ALA President’s Open Letter on Ebooks and Publishers doesn’t get us very far

Maureen Sullivan, ALA president, just posted an Open Letter to America’s Publishers. Go read it, then come back and discuss.

On the one hand, it’s a fine letter, addressing all the appropriate stuff. On the other hand … I think I’m confused. Here’s why:

The letter doesn’t really seem to be addressed to America’s Publishers. Instead, it seems to be addressed to libraries and librarians. Most of the letter gives the normal “aren’t libraries awesome” stuff.

And then, in the last two paragraphs, that’s when the letter actually gets to the point. Here’s our big call to action:

“We librarians cannot stand by and do nothing while some publishers deepen the digital divide. We cannot wait passively while some publishers deny access to our cultural record. We must speak out on behalf of today’s — and tomorrow’s — readers.The library community demands meaningful change and creative solutions that serve libraries and our readers who rightfully expect the same access to e-books as they have to printed books.”

“So, which side will you be on? Will you join us in a future of liberating literature for all? Libraries stand with readers, thinkers, writers, dreamers and inventors. Books and knowledge — in all their forms — are essential. Access to them must not be denied.”

Did I miss something? Our big directive from ALA is this:

  • Librarians cannot stand by and do nothing
  • We can’t wait passively
  • We must speak out
  • Library community demands change

??? All Maureen/ALA is asking libraries to do is to … “speak out???” Nothing about the issues, nothing about results, nothing about concerted efforts…

So really – I’m glad maureen is ALA president, and I’m glad ALA is starting to do something about ebooks. But I’m not sure that simply asking libraries to randomly “speak out” about the issue is useful.

Why not something more concrete, like “everyone call Penguin on October 1 at 2pm, and ask for the same thing”? And then provide some some talking points to use during the phone call?

How about something more specific saying what ALA is doing about the issue, and giving us something to take back to our library boards?

Help me out here – what could we as libraries and librarians do that is more than just “speaking out?” Let’s create some better, more specific next steps for ALA. I think we can do better than this!

  • Jessamyn

    I mentioned this elsewhere but I find it telling that she refers to ALAs 60,000 members which includes the corporate members which, I am certain, includes these problematic publishers. I love that she is passionate about this, I really feel like I’d want her to speak FOR America’s libraries TO publishers. Their stance is problematic and more, in my opinion, for themselves than for us.

  • Michael Sauers

    The way I read it was “us librarian’s are going to do something about this so you need to be either with us or you’re against us.” Granted even with that reading, there’s a definite lack of specificity.

  • Andrea Beth

    It was posited as an “open letter” to publishers not librarians. It’s a first step. Yes, we (libraries as a whole) need to put more pressure on the publishers to come up with a better formula for purchasing eMaterials. That is the next step.

  • Ben Bizzle

    I actually expressed my discontent about this “open letter” in a conversation earlier. It’s toothless and will be forgotten by morning. It’s weak and reflective of a community without focus or organization. Hand wringing and whining isn’t going to affect change. This is playing to the crowd, not a rallying cry to action. It’s almost as though ALA has now checked off that box and can tell the library community that they did their part.

  • Pingback: ALA’s gripes to publishers dance around the e-library world’s Problem #1—not enough money for library e-books | LibraryCity()

  • Joshua Klingbeil

    RE: An open letter to America’s publishers from ALA President Maureen Sullivan –

    It took me a few reads and a while to wrap my head around it, but I feel oddly hopeful about the potential future this action predicts. Granted, most of that hope is based on information learned outside of the letter, but the extra context helps.

  • Jeana Dawn

    I’ve been trying to figure out how I feel about this letter for a couple days now. I appreciate the effort, but it accomplishes nothing.

    “We librarians cannot stand by and do nothing while some publishers deepen the digital divide. We cannot wait passively while some publishers deny access to our cultural record.”

    Fine. Then what can we do? Talk about it some more? How long have we been talking and how far has that gotten us?

    How about talking to the authors to push their publishers into action? How about bombarding twitter feeds, facebook pages, phones, and emails with requests?

    There’s got to be something to be done other than just keep talking about it.