Tag Archives: policy

Draconian policies save my supplies!

9 Apr

There is a little-known problem that happens (I would imagine) in many school libraries: office supply theft.  You know how it goes…

Innocent-looking student: May I borrow a pencil/textbook/calculator/stapler/tape?
Librarian: Of course!  Please return it when you’re finished.

3 days later…no returned supplies.  I don’t think it’s intentional, I think our students get caught up in their work, realize they’re late for class, and dash out.  With my stuff.

So, after scratching my head about how to stem the flow of equipment money wandering out, I decided the only way to resolve the problem was to make sure the student had motive to return to me.  You want a pair of headphones?  Or a calculator?  I want your ID.  I don’t care if it’s your student ID or a driver’s license, but something that tells me your name is staying with me.  This is because I can now bill you, if I must.

Pens?  Have one.  They’re 50 in a $2.00 box from OfficeMax, good luck getting one to write.  Oh, my nice pen?  It came from personal funds and I don’t lend it out.

I realize demanding ID is draconian, and that we could just check them out as circulating items.  We tried that, in fact, and all that happened was the students would drop out and we had an old address.  Goodbye, stapler or headphones.  It may be harsh, but if I take something you’ll miss, then the student is likely to view it more as a temporary trade than as “borrowing” from a place that can’t enforce its ownership after you leave.


Annoyed and Annoyed

8 Feb

I can’t tell you how angry situations like this make me.  You might love Annoyed Librarian, you might hate her (him?), but you can’t deny there are salient points in that blog post.  Go read it.  Seriously.


Ok, now that we’re all back here, let’s break this down.  In a list of 41 rules in 5 categories, we restrict people’s behavior in ways that clearly have no impact on the mission of the library, assuming they define that as “access to information.”  It’s designed, they say, for the “comfort and safety” of the patrons and staff.  Well, things like moving furniture could be for the comfort of the patron, but against the comfort of the staff – they’re the ones moving it back to where it belongs.  Here’s a thought: what about the comfort of the mother bringing in her two elementary school children for story hour or to do homework, and the children see a woman spread-eagle?  That’s not comfortable for her, and she’s just as much a patron as the viewer of the porn.  But viewing porn, in a public area, is “information” the patrons should have a right to access, according to the creators and defenders of this policy.

No, it’s not.

There is no informative value you derive from porn in a public setting.  The ALA and I have a disagreement (that they’re not aware we, specifically, are in, though they’d have to be nuts not to realize there are librarians out there who find their stance on porn access distasteful) on this in the worst way.  I don’t think there needs to be any access to porn in libraries, and Annoyed makes an excellent point: is there a law requiring libraries to provide Internet access to porn?  I rather doubt there is such a thing, but I do know there are laws about common decency and community morality.  I know that, because the ALA lost a Supreme Court case about just such a topic.  I know that, because it’s how police officers arrest non-intoxicated people for public urination.

So why is the ALA OIF and the ACLU pursuing this agenda?  I have no clue, and I’m not sure I want to understand why organizations so devoted to “access to information” aren’t devoting more resources to keeping libraries and librarians in schools, where students need the information provided and the help librarians can offer.  I can see that porn in libraries is more politically glamorous, but which is more heroic?

The more I read about eBook lending, and pornography in libraries being viewed in public, the more I’m convinced that access to information is a concept very badly misunderstood by those whose professional duty is to provide it.  Access to information is providing that which your patrons find of value.  The community informs the library about the material from which it derives value, and if you get people complaining about the type of information to which you’re providing access, then you are not doing your job.  By the way, every community I’ve ever read about that challenges the access to porn policy of a library has overwhelming patron support.

So, what can we do to change the way we perceive “access to information”?  My first thought is for librarians to stop assuming we know what will best benefit our community, and start listening instead.  What are your ideas?


10 Jan

I love Library Journal‘s articles this month.  I also love Annoyed Librarian, but that’s an unrelated comment I just had to add.

For me, LJ is typically a love/like/hate relationship because I use it for collection development (the love), the occasional article (the like), but what doesn’t work is the seemingly single-minded focus on public libraries with the passing nod to academic libraries (the hate).  My library doesn’t fit into any of those, so for the most part LJ gives me information I have to do Pilates on in order to derive some applicable meaning.

