Thursday, March 17, 2011

What’s all this about HarperCollins?

Under a policy that began Monday, February 28, 2011, libraries can only lease new HarperCollins e-books and loan them no more than 26 times. The number of 26 was chosen because HarperCollins has estimated that a book which circulates for 2 weeks could be checkout 26 times in a year. Essentially HarperCollins has imposed an annual fee on their e-book titles.

Why are librarians protesting?
Popular print titles of HarperCollins books usually circulate for many more that 26 times. If you are wondering what a book looks like if it circulates more than 26 times, Pioneer Library System has done this YouTube video called What 26 Checkouts Look Like. Librarians also have concerns about the work processes associated with the 26 circ limit. Currently, librarians have to search, download or create bibliographic records and then attach item information in the library catalog. If this process has to take place multiple times, it will cost libraries more to manage materials. Finally, libraries already pay yearly leasing fees to vendors like OverDrive to manage and access library e-book collections. If we have to pay yearly fees to publishers also, the cost of e-book collections becomes infeasible for many libraries.

There are several misconceptions that have surfaced lately in regard to this controversy. Here are some of them:
Misconception #1—Libraries get books for free. Libraries do not get books, newspapers, magazines, databases, etc for free; we pay for them. Some book jobbers give libraries a discount because of the volume of materials purchased, but libraries pay of materials just like everyone else.

Misconception #2—electronic items are available for unlimited use. Libraries purchase e-books as individual copies and e-books circulate in a similar way as print books. They are available to one user at a time and circulate from a seven-day to 21-day period. After the designated checkout period, the e-book automatically expires from the borrower’s account and is once again available to be borrowed by another user. Just like print books, e-books can also be returned early and holds can be placed on the available copies (if more than one e-book copy has been purchased by the library or libraries).

Misconception #3—e-books have no downsides for libraries. E-books have some great qualities, but there are downsides as well. E-books can only be read on electronic devices and the majority of library patrons do not own devices in which to read e-books. E-books are still a relatively new format and libraries are struggling to add the e-book format and readers to their collections. Also many libraries dispose of their unread books through used-book sales, a source of revenue that unread e-books can’t provide.

What’s that got to do with our library?
Lillie M. Evans Library District is part of ADML—the Alliance Digital Media Library, a consortium of libraries which provide e-books and digital audio books to their patrons. In early March 2011, the libraries voted to boycott the all publications of HarperCollins and subsidiaries in e-book format. This means that e-books from HarperCollins will no longer be purchased and available in ADML. The majority of these libraries have also stated that they will be boycotting the print editions as well. This will impact the availability of the HarperCollins print titles in the Resource Sharing Alliance Collection as well.

I think that Barbara Fister very eloquently sums up the core issue in her Inside Higher Ed blog:  “But what really dismays me is this: publishers believe that libraries are not good for business, that sharing is a bug, that book culture would survive if everyone had to pay for everything they read. This is short-sighted madness….But here's the deal: Without access to books, lots of books, readers can't develop and grow their own canon of taste for books. Without libraries, books would become luxury goods for a small and dwindling minority of readers. Without libraries, writers would have a much harder time reaching readers and developing a following. Libraries are in communities of every size and are located in neighborhoods where there are no bookstores, because librarians know that readers are tenacious and can grow in thin soil. Not only will libraries buy books for every reader, those readers become book buyers. Publishers seem to be ignorant of these facts.” 

So before dismissing the HarperCollins controversy as an overreaction by a bunch of librarians, think about the big picture. Librarians are concerned with ownership, copyright issues, rising costs of library services and materials, and the right to keep library book selection choices under control of the library.  This controversy affects core public library functions which may not be apparent at first glance.

More information can be found through the following news articles:
New York Times Publisher Limits Shelf Life for Library E-Books 
USA Today Librarians lunch boycott in battle over e-books

and the following library resources:
American Library Association
Free Range Librarian

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