Macmillan’s controversial embargo on library e-books officially starts today, but not before another flurry of headlines.
On Tuesday, Macmillan CEO John Sargent released an open letter to librarians in which he tried to explain the good intentions behind what library supporters see as a hostile new policy.
The reaction from librarians has not been good. I’ll save the more detailed reactions from librarians for next week, and for now I'll just point to the more measured official response from ALA officials, who correct a few glaring inaccuracies and politely point out that Sargent’s letter “misrepresents ALA’s longstanding and good-faith efforts to equitably balance the rights and privileges of readers, libraries, authors, and publishers.”
Meanwhile, ALA officials delivered a petition containing nearly 160,000 signatures to the Macmillan offices this week, and made a final last ditch attempt to talk things through. Specifically, ALA officials confirmed to PW that they asked Macmillan executives this week to suspend the November 1 embargo launch—after all, in his letter to librarians, Sargent conceded that his embargo “may be wrong,” and agreed to take meetings with a group of state librarians, and to visit with librarians at the upcoming ALA Midwinter Meeting, in January of next year. If your mind is truly open to being changed, why not delay the embargo until after those meetings? Wouldn’t it be easier to delay the embargo while those talks happen, rather than have to unwind it amid boycotts, and bad press?
And on the boycott front, The Associated Press reports news of more library systems that are planning to boycott Macmillan e-books. PW was first to report last month that the nation’s highest digital-circulating library system, King County, in Washington would suspend purchases of embargoed content. This week, the Columbus Metropolitan Library, the Nashville Public Library, and the New Orleans Public Library also confirmed their boycotts [editor's note: The AP had perviously erroneously reported that the Maryland Digital Library had joined the embargo].
In a statement, Pat Losinski, CEO of the Columbus library, called the move a stand against “limiting equal access” to our library patrons. “By limiting the number of copies our library can purchase, Macmillan is allowing only a certain segment of our society to access digital content in a timely manner—those who can pay for it themselves. And that’s unacceptable in a democratic society.”
Meanwhile, PW can add the Washington Digital Library Consortium to the list, and the Somerset County (NJ) library system, and we hear that many more, including some major systems, are planning to announce their own actions in the coming days.
Too many headlines to share them all this week regarding Macmillan's e-book embargo, but here's a few: PW contributor Sari Feldman went on NPR, noting that the library community will continue to fight the embargo, which includes going to Congress. Macmillan CEO John Sargent responded to NPR's Lynn Neary, saying he was open to continued discussions with libraries, but that there's "a large problem here that needs to be addressed one way or another." Large, indeed, note some observers.
San Francisco Public Library City Librarian Michael Lambert has an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle suggesting that it may be hard to come to a solution since there isn't even agreement that there is a problem. "Macmillan’s embargo is an outlier in the publishing industry. None of the other large publishers are embargoing library purchases or creating inequitable reader access. There is no data to support the idea that every copy borrowed from a library means a sale lost to a publisher."
And from Vice, a succinct appraisal of Macmillan's plan. "Libraries are often the place where young readers go to learn about the books they’re curious about. They discover new authors and books they might never have picked up otherwise. Every author has a story about how much the library meant to them. In South Carolina, where I live, the library is one of the only sources for books that isn’t Amazon."
From the Christian Science Monitor, a moving story on how Queens (NY) public librarians are using a bookmobile to bring books to underserved populations.
How much do people love their libraries? The Washington Post reports on the delight people experienced taking part in a 650-person human chain used to move boxes of children's books from one library to another.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, an eye-opening report on the decline of schools libraries and efforts to mitigate the effect on students. "Just nine Philadelphia public schools have certified school librarians; about a dozen have functioning libraries opened and staffed by volunteer organizations, or kept open by other means. Decades ago, nearly every city school employed a librarian, but budget cuts decimated librarians’ ranks in Philadelphia and in urban districts nationwide."
Did you know this? From InsideHook (via The Wall Street Journal) novelist Philip Roth left a portion of his estate to his hometown library.
The Internet is now 50. But as Tim Berners-Lee writes at the World Wide Web Foundation, it's not a happy birthday. "We urgently need an ambitious, coordinated effort to tackle the threats facing the internet and the web, and make sure that everyone is able to access the benefits of digital technology. Next month, we’ll publish the Contract for the Web—a plan created by experts and individuals from across the world to make sure our online world is safe, empowering and genuinely for everyone."
Over at Wired, media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy has some advice for Mark Zuckerberg: just shut up. "The hubris that Facebook is something more, that the company is here to make the world better, to “give people voice, and bring people together,” is the core flaw in Zuckerberg's view of himself and his company. He does everything wrong because he actually believes he's doing everything right."
A fascinating (and instructive) article by the great Frederic Filloux at Monday Note on Facebook's decision to partner with news organizations on a News Tab, just as an EU copyright reform aimed at compensating publishers for web snippets takes effect in France. "Facebook coming to the help of the news industry is roughly like having the North American Meat Institute endorsing Greta Thunberg. The News Tab is, by design, nothing but an opportunistic feature."
And, via Sify.com being a whistleblower may not pay, at least when it comes to future royalties. Just ask Edward Snowden, whose publisher, Macmillan, has agreed to freeze any payments to him while the the U.S. Department of Justice sues him for breaking his NDAs and not having his manuscript for his powerful new memoir, Permanent Record, reviewed by the appropriate federal agencies.
The Week in Libraries is a weekly opinion and news column. News, tips, submissions, questions or comments are welcome, and can be submitted via email.