Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Collective action for ebook collections

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last several years thinking, writing, and speaking about ebooks [see also: Jason Griffey, Bobbi Newman]. And I still agree with the notion that unless ebook publishing and distribution changes, libraries are still screwed.

So let's change things. Here are three things *you* can do.

Sign this petition asking publishers to lend ebooks to libraries

While you wait for the petition to hit 10K and then for publishers to be moved by this overture, you can do the next two things.

Register your library with the Open Library ebook lending program

The Open Library/Internet Archive not only provides millions of free public domain ebooks, they also lend out ebooks from a set of 20th century works. They work with willing publishers to lend ebooks using a "traditional model" of one book being lent to one person at a time for up to two weeks. If your reader is in the IP range of a registered library, all they have to do is create an Open Library account, and then they can effortlessly borrow books from Open Library without any library intervention.

And that's how I pitched it when I talked to with my Library Administration about registering The Leddy Library with The Open Library: willing publishers, no intervention required by the library (although we could do some interesting integration with our OPAC down the road if we wanted to) and our readers will another option if they want reading material for their Nook or whathaveyou.

So, I got the okay and I registered our library. Because of that registration, I received a longer form in my inbox that I then filled out. I sent that form and one book donation to the Internet Archive. A few short weeks later, we now can offer ebooks that can be read online and offline.  You can too.

Have your library help unglue a book

I don't pretend I know what the shape of the ebook landscape will be in the future but I do know what I like in the present. As such, I'm an enthusiastic supporter of unglue.it (if you are unfamiliar with the venture, Andy Woodworth has just written a good description of the project).

I've been following the five unglueit campaigns with interest and while it has been good to see the number of individuals who have stepped forward to personally invest in a future where ebooks are available to everyone *and* publishers and authors are compensated, I was a little concerned that I hadn't seen any libraries make a pledge to support this future.

So a couple of weeks ago, I made a brief presentation to the Leddy Library Information Services Department meeting and asked my colleagues if anyone had any concerns if I made a pledge on behalf of my collection responsibility (I buy books from the library's "General Books" fund). Hearing none, I checked with my Library Administration who recognized this as an effort that was aligned with our Open Access efforts, and said that I could try this out as a pilot.

Yesterday I sat with our coordinator who is in charge of the logistics of monograph ordering and we made an unglueit account together. We then associated that account with an already existing Amazon account, and made a $25 pledge. The whole thing took about 5 minutes, tops.

Personally, it is difficult to think of less risky experiment for an organization. If a book's campaign doesn't go through, there is no cost to the library and regardless of a campaign's outcome there is absolutely no obligation to do anything after making a single pledge. One can link to the unglue'd book on the Open Library in one's OPAC or one can take a copy and host it locally. Or the library can do nothing at all in knowing that the book is freely available online and readers will be able to find it using their own devices.

If I would very much like to see more libraries (as opposed to librarians) make pledges on unglue.it. As such, I will increase my own personal pledge to unglue this work by $25 as soon as I see another library making a pledge.

And I hope it's the library that you work for.

Libraries are the result of collective action. Libraries are loosely associated and widely distributed. When we coordinate ourselves independently to achieve common goals we are very powerful. Maybe the examples of collective action I have given above aren't the best examples of what we can achieve when we work together but I believe that even if they aren't, they can be good practice to get us ready for great work to come.


Barbara McDonald said...

Hi, Mita: the petition is asking publishers to SELL ebooks to librarie (not lend) right??

cheers, Barbara McDonald (Brock U)

Mita said...

It's not exactly clear from the petition (my italics) :

The petition asks publishers to "Provide digital content to libraries" and "Allow libraries to have access to books in all format" (as well as asking publishers to change their business models that ensure that "libraries can continue to serve readers and build collections for our communities