It was sunny in Philadelphia as the 2012 Public Library Association meeting kicked off yesterday, but the forecast for libraries, particularly when it comes to e-books, remains cloudy. The good news: pre-registrations for PLA 2012 were strong, and attendance will almost certainly exceed expectations, drawing an estimated 8,000 attendees, including over 400 exhibitors to Philadelphia-especially good news given the slow ALA Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, which wrapped up in January, and better than the 2010 PLA conference. PLA, a division of ALA, has over 9,000 members, and meets every two years.
Pre-conference highlights included two book-buzz sessions with Seattle librarian and PW contributor Nancy Pearl, and an inspiring opening keynote by environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who debunked the "false choice" of jobs vs. regulations being pushed in today's political environment, telling librarians that good environmental policy is always good economic policy. Though he spoke about his environmental work, Kennedy's message resonated with librarians, touching on familiar themes of democracy, about protecting the commons, and about the power of markets and technology to effect change that isn't just good for a few billionaires, but that enriches us all. At one point, Kennedy likened the world's energy to the current information environment, suggesting that technology will do for energy what it has done for information: drop the cost to virtually zero, and enable a slew of new ventures to innovate.
Clearly, however, the subject of e-book lending looms over the show, and was the focus of the introductions before Kennedy's keynote, including remarks by PLA president Marcia Warner, director of the Grand Rapids Public Library, who urged all librarians to engage the e-book issue at their libraries, and spoke of "challenging" times for libraries seeking to meet user needs. In the PLA show daily, Warner expressed frustration at the e-book impasse with publishers, likening the e-book market to "driving a mountain road...daunting with twists and turns."
PLA Past-President Sari Feldman then gave librarians a brief update on the work of the ALA's Digital Content and Libraries Working Group (DCWG), set up to address the e-book issue. Feldman called for wider engagement on the issue. And, ALA incoming president Maureen Sullivan also hammered home the importance of solving the issue of e-book lending, and noted that current ALA president Molly Raphael was in New York, talking about e-books at the Association of American Publishers annual meeting.
The introductions suggested that the e-book issue is continuing to heat up. Coming out of the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, ALA officials had set up meetings with New York publishers to push the e-book lending issue-but those meetings have not convinced publishers to change their minds on the issue, and, in fact, things appear to have taken a step back. Penguin has pulled out of e-book lending altogether, although the publishers claims it is looking for a solution. And Random House, although committing to lending e-books, has tripled prices of library e-books.