1. The Resistance
In his opening keynote at the 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, W. Kamau Bell, the popular podcaster and host of the CNN show United Shades of America, set the tone for what would be a very political year for librarians. “Everything that’s happening right now in America,” Bell told librarians, “you’re on the front lines of that.”
The good news is that the library community took Bell’s message to heart, and showed that it is activated and engaged politically. The not-so-good news: the political challenges facing the library community in the age of Trump will only intensify in the coming weeks and months.
“We knew things were going to be potentially very threatening for libraries,” said ALA executive director Keith Fiels, in an interview ahead of the 2017 ALA Annual Conference. “But the administration has exceeded expectations in that regard, with a wholehearted attack on just about everything we value.”
Indeed, the challenges for the libraries began before Trump even took the oath of office. In the days immediately following the election last November, ALA officials penned a rather generic letter in which they offered to work with the incoming Trump administration on issues of common interest. Such letters are an ordinary occurrence after any election. But 2016 was no ordinary election, and many ALA members were quick to express their displeasure to ALA officials through angry letters, blog posts, and editorials pointing out how Trump’s rhetoric and his proposed agenda stood in stark contrast to many of the library community’s most fundamental values.
In response, ALA leaders arranged a town hall at the 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta in January, where librarians had a chance to publicly express their concerns. And by spring, the controversy had a silver lining—it had engaged ALA membership.
With strong public support, librarians mounted a stout grassroots defense in 2017 on issues including funding, net neutrality, copyright, tech and education policy, and the administration’s ongoing assaults on the press and some of the library profession’s core values, including diversity, equity of access, inclusiveness, and information literacy.
“The one thing Mr. Trump has done for us, if nothing else,” Fiels told PW ahead of the ALA annual conference, “is focus us.” In 2018, the library community will need to keep that focus.
2. Leadership Changes at ALA
As if the incoming Trump administration wasn’t enough to give the library community a jolt in 2017, the library profession also saw changes in its own national leadership. In May, ALA Washington Office executive director Emily Sheketoff retired after 17 years on the job, during which she helped deliver an impressive string of legislative and budget victories for libraries and established the library community as a force on Capitol Hill. Two months later, in July, ALA executive director Keith Michael Fiels also stepped away after 15 years leading the organization.
It’s fair to say that Fiels was called to lead ALA through what will be remembered as one of the most extraordinary periods in the organization’s history. When Fiels took over in 2002, the country was still reeling in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and would become bitterly divided over the war in Iraq. In 2003, the ALA’s opposition to the USA Patriot Act would become a defining public moment for the association, and for librarians, with then ALA president Carla Hayden (now serving as the nation’s 14th librarian of Congress) clashing publicly with attorney general John Ashcroft over the government’s warrantless searches of library records, and gag orders.
Things were also tense within the profession. As the pace of digital change quickened, librarians found themselves at once evangelizing for digital technology and wrestling with its implications. There was the cost and complexity of licensing digital resources, not to mention the hardware. Peer-to-peer file-sharing services like Napster had elevated copyright issues to a full-fledged moral panic, and libraries were later sued for partnering with Google to digitize out-of-print library books, and for facilitating e-reserves on college campuses.
Meanwhile, libraries of all kinds were busy remaking their physical spaces to serve this new digital information age, often over the complaints of their print users, while battling the perception that Google and Wikipedia were making them obsolete. And just as it was becoming clear that, no, libraries wouldn’t be done in by Second Life, along came the iPhone, iPad, the Kindle, and, of course, social media, all of which hold major implications for the work of libraries. And as if that wasn’t enough, the financial crisis and a global recession hammered library budgets, spurring massive layoffs and denting the ALA membership rolls.
As librarians gather for the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting, ALA membership numbers have stabilized and in recent years have been crawling back up. That’s good news, as the library community needs a strong professional association in such challenging times.
As for what's next, the Washington Office hasn't missed a beat. After a nationwide search, Kathi Kromer, previously the president of strategy and outreach for the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association, was named to replaced Sheketoff at the Washington Office and began almost immediately after Sheketoff's departure, on June 5.
