new Mayor, Bill de Blasio.
As public advocate, de Blasio had expressed deep concerns over the renovation, and had pushed the Bloomberg administration for “a detailed financial audit and review” of the project. “Before NYPL goes about demolishing stacks and consolidating libraries,” de Blasio stated in July, 2013, “they need to ensure that the people they serve aren’t being shortchanged and being disregarded for the bottom line.”
NYPL officials are committed to a much-needed renovation. But certainly, the backlash means there is a steeper hill to climb in 2014. And, as Kenney noted, even if Foster’s revised plan manages to satisfy some of the project’s more strident critics, it will also need to address a concern hinted at by de Blasio:
“To commit to well over $300 million for one building, when branches in some of New York’s neediest neighborhoods are failing, is a hard sell,” Kenney wrote. “The events of 2013 should remind critics, supporters, and library administrators alike that we all need the NYPL to succeed—and that success needs to expand beyond 42nd Street.”
8. The Digital Public Library of America Launches
In many ways, 2013 was a year of rocky rollouts (Affordable Care Act, Common Core, anyone?). But the launch of the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America bucked that trend. In the spring of 2012, Harvard University librarian Robert Darnton guaranteed the DPLA would launch, on time, in April of 2013—it did. And not only that, unlike some other initiatives in the news, its Web site worked brilliantly. So much so, that it, cracked Time Magazine’s roundup of the 50 best Web sites of 2013.
“The next time you’re tempted to waste 10 minutes looking at an online slideshow of cat pictures,” wrote Time reporter Harry McCracken, “point your browser at the Digital Public Library of America instead.”
The DPLA has its roots in the controversial Google library scanning program. Alarmed that one for-profit company might soon enjoy a lock on a large part of our cultural heritage, a coalition of library leaders, technologists, and archivists in 2010 created the blueprint for what would become the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)—an “open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources” that would draw on collections from the nation’s libraries, universities, archives, and museums.
The ambitious plan certainly had its doubters—and funding will continue to be a pressing concern going forward. But if quality is any guide, the DPLA is poised for a bright future. Already users can peruse more than 2.4 million items via a powerful search function, as well as create timeline and map views. There is even a free mobile app that puts the DPLA in your pocket.
With a good leader in executive director Dan Cohen, as well as a scalable, innovative distributed framework for carrying out its business, look for the DPLA to grow in 2014, and to hit a few more “best of” lists.
9. Congress, White House Push for Public Access to Research
In February, 2013, Congress once again pushed to make publicly-funded federal research freely available to taxpayers, introducing The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR). Just days later, the Obama Administration followed suit. In a Policy Memorandum that Association of Research Libraries officials called “historic,” the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directed federal agencies to submit plans for the development and implementation of their own public access policies.
Under the directive, federal agencies with “over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures” were to develop plans to support “increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government.” In all, the policy directive could affect as many as 19 federal agencies, and would cover “any results published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications that are based on research that directly arises from Federal funds,” consistent with “applicable law and policy; agency mission; resource constraints; U.S. national, homeland, and economic security.”
Publishers, which have consistently opposed federal public access legislation and have supported legislative attempts to bar them, including the Research Works Act, and the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, quickly came out against the passage of FASTR. But in a statement, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) praised the Obama administration’s initiative, calling it "a reasonable, balanced resolution of issues around public access to research funded by federal agencies."
Specifically, AAP noted that, in contrast to “angry rhetoric and unreasonable legislation,” the OSTP order acknowledges “the differences among agencies and scientific disciplines,” and “recognized the critical role publishers play in vetting, producing, establishing and preserving the integrity of scientific works.” Later in 2013, a group of publishers advanced an initiative, dubbed CHORUS, to help agencies meet the administration’s public access goals.
Could 2014 finally be the year public access becomes a reality? Anything is possible—but given the political atmosphere in Washington, D.C., and crucial midterm elections, no one is holding their breath.
10. The Death of Aaron Swartz
Unfortunately, 2013 year began on a tragic note. On January 11, Araon Swartz, the brilliant but troubled young activist and programmer committed suicide. He was just 26 years old.
Swartz was reported to have suffered from depression, worsened, friends and associates say, by his legal problems. In 2011, federal agents charged Swartz with wire fraud, computer fraud, and unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, after he allegedly hacked the Massachussetts Institute of Technology’s network and downloaded as many as four million documents from the nonprofit journal aggregator JSTOR.
If convicted, Swartz had faced up to 35 years in prison and a fine up to $1 million. But even though MIT and JSTOR resolved their claims against Swartz and had suffered no loss or damage, zealous government prosecutors pushed their prosecution, determined to see Swartz serve prison time.
What a loss. It is hard to imagine a more gifted, accomplished 26 year-old. At the time of his death, Swartz had already been a fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Ethics, and he remained an outspoken advocate for libraries and free access to information. As a teenager, Swartz helped to develop the web feed format RSS, the website framework web.py and the social news website Reddit. And he designed the code layer for the Creative Commons licenses. He later founded Demand Progress, a non-profit political action group.
In March, during the American Library Association’s 15th Annual Freedom of Information Day in Washington, D.C., the ALA posthumously awarded Swartz the 2013 James Madison Award for his dedication to promoting and protecting public access to research.
“Aaron Swartz embodied the ALA’s principles that value open and equal access to information,” said ALA president Maureen Sullivan, reading comments from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). “Aaron’s passing is a significant loss of an outspoken and passionate advocate.”