Not this month.  January 2012 has a great article called “Moving from Outputs to Outcomes” and if you’ve ever wondered or had to justify your existence to anyone, I recommend you read it.  There are a lot of great ideas in there, but one stuck with me: librarians like numbers we can show to people, like X% increase in circulation over last year with only Y% new volumes added to the collection, all with a budget of $Z!  Those are all output numbers, and are important in the running of any business.  As we (should) all know, libraries are indeed businesses.

The article then discusses a logic model that suggests a new measure for your library’s value, based on outcome instead of output.  They called it “squishy” versus “hard”, squishy being outcomes.  The formula is something like: In this year, we will implement X policy/procedure/etc, which will lead to Y result/action/skill, ultimately leading to Z outcome for the library/patrons/the community.  It’s assessable because it has steps that must go in sequence and each step is measurable.  Did you implement X?  Why not, or how did that happen?  Did it lead to Y result, and why or why not?  What was Z, and was it what you expected?  The outcome itself is intangible, but think of it like the workshops we conduct, on a larger scale.  A person comes with X goal, we teach them Y, and they leave knowing how to Z.  We can certainly say that by doing a workshop on Facebook, patrons come to learn how to use it, we teach them to set up a profile/timeline/page, and they leave better able to connect with family and friends or market their product.

What do you think of this outcome-based assessment (OBA)? Do you think outcomes are more important than outputs, vice versa, or equal?  If outcomes are more important, why haven’t we taken to illustrating that import in a way that makes sense for what we attempt to accomplish, instead of numbers?  Does your library use any methodology like this?  I’m eager to hear your thoughts!

Do versus Ought

5 Dec

Last week, I told you about the reorganizing of our materials and how standard systems had let me and my patrons down.  This week, I want to follow that with the question that’s at the heart of the matter.

What does and what should your library do for patrons?  Are they the same thing?


I say no.  In our case, it was using a standard cataloging system without examining whether or not it met the needs of our service population.  As I said last week, the root of the reshelve was that our patrons don’t do pure research, and the cataloging system is designed to facilitate pure research.  There are only two options with this: you push pure research onto patrons who don’t do and aren’t comfortable with it by doing “reference instruction” and workshops on using the library.  Or, you observe what your patrons are already doing, and how they use information, ask for their feedback, and make changes to accommodate existing behaviors and needs.

I’m not saying we should let our patrons stagnate, but you know that saying about horses and water?  It applies.  We can’t force patrons to care about research the way we do, and our sense of professional integrity shouldn’t hang on the converts we’ve made, but the people we’ve helped.

I leave you this entreaty: examine what your patrons need from you, discarding any idea of what you want to give them, and see if there are ways you can improve the system by which you meet those needs.

Free speech and libraries

26 Oct

Normally I don’t get inspiration this way, but here goes!

A very interesting discussion recently took place on Facebook that I was able to be a part of, centering around the issue of discrimination and restricting membership to groups based on certain criteria.  After seeing where it went, the issue of free speech came up, and being a librarian, I introduced the notion of the “chilling effect” and watched the discussion get a bit ridiculous as those who weren’t familiar with it applied it incorrectly.  If you, an information professional, are not familiar with this concept….get familiar.  Now.  Find out what it is in general, and how it applies to libraries.  Theresa Chmara’s book, Privacy and confidentiality issues in libraries, is a phenomenal place to start.

For those of us that are familiar with it, what’s your stance?  Personally, I tend against anything that chills free speech, and would deny parents certain things they feel a right to getting (their child’s circulation records, for example) because the law makes no distinction on those who have a right to consume information based on age, with the notable exception of pornography being information minors may not receive.  That, of course, is when I would disallow free speech.

How do your libraries handle the issue of free speech and the chilling effect?  Are there any policies in place about it?  What are your feelings about it, and how do you think it affects your career?

The end of an era: digital rights management

11 Mar

As promised, my thoughts on digital rights management and policy issues.  This is modified from research I have already done, but I feel it’s still relevant.  I don’t aim here to provide a recommendation to libraries or policymakers on what course of action to take.  I intend only to illuminate the situation we as information professionals find ourselves in and to give enough basic education that we can hold our own when the time comes.  That time will come, and as it marches closer, we must take our responsibility to consider the needs of individuals vs. the needs of the community with the greatest gravity.

