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!

Ebooks and Econtent Brainstorming in Montana

ebook workshop in MontanaMichael Porter and I recently gave a 3-hour workshop on the econtent landscape at the Montana State Library Fall Workshop. During the workshop, we divided participants into groups, and asked them to do some brainstorming on three questions.

I posted the whole list of responses over at the Library Renewal blog (I’m a board member for Library Renewal), but I’m going to highlight a few responses here:

1. What do you want with ebooks?

  • Pricing: We want ebooks for a fair price, and we want to own what we buy.
  • Content: We want the popular stuff that we currently can’t get! We also want to help our customers create their own content.
  • Access issues: We want a “one copy/multiple users” model – not the old “one ebook/one patron” model.
  • Interface: We want an easy-to-use interface and standard, open ebook reader formats, so we can read all ebook file formats on any device. It should work with social tools like Facebook or Twitter, so we can share bookmarks and notes socially.
  • Marketing: We want customers to actually know we have ebooks!

DLK’s commentary: Honestly, we aren’t asking for much, and it’s all do-able. For example – Hachette’s recent price hike? At least they didn’t cut access. In the business world, that means they want to play – now, we just need to settle on a fair price. Now we just need Hachette’s frontlist titles, and we need Penguin, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster to play along, too. Interface stuff – the fairly standard ePub format is out there … we just need Amazon to add it to the Kindle.

Marketing – that’s 100% us, guys. Want your customers to know you have ebooks? You HAVE TO TELL THEM. If Pew Internet is reporting that 58% of our library card holders don’t know if we have ebooks, then we either didn’t tell them, or we made a poor attempt at telling them. Let’s get this one right, ok?

2. What is realistic for your organization?

  • Consortiums: Start something with the state, set them up regionally. Partner with other organizations, like Califa.
  • Marketing: Share what’s happening in the ebook world with Montana citizens.
  • Education: Help people with ebook reader devices, and teach leaders higher-up why funding for econtent is necessary.
  • DIY: Build our own platform, and go directly to publishers and authors for the access.
  • Pricing: Start working with publishers to get ebooks costing the same price as print books.

DLK’s Commentary: Lots of good ideas here. One good way to tackle pricing, especially for all the small, rural libraries in Montana, is via some type of consortium pricing model. And again, we can do something about marketing and about education. These are all definitely very do-able and realistic.

3. What can you do to make what’s realistic actually happen?

  • Find a Leader: Set up a central clearinghouse or coordinator. State Library could take the lead on this.
  • Government: Talk to local representatives and get them involved. Make the ebook case at the local, regional, and state levels. Make sure that local ALA Council reps actually represent what Montana wants to do.
  • Funding: Find it! Change priorities at a local level so there’s money in the library budget.
  • Education: Educate public and staff about the issues, formats, and potential problems. Confirm the importance of econtent at the local level.
  • Adaptability: Enhance what the local library does. Start conversations with local publishers.

DLK’s Commentary: I love the idea of getting  local and state reps educated and involved in our current econtent access and funding issues. We might not be able to do much nationally, but I wonder if we could start something locally or statewide, and then get that moved up to a national level?

Also, working locally with small, local publishers, or even authors, is a great way to start, too.

What’s missing here?

Starbucks Cards and Libraries – Would it Work?

I sometimes pick up those cool Starbuck’s Free App/Free Song/Free Book cards when I’m at Starbucks buying a coffee. I think those cards are pretty cool, and I think they just might work in a library setting, too.

What if libraries did something like this – created some cards, and pointed to free content, like:

  • Project Gutenberg free ebooks
  • Free music via your Freegal account (or fill in the blank if you have another music database)
  • Free event – have the card be the ticket to the event
  • Free game – point to something on the web, or actually make an app-based game and point to that.

This idea is sort of like those signs I saw at the Denver airport awhile back.

So … thoughts? Do you think it would work in a library? I’d love to know!

And an aside – yes, I know the video is sorta jumpy. Sorry about that! I should have used the Focus Lock feature, and didn’t think about it. Next time!

Ebooks for Libraries Update – mailing the petitions to publishers!

Remember the Ebooks for Libraries campaign that my library and Library Renewal are running? Here’s our final video installment (for now). On Wednesday, we mailed the names of all our petition signers – on HUGE rolls of paper – to the big six publishers. Library Journal even mentioned it!

Next goal (already started via Gina Millsap and the wonders of email) – make initial contact with each publisher and hopefully start some conversations about ebooks, readers, and libraries.

Missed our first two videos? Here are some links to them (and a little more info, too):

Stay tuned for more info as I have it!

Ten Thousand Signatures – what’s next?

Our Ebooksforlibraries campaign did it. We reached our goal of 10,000 signatures (it’s actually at 10,644 right now)! Watch the video to find out what’s next.

Want more info about our Ebooks for Libraries project? There’s a great write-up about iton my library’s website. I love how the article starts out: “If your business received 10,000 requests for a product you had in stock, would you sell it to them? In just seven weeks, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, through ebooksforlibraries.com, has collected 10,000 signatures requesting publishers provide ebooks to libraries by developing a business model that allows publishers and authors to thrive. The goal of 10,000 signatures was reached today at 9:05 am CDT.

While sales of ereaders and tablets skyrocket, libraries are having trouble getting ebooks to fill up these popular devices. Some of the largest publishing companies are creating barriers to delivering library customers the books they want in the format they want them.

The library encouraged readers to send a message to publishers about the limits they are imposing on supplying ebooks to libraries. A petition was set up on www.ebooksforlibraries.com. Readers – from as far away as Australia and Spain – responded to help surpass the goal.” (read the rest here).

And here’s a link to my original post about the project, too.