But some five months after Fiels stepped away, the ALA is still looking for his full-time replacement. ALA officials told PW the plan was to present finalists for the job at this year’s Midwinter Meeting, but that is not happening. After a nationwide search, the process now appears to be hung up on whether the new executive director should be required to hold an MLS degree.
3. Carla Hayden's Strong Start
Our top library story of last year was the historic swearing-in of Carla Hayden as the 14th U.S. librarian of Congress. In 2017, it’s clear that Hayden is already making a difference.
In her first full year on the job, Hayden is addressing a number of the critical challenges facing the library. But perhaps more importantly, she is proving to be a powerful and visible ambassador for both the Library of Congress and the library community at large, attending library conferences, winning accolades for her work, and actively engaging librarians in a way that has energized the profession and reassured local librarians that they finally have an engaged partner at the national level.
“Our commitment to the library community is that the Library of Congress is going to share our experiences,” Hayden told attendees at the OCLC’s November Americas Regional Council meeting in Baltimore. “And that means the failures, false starts, and all of that, because as you innovate you can learn from what worked and what didn’t work. And we want to be partners with everyone and make sure that we are part of [the library] ecosystem.”
The public outside the library profession has taken note as well. Last month, in what must have been a fun 36 hours in New York, Hayden was honored by the New York Public Library at its annual Literary Lions Gala—along with some pretty good company: Tom Brokaw, Michael Chabon, Colson Whitehead, and Robert Wilson.
The next morning, she accepted her 2017 Women’s National Book Association Award, accompanied by her mother. The WNBA award, founded in 1940, is presented every two years to a living American woman who “has done meritorious work in the world of books beyond the duties or responsibilities of her profession or occupation.” Hayden certainly fits that bill.
4. The Publishing Community Steps Up for Library Funding
After the Trump administration proposed the elimination of virtually all federal library funding in its initial budget blueprint this spring, America’s libraries got a major boost on Capitol Hill in May from the publishing community.
Publishing organizations—including two Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House and Macmillan), Baker & Taylor, and a number of national trade associations, such as the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA)—launched the Corporate Committee for Library Investment (CCLI). After starting with eight founding members, within days the CCLI’s ranks had swelled to nearly 100.
“Members of CCLI are united by the common belief that America’s libraries are business building, job creating, workforce preparing engines of the U.S. economy in every corner of the country,” stated the press release announcing the effort. And a CCLI letter to lawmakers urged them to fully fund libraries and to “assure that any infrastructure investments authorized by Congress both include library facilities and leverage the nation’s 120,000 libraries to make high-speed broadband service available in every corner of America.”
The show of solidarity from publishers was especially welcome in an age when the relationship between publishers and libraries has at times been tense. Although one organization was noticeably absent from the CCLI letter—the Association of American Publishers. Instead, the AAP sent its own separate letter that expressed strong support for libraries, but needed to point out that publishers and libraries still “do not always agree on law and policy objectives.” You know, in case there was any confusion about that.
5. The Next Register of Copyrights
It’s been more than a year since Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden removed Maria Pallante from her post as register of copyrights—a move that sent shock waves through the content industries. But as 2018 approaches, it is still unclear when we will see a permanent appointee to lead the Copyright Office, or who will make that appointment.
That’s because, in April of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives rushed through the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (HR 1695), a bill that proposes to do one thing: take the register of copyrights position out of the purview of the librarian of Congress, (who has oversight over the Copyright Office) and make it a presidential appointment.
Supporters of HR 1695 insist the bill is necessary to “modernize” the Copyright Office. Critics, however, note that the bill does nothing to modernize the Copyright Office—it merely tweaks the top of the Copyright Office's org chart.
So what's really behind the bill? In short, it's fallout from Hayden's sudden removal of Pallante, who was considered a strong ally of the content industries, and whose 2013 policy tract "The Next Great Copyright Act" provided the inspiration and the framework for House Judiciary Committee's now concluded review of our nation's copyright laws.
After being rushed through the House in April, HR 1695 is now stuck in the Senate (SB 1010), which has shown little desire to move on it. But the bill nevertheless seems to be serving its purpose: it is keeping Hayden, who the content industries have portrayed as an "anti-copyright" librarian, from permanently replacing Pallante.