As our current climate of information grows and changes, so do the demands that users make on sources of that information.  Sources of information are traditionally thought to be books, bookstores, libraries, archives, and other repositories of documents.  With the increasingly wide availability of computers, complete with the ability for word processing, and the pervasive nature of the Internet, demands for information have adapted to fit in.  Now librarians and information managers must be familiar with databases and Internet-based methods of information delivery as well as how they must treat digital objects.  Digital objects can mean either copies of paper-based documents, or objects that are “born digital” and have never been committed to paper in original form.

Digital objects present unique challenges to librarians, information managers and lawyers.  Because of the speed and relative ease of access, many users favor digital objects over the paper-based object.  In some cases, this is because the object is unavailable to most users: digital reproductions of one-of-a-kind masterpieces of art or illuminated manuscripts, scanned in at suitably high dpi resolutions, represent a chance to study materials without the cost of travel or purchase.  In other cases, it represents mere ease of access: a college student sitting in his dorm room during a blizzard in Canada is much more likely to “borrow” an electronic document from the library, via e-mail request, than he is to venture out in the weather to check out the print book or journal.

With so many materials available in new formats so quickly in the eyes of the law, copyright laws have yet to catch up to the transition.  Most copyright for print materials is assumed to extend to digital objects, with only minor modifications.  Because this adaptation of a system unsuited to materials has evolved, producers of digital objects and lawyers who work with them have developed certain practices as a response.  The more widely known two are digital rights management and the reward system.  Both have points in their favor and both have drawbacks, both have implications for technology and law development in the future.  The common ground they have is that neither is currently considered the definitive system to use.  They are most commonly evaluated from technology-based enquiry, or from economic enquiry.  That being the case, both areas of enquiry have impact on the field of librarianship as the technology influences the ways in which users consume information and the economic factors influence their ability to consume information.

Copyright law is an area notably murky and contentious when applied to digital objects and digital libraries.  In the most basic sense, copyright laws are designed to maintain a “balance between ‘private good’ and ‘public good’” (Tang, 2005, p.859).  The “private good”, manifested by exclusive rights, has traditionally been interpreted to mean the good of the author and/or producer of the material, most often in a financial sense.  The method for assuring the private good is through royalties and protection against illegal copying designed to defraud the author and/or producer from proceeds they are otherwise entitled to.  The public good refers to the benefit the public can gain from the work intellectually, and is the reason why copyrights have expiration dates.  The phrase “digital agenda” is often used to refer to the attempt to mandate copyright in a meaningful way for digital objects.

Any librarian worth his or her salt knows about fair use as an exemption to many copyright law restrictions.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Sony Betamax case that private, non-commercial copying should be considered fair use unless there is proof that there is “meaningful likelihood of harm to the market for the copyrighted work” (Samuelson, 1998, p.15).  Samuelson also states that fair use itself is a balancing mechanism between the author’s/producer’s interests and the consumer’s interests in that it allows for settlements of lower licensing fees than normal or that the copy provides critical commentary which benefits the public interest (1998, p.15).

In a digital environment, law has not kept up quickly enough with technology, leading to numerous White Papers on the subject of digital copyright, as well as some pieces of legislation that seem to ignore fair use, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA).  At the time of his writing, Kretschmer noted that the DMCA had provisions that would make copying digital objects for the purposes of criticism, parody, or research preventable via “contractual terms of the rights owner”; that is, any digital library contracting for the rights to a work could also have in that contract a stipulation that allows for the material to be kept from fair use or public domain (1998, p.1).  This is problematic because now copyright holders have such control over their materials: publishers could not “prescribe what a user can do with the copy of a work after sale”.  In accordance with the digital agenda, the U.S. White Paper on Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure states that copyright owners do have the right to enforce an exclusive right to read, because protected works in digital form that are read or privately performed have temporary copies made in RAM during the reading or viewing (Samuelson, 1998, p.15).  While to librarians such an argument may sound specious, it nonetheless has gained validity in the minds of producers and owners of copyright.

