This week, a receipt from the Wichita Public Library went viral after being posted on Reddit. Through a feature provided by the library’s ILS vendor, Polaris, the receipt for checked out items showed that a family of six saved $164 on its recent visit (and more than $1,384 this year alone) by borrowing materials during their weekly visit to the library. A pretty clever way to point out the value of libraries and their core mission of providing access to books and reading, right?
Apparently not: in a sign of the times, as Yahoo News reports, the receipt instead sparked a debate about “the thousands of dollars” libraries are costing authors.
“To hell with supporting authors,” one commenter posted sarcastically.
“Sorry, but I'm not going to be spending $10-$20 every time I see a book I might be interested in,” another commenter replied.
Meanwhile, another commenter succinctly summed up my reaction to the story: “People are actually debating the morality of using a library?”
In his latest Publishers Weekly column, University of Washington iSchool professor Joseph Janes thoughtfully engages this very subject: the natural tension between the library and publishing worlds, through the lens of the increasingly contentious library e-book market. "It strikes me that the perennial question at the heart of the e-book debate predates and extends beyond the current state of the market: do publishers and authors see the library’s relationship to them as more symbiotic, or parasitic?” Janes writes.
The long-running tension between publishers, authors and libraries is nothing new, Janes points out in his column. But in the still emerging library e-book market, where publishers hold all the cards in terms of licensing access, it appears to be escalating.
"Do I think that the major publishers are restricting e-book access because they don’t like libraries? No," Janes writes. "What I do think, however, is that Macmillan and a few other major publishers’ actions in the e-book realm are based less in reality than in a specific perception (or misperception) of reality. And I’m afraid that until a more accurate perception of libraries takes root among publishing executives, it’s hard to see the library e-book market improving."
Despite recent actions, Janes remains optimistic that things can improve.
"I’ll admit, it’s hard not to wonder who in publishing’s C-suites today recognizes that libraries are not the problem—that libraries are in fact publishers' most steadfast partners in a literary ecosystem that, for generations, has fostered the highest-quality writing, generated sales, and helped society learn and grow," he writes. "But I am still idealistic enough to believe that we can have a constructive and meaningful discussion. And I believe that if we do that, we will find a way to accommodate everybody’s interests—authors, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and, especially, readers. Remember them?"
One of the initiatives aiming to help publishers and authors get a better grasp on how library e-books benefit authors and publishers is the Panorama Project, the OverDrive-funded library advocacy effort. This week, Panorama announced its latest "Panorama Picks" list, a data-driven quarterly report on the "under-the-radar fiction, nonfiction, and young adult backlist titles" that library patrons are waiting to borrow. The lists are optimized for local interest via regional groupings aligned with the American Booksellers Association’s (ABA) regional associations.
Another week, and more press reports about the difficulties libraries are facing in the e-book market: Geekwire has picked up King County librarian Lisa Rosenblum's excellent explainer on Macmillan's two-month e-book embargo. "To understand the impact of Macmillan’s decision, it must be put in perspective. Libraries maintain ‘Purchase to Holds’ ratios to minimize wait times for popular titles. As a large library system, KCLS maintains a 5:1 ratio. That means for every five holds placed on a title, KCLS purchases one copy to ensure a maximum wait time of three months. To illustrate, after months on KCLS’ Top 5 eBooks list, the bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens still has 1,848 holds on 372 copies. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover has 1,089 holds on 358 copies. If KCLS had been limited to only one digital copy of each of these high-demand titles and then had to wait eight weeks before being able to purchase more, the impact would be dramatic. Patrons could conceivably wait years rather than months for their eBook." But borrowing e-books is "frictionless," right?
In Toledo, Ohio, a report on the local ABC affiliate. "Providing digital content is challenging for libraries on a number of levels. For starters, it is an expensive venture. Libraries pay 3-4 times what they would for a print title, and often they only get it for two years before having to renew."
And in Texas, the Waco Tribue-Herald also has a report on the recent publisher changes for library e-books and audio. “It’s going to affect us in certain areas,” Waco-McLennan County Library Director Essy Day said. “The business model for e-books and e-audiobooks is horrible, in my opinion.”
Via Publishers Weekly, more digital content libraries will not be able to license for their patrons. Amazon's Audible division has entered into yet another deal, this one with with Skybound Entertainment, to create multiple audio-only originals available exclusively to Audible subscribers.
The University of California is showing serious resolve in its pursuit of open access. In the latest development in its dispute with Elsevier, reported by Science, some of the university's "most prominent scientists" announced they will resign from the editorial boards of Cell Press over the impasse.
Via Publishers Weekly, textbook publisher Cengage is facing a new class action lawsuit from a group of its authors over the its switch from printed books to digital subscriptions. It's the second suit filed in just over a year, after a previous suit was settled last October.
Meanwhile, SPARC has joined the chorus of critics calling for government regulators to block a proposed merger between Cengage and McGraw-Hill. “The merger would decrease competition, increase prices, and lock students into digital courseware that can gather vast amounts of their data,” said Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for SPARC. “It flagrantly exceeds market share thresholds established under federal antitrust law. The textbook publishing industry engaged in unsustainable pricing for decades at the expense of students, and eliminating competition adds insult to injury. This merger should not be allowed to proceed.”
The New York Times reports that New York's Culture Pass initiative, which gives local library cardholders free admission to a growing list of cultural institutions (including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History among the more than 50 partners) has been very successful, signing up more than 70,000 in year one.
Also, from The New York Times, a look at libraries that are also tourist attractions.
A sad sign of the times in America, via the local NBC affiliate: The Charleston Public Library will add armed guards. The move comes after "a shooting threat via email in October 2018" led to the temporary closure of several branches.
From Vox, a look at Barack Obama's summer reading list. Which is awesome.
And, we know you love your local librarians. So, show 'em! Nominations for the annual I Love My Librarian awards are now open.