The worst part of this story: there is broad agreement that the Copyright Office is in dire need of resources and modernization. But the only “fix” we’ve seen proposed by Congress is this bill, which seeks only to politicize the register of copyrights position—a proposal that makes little sense on the merits, and even less sense when you consider the state of our politics today.
There is a slim chance, however, that the ice could start to break on a permanent replacement by the end of next year. That’s because Rep. Bob Goodlatte and Rep. John Conyers, the authors of HR 1695 (and the leaders of that Judiciary Committee copyright review) are leaving Congress. Conyers is already gone, in fact, abruptly retiring earlier this month in the wake of troubling allegations of sexual harassment. And Goodlatte announced he will retire at the end of the year. Perhaps new leadership will bring a fresh perspective to the copyright debate.
6. A Second Appeal in the GSU E-reserves Case
In his opening statement before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in July, plaintiff publishers’ attorney Bruce Rich called the litigation over e-reserves at Georgia State University a “seemingly never-ending case.” Still going strong in its 9th year, it sure feels that way.
First filed in April of 2008 by three academic publishers (Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Sage Publications with support from the Copyright Clearance Center and the AAP), the suit alleges that GSU administrators systematically encourage their faculty to offer unlicensed digital copies of course readings (known as e-reserves) as a no-cost alternative to traditionally licensed course packs.
In 2012, Judge Orinda Evans first ruled against the publishers, finding that GSU’s copying was fair use in all but five of 48 instances presented at trial. In 2014, the 11th Circuit reversed and sent the case back to Evans with instructions to give the fourth fair use factor (market effect) “additional” weight in her remand decision. And in 2016, Evans again found fair use—in fact, she found even fewer infringements than in her original verdict.
Which brings us to round two before the 11th Circuit, which was held on July 27. At that hearing, one member of the three-judge appeals panel appeared skeptical of Evans, questioning how she could originally find that the fourth factor tilted strongly toward infringement in 31 claims, but in her remand decision suddenly find those claims now tilt toward fair use. Another judge on the panel questioned the publishers’ contention that the mere presence of a market for digital licenses automatically tips the fourth factor for the publishers. “That can’t possibly be the be-all and end-all of the test,” the judge observed.
There is no timetable on when the 11th Circuit might rule this time around. But barring a settlement, however the 11th Circuit decides, this case could still be far from a resolution.
In 2017, U.S. courts landed two solid blows against Sci-Hub, the site founded by Kazakhstani neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan that proudly bills itself as “the first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers.”
In May of this year, Elsevier won a default judgment against the site and was awarded $15 million in damages. And later this fall, the American Chemical Society (ACS) won a similar $4.8 million default judgment against Sci-Hub. But more significantly, the court in the ACS’s case ordered that internet service providers (ISP) and search engines block access to Sci-Hub’s domains, and as of this writing, those domains are in fact shut down.
But can the court orders stop Sci-Hub? Given that Elbakyan runs the site from Russia, outside the reach of U.S. courts, it's hard to see how. “While the domain problems may temporarily make the site harder to find for some,” reports the web site TorrentFreak, “it’s not likely to be the end for Sci-Hub.”
No question, the scholarly publishing community finds itself in a tough spot here. Academics and librarians respect copyright. But the fact remains, most researchers actually support Sci-Hub’s goal of open access to scientific research (if not Sci-Hub's practices).
Take the followng statement, for example: “Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.” No, those words are not Elbakyan’s. They belong to to famed physicist Stephen Hawking, from a statement made during Open Access Week this past October.
Publishers can treat Sci-Hub like it is a copyright enforcement problem, which it is. But the central problem Sci-Hub presents is far more complex. In a blog post last month on The Conversation, Patrick Burns, dean of libraries and v-p for information technology at Colorado State University laid it out, suggesting that a financially unsustainable scholarly publishing system is in fact the oxygen that sustains Sci-Hub.
“Efforts like [Sci-Hub] to bypass paywalls are only symptoms of the problem,” Burns concluded. “If we are to maintain healthy education and research environments, changes are incipient and imperative.”