Hand in hand with the issue of digital copyright is that of privacy.  A user accessing a digital object through means of DRM systems, digital libraries, or peer-to-peer (P2P) networks tends to assume a degree of anonymity; he or she would be right to, as libraries have fought strenuously throughout their history to uphold the right to privacy of their patrons.  However, the question remains on what responsibilities, if any, “digital library developers have to respect user privacy or build in anonymity features to protect user privacy” (Samuelson, 1998, p.16).  At least in some cases, such as P2P networking, copyright owners would much rather there be no anonymity so that any use they do not authorize, including provisions for fair use for print materials, may be linked to a specific person for purposes of prosecution.  If encryption is utilized then there must be some form of authentication for users, and if that goes directly to the copyright owner, they may have the means to circumvent anonymity.  This circumvention matters inasmuch as it gives DRM systems the ability to influence unduly the consumption of materials that, in another form, would be more free-flowing.

A last issue that Kretschmer notes is that “there is no unified category of right owners, covering creators and investors”, and that the two may have greatly differing interests in the copyright (1998, p.9-10).  The interests of the creator include wide distribution, acknowledgement/credit for their work, financial gain, and creative engagement with other works, whereas the interests of the investor are in “exclusive and transferable property rights, to extract maximum returns from their investments” (Kretschmer, 1998, p.9-10).  Because of the disparity between interests of owners, he notes that creators might disregard copyright at the outset of their careers and once their financial stake becomes greater their interests become similar to those of investors (1998, p.11).

Digital rights management, or DRM, sometimes called “digital restrictions management” by its opponents, is currently the answer to the problem of applying copyright law to digital objects: it programs exclusive rights into every computer and device used for information consumption and manipulation (Eckersley, 2003, p.4).  Stamp says that it “can be viewed as an attempt to provide ‘remote control’ of digital content’…[wherein] restrictions on the use of the content must be maintained after it has been delivered” (2003, p.102).  Should it be successful, a DRM system complies with both copyright laws and those “mandating increased security for private information held in digital form” (Stamp, 2003, p.102).

There are four basic classifications of security levels within a DRM system: honor-based systems that have no real technical security and rely on users to be honest about their use; systems utilizing limited, software-based protection, such as an attempt to protect PDF documents by disabling the “Save As” feature in Acrobat Reader; systems that have software-based “controlled execution” that prevent the user from performing certain operations such as screen capture, and methods aimed to prevent activities deemed compromising to security; and systems that rely on tamper-resistant hardware (Stamp, 2003, p.103).  These levels have different degrees of feasibility, and most DRM systems fall into the second classification due to expense and the fact that most DRM systems must operate on personal computers.

The benefits of such a system include protection for rights holders; when Mark Stamp published his article, he asserted that “without robust DRM, owners of digital content [had] little choice other than to rely on the honor system” (2003, p.102).  Such a system is obviously unacceptable to any rights owner and might account for the relative lack of volume of digital content widely available in terms of copyrighted works.  Stamp also believes that if a DRM system were to be effective and successful, it has implications for users: they could manage and maintain control over their online personal data (2003, p.102).

Problems with a DRM approach and trusted systems include the need for resistance to tampering, and the need to display or release the contents from the device in a human-accessible format (Eckersley, 2003, p.4).  Another thing to note is that although processes such as watermarking exist, they are by no means secure, and that by the date of publication, no technique existed for watermarking that could not be removed from the object (Eckersley, 2003, p.5).  Stamp believes that if DRM systems are to have a reasonable chance in a software-based system, as opposed to tamper-resistant hardware, then “perhaps the best hope lies in the realm of software uniqueness.  If each instance of a particular DRM software product includes some degree of uniqueness then an attack that succeeds against one will not necessarily succeed against all” (2003, p.110).  It should be apparent from this belief that the primary goal of DRM systems is security of the information, not delivery, and this is an idea that may find purchase with librarians only if there are no acceptable alternatives.

There are many scholars who have come up with numerous alternatives to DRM.  Juxtaposed with DRM, some professionals espouse a reward-based system for copyright of digital objects.  This would call for “various forms of direct government intervention to replace exclusive rights in a digital context” (Eckersley, 2003, p.5).  Eckersley references two existing schemas that are precedents for the type of reward system that could be implemented for digital objects: the “’public lending right’” scheme, and the “’private copying’ levy scheme” but both are reward-based, financed by taxation and address situations “where exclusive rights are infeasible or unenforceable” (2003, p.6).

The public lending right scheme is used in application to public libraries: it pays authors and publishers for the usage of their materials in the context of the public library, and though the scope, method and legal status varies, “they involve a pool of government funds which are divided according to the relative borrowing frequency of different items” (Eckersley, 2003, p.6).  In essence, it places a value on each material based on statistics gathered from the library about use and assigns a monetary compensation to the copyright holders commensurate with that value.

A private copying scheme is used, for example, as compensation for uncontrollable reproductions of music or cinema materials.  In this scheme, the funds are derived from those individuals who are doing the copying only, not the general public, and is meant to pay for reproductions of materials, not use.  Eckersley himself thinks that the best approach to a reward system is one that allows “proposals for levy-based remuneration for private copying” so long as those materials come with assurance of exemption for covered conduct, and attempt to “ensure that the taxation used to fund these schemes is progressive as well as levy-based, and to grant consumers a direct role in determined the way rewards are allocated” (2003, p.25-26).  In other words, the public should have to pay but they should also have some say in how much each copyright owner receives.

The benefits of a reward system include giving the users a way to place value on materials that is missing in a DRM system: it operates based on the assumption that owners of materials with wider use deserve more monetary compensation.  It also circumvents the assumption made in DRM and current copyright situations, that those materials of sufficient value to a user will be purchased (or the means to consume them will be purchased).  Eckersley accurately states that “few people purchase all of the cultural goods they would appreciate…the cost of artificial scarcity is amplified when there are significant numbers of consumers (unemployed, teenagers, those outside the first world) who would benefit from access to information goods, but who can express little financial demand for them” (2003, p.9).  Reward systems, in addition to providing rights owners with pecuniary benefit, provide those who cannot pay explicitly for materials with access to them anyway, much the way a public library functions.

A reward system, like a DRM system, presents challenges.  One challenge is innate in the idea of a reward system: the government would need to change copyright laws in such a way as to exclude digital objects from applicability, and also enact laws that cover digital objects under the reward system.  Such a legislative undertaking would require significant time to complete, leaving the rights of digital objects in a legal limbo during the transition.  Reward systems also have a problem with allowing for accurate reflection of value assessed by user communities; an academic community may have a material of strong value to them but that is of little value to the public, or if a specific per-download value is assessed there is little opportunity to differentiate the high quality from the low quality in each category (Eckersley, 2003, 17-20).

Perhaps the most troubling challenge to a reward-based system lies in its funding: if the system is funded by public dollars, then it falls to the government to allocate and manage those funds in a beneficial way.  The amount of total funds is likely to be set by policy, and even if there is a large amount of data to support the concluding level, there is no guarantee that the managing government would always provide the correct amount, or that inadequate funding would be a rarity (Eckersley, 2003, p.21).  Across the country we have recently felt the impact of budget cuts for many libraries public and private; imagine what the situation would be if the state government could free resources from a reward system to balance the budget elsewhere.

Both systems, should either be adopted into wide use, have implications for how technology and law will develop.  Law change motivated by Internet technology has not always been to the benefit of users.  NET, famously the first attempt at copyright reform, “broadened the scope of copyright protection and criminalized behaviour by Internet users that had previously not been considered a crime”; under NET, specific fines were imposed and through that law, prosecution began against individuals who participated in “felonious copyright infringement”, or file-sharers (Tang, 2005, p.860).  The DMCA, the more protested of digital copyright legislation, “outlaws circumvention for lawful use of the copyrighted work” that is permissible for print works under fair use (Tang, 2005, p.861).

It is too early to say for sure what a change in copyright law would result in, as far as changes in technology and devices.  The key point to remember is that because either a DRM system or a reward system has yet to achieve large-scale testing and success, the ramifications of either system can be extrapolated but not proven.  DRMs run the considerable risk of handing the copyright owner more control over documents that they ought to have, up to and including allowing them to circumvent copyright laws by mandating deletion before the copyright’s expiration.  Reward systems, to those with less charitable views of government, are rife with the opportunity to misallocate funding either by mistake or design, causing both the rights owner and the user to bear the repercussions: one loses money, and so stops producing as much, and the other loses access to both current materials and the materials that may have been created were it not for the lack of incentive.

After examining both systems and becoming aware of the implications they have, the first conclusion any reasoning professional will come to is that the change represented by both systems is inevitable.  As our capabilities shift, so too must our restrictions and guidelines on them.  The library finds itself torn; a library wants to provide as much access to as many materials as it can, while also obligated to uphold restrictions on use so that credit may be given to originators and intellectual responsibility is established.  Kohl, Lotspiech, and Kaplan have considered the debate and have found a role for the digital library in a new system comprised of predominantly digital information production and consumption.

First they distinguish between the publishers and the “information custodians” or librarians, who deliver the product to users; while they admit that publishers can deliver information to users as well as produce it, they assert there is “substantial value in the intermediate role”, found in a “three-tier architecture” (Kohl, Lotspiech & Kaplan, 1997).  The middle tier, belonging to the library, has several advantages: it is connected to users via intranet rather than Internet (though not always), it can obtain content that is prohibitively expensive for the individual to purchase (known to computer programmers as “site licensing”), it can guarantee anonymity that is difficult to match on the open Internet, it can cache information and provide users with higher performance, and it can be a trusted system allowing delivery of valuable content from the publisher or author to the user, a secondary and intangible means of authentication if you will (Kohl, Lotspiech & Kaplan, 1997).

The digital library will have to provide authentication for both producers and users so they both know the material is what it is supposed to be, whole and unadulterated, and it will have to provide privacy to the readers so that no third party can ascertain who is reading what and assure that free speech remains intact (Kohl, Lotspiech & Kaplan, 1997).  According to Kohl, Lotspiech and Kaplan, the technology to accomplish all of these duties exists, so the digital library cannot be discounted simply because of its technological ramifications.

Works Cited

Eckersley, Peter.  (2003). The Economic Evaluation of Alternatives to Digital Copyright.  Retrieved from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=

Kohl, Ulrich, Jeffrey Lotspiech & Marc A. Kaplan. (1997). Safeguarding Digital Library Contents and Users: Protecting Documents Rather Than Channels.  D-Lib Magazine, September.  Retrieved from: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/september97/ibm/09lotspiech.html

Kretschmer, Martin.  (2003). Digital Copyright: the end of an era.  Retrieved from: http://ibal.bmth.ac.uk/pdf_docs/436.pdf

Samuelson, Pamela.  (1998). Encoding the Law into Digital Libraries [electronic version].  Communications of the ACM, vol.41, no.4, 13-18.

Stamp, Mark.  (2003). Digital Rights Management: The Technology Behind the Hype.  Journal of Electronic Commerce Research, vol. 4, no.3.  Retrieved from: http://www.csulb.edu/journals/jecr/issues/20033/paper3.pdf

Tang, Puay.  (2005). Digital copyright and the “new” controversy: Is the law moulding technology and innovation?  Research Policy, vol.34.  doi: 10.1016/j.respol.2005.04.005

What’s the Buzz: Digital rights management

8 Mar

I promise more will follow, but for now I really wanted to share a link to a story.

In case it doesn’t work, it’s from MEDILL Chicago, by Lauren Biron on March 8, 2011.

HarperCollins limits library e-book circulation

by Lauren Biron
March 08, 2011

Lauren Biron/MEDILL

Books at libraries such as the Harold Washington Public Library often see far more than 26 circulations – the number HarperCollins estimates is the average lifespan of a book. This copy of “Thorpe’s Way,” by Morley Roberts, was first checked out in 1911 and is still on the shelves at Chicago’s Harold Washington Public Library today.

Chicago Public Library branches stock their own copies of physical books, but e-books are shared between the 80 branches in a virtual space. To serve everyone, the library buys multiple copies of a popular e-book and will now be confronted with multiple replacements after circulation reaches the limit.

Starting this week, libraries around the country can send a newly purchased e-book on only 26 virtual circulations before having to purchase a new license for the book. There was no limit on the number of times the e-book could be used before this.

“We have to grow and adapt in order to remain relevant and be able to provide to people what they’re looking for,” said Ruth Lednicer, director of marketing at the Chicago Public Library. And that means lending e-books.

But Lednicer is concerned that constantly repurchasing books will impact the budget and keep libraries from serving their patrons. Her fears echo through the quiet of libraries around Chicago.

“We are really nervous,” said Barb Kruser, director of audiovisual services at the Niles Public Library. “I just don’t know the impact. Twenty-six circulations happen really quickly.”

Patrons can read e-books on anything from a dedicated e-reader or iPad to a smartphone or laptop – and the number of people doing so has increased astronomically over the past few years.

HarperCollins wrote in a post on the company blog, Library Love Fest, that the 26 checkouts should allow for a year of availability for popular books that are continuously off the e-shelves, given a two-week circulation cycle. The rule doesn’t apply to HarperCollins e-books purchased before Monday.

The publisher stated that the previous e-book policy, almost 10 years old, would harm bookstore sales and decrease the royalties paid to authors.

“We are looking to balance the mission and needs of the libraries and their patrons with those of authors and booksellers, so that the library channel can thrive alongside the growing e-book retail channel,” wrote Josh Marwell, president of sales at HarperCollins.

Many librarians disagree with the premise.

“Libraries and bookstores – we’re not competitors,” Lednicer said. “It’s not like we buy one or two copies and we can be ignored. We are huge purchasers of books and e-books.”

The e-book and e-reader markets are growing rapidly. The Yankee Group estimates 310 million e-book sales worth $2.7 billion by 2013. In 2010, e-book sales totaled approximately $170 million, according to an article by eBookNewser.

Libraries are increasing their e-book collections in light of the growing demand. The Chicago Public Library increased its e-book holdings from 1,706 books in 2009 to 3,158 in 2010. The number of people checking out e-books doubled during that same time.

Three years ago, only 38 percent of libraries nationwide provided free access to e-books. Now, 66 percent of libraries do so, though the figure is only 46 percent for libraries in Illinois, according to the American Library Association.

“Our job is to provide information to people,” Lednicer said. “If the way in which people are getting their information changes, it’s our duty to keep up with it.”

Murmurs of potential HarperCollins boycotts have filled the library world since the announcement of the e-reading limits in February, but Chicago area libraries don’t plan to participate at present.

“We can’t just not buy from Harper Collins at all,” said Donna Block, a reference librarian at the Niles Public Library. “If people want the books, we can’t just not buy them.”

Librarians also criticized OverDrive Media Console, which provides access to e-books to some 10,000 libraries, for not standing up to HarperCollins.

In addition to longer wait times for patrons, librarians such as Debbie Baaske (who manages shared e-book purchases for a northwest suburban library consortium) worry about managing e-books under the new rules.

“My concern is that it might be a new model of doing business and the other providers will follow suit,” she said.

Baaske said that if the HarperCollins restrictions had been in place since 2008, it would have cost her group of 60 libraries in the northwest suburbs (partnered together through My Media Mall) an extra $2,028.

“That’s not that significant over three years,” she said. “But that doesn’t make the policy right.”

For librarians, the heart of the matter isn’t money but the desire to make books – in whatever format – available to those who want to read. Lednicer learned from personal experience that the ability to carry a slim e-reader around makes it easier to read more.

While only 5 percent of Americans own dedicated e-readers, e-books have still shown a marked increase in sales at bookstores and checkouts at libraries.

“The way in which people absorb information is changing, and I think it’s exciting, and yet mind-boggling challenging,” Lednicer said.

This season’s One Book, One Chicago, which promotes a city-sponsored book with events and discussions throughout the city, launched on Wednesday. The spring choice, “Neverwhere,” by Neil Gaiman, is available for checkout at Chicago Public Libraries – and as an e-book.


I don’t think this needs much explanation.  I believe the book industry is afraid of the wide circulation of e-books with no guarantee of wear with use.  I’ll post a follow-up on digital rights management and some alternatives in the next couple of days, but for now I’m keeping an eye on the discussions surrounding this.