8. Net Neutrality
On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission voted to scrap net neutrality rules, the Obama-era protections that forbade Internet Service Providers (like Verizon, or Comcast) from controlling the content on their networks.
Specifically, the new FCC rules reclassify high-speed broadband as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service.” And since the FCC is forbidden from imposing neutrality obligations on information services, explains the EFF’s Corynne McSherry, your ISP is now free to set itself up as an “Internet gatekeeper.”
In other words, the FCC has paved the way for ISPs to “work more like cable television,” McSherry writes, potentially turning the open Internet into a “pay-to-play” service where companies will be forced to negotiate with ISPs to “avoid their content being buried, degraded, or even blocked.”
The library community has been an early, bedrock proponent of net neutrality protections, and ALA president Jim Neal told PW that the ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee is studying how the loss of net neutrality impacts our First Amendment protections, a subject that Change.org’s Jonathan Perri addressed last week in a Mashable editorial.
“Net neutrality levels the playing field so that anyone with any idea or story, regardless of how much money they have, will be able to share it, just by having access to the internet,” Perri wrote. “It’s a form of democracy, not unlike the right to vote or speak up at a town hall, that should be protected, not attacked.”
In fact, one of the most disturbing aspects of the FCC decision is how undemocratic it is: the American public overwhelmingly supports net neutrality rules, which was made clear in the public comment period, while just a handful of big companies lobbied against them. Expect that fact to play a key role as the battle now shifts to the courts and Congress. And expect the library community, which often represents the public’s interest on the Hill, to play a key role in reestabslihing net neutrality protections.
9. NYPL Tries Again with Historic Renovation Project
After an earlier attempt was scuttled, in November the New York Public Library unveiled a new $317 million master plan for the renovation of the New York Public Library’s historic Stephen A. Schwarzman main library.
“We do this for a very simple reason,” NYPL president and CEO Tony Marx told constituents at a November 20 public hearing, the first of many to be held as the plan progresses. “We believe that this library, the research library, and the public use of a great research library is more important now than it’s ever been.”
In 2014, library officials were forced to abandon their controversial Central Library Plan after a public outcry. But this time around, Marx says NYPL leaders have taken that experience to heart and promise a more open, transparent process.
“Two things I think we’ve learned in particular: one is to listen to our great library staff, library users, and the public at large, and to do that in an iterative process—to keep developing plans and perfecting them and refining them as those conversations continue,” Marx said. “And the other is to be totally respectful of the amazing, iconic architecture of this building.”
10. Progress on Library E-books?
For years, e-book access was the hot issue for libraries and publishers, and a source of simmering tension. But, since 2014, when all the major publishers were finally allowing libraries to license and lend e-books, there’s been little motivation to improve how the library e-book market operates. But is a small measure of progress coming in 2018?
Ahead of the 2017 ALA Annual Conference this summer, HarperCollins became the first major publisher to make a portion of its backlist available to multiple users simultaneously, sparking hope that more publishers might finally begin to explore options for improving the library e-book experience.
In a post on the ReadersFirst website, Michael Blackwell, director of the St. Mary’s County (Md.) Library, thanked HarperCollins for the gesture. “Will other publishers follow? Could high-demand frontlist titles follow? What will it look like in library catalogs? Great questions,” he wrote. “We can hope for continued progress.”
Meanwhile, on that score, ReadersFirst completed a survey of its member libraries in November that offers great insight into what kinds of changes libraries are looking for. Among its findings, some 94% of respondents said that multiple license types would be beneficial. Ideally, the survey suggests, librarians would like to be able to mix-and-match different license models on a title-by-title basis to better serve patrons, reduce hold times, and to make the most efficient use of their library’s limited budgets—for example, simultaneous use to meet a period of peak demand, perpetual access to keep a few copies in the collection, and some kind of metered access to provide routine service. The survey also addressed the elephant in the digital stacks: high prices for e-books remain a major impediment for libraries.
But another question looms for 2018 as well: In 2017, the ALA’s Digital Content Working Group finished its five-year charter and disbanded. The group’s work was credited with helping to break the impasse with publishers over e-books, and it was praised for opening critical lines of communication between publishers and librarians. In 2018, without the DCWG, how will publishers and librarians keep those lines of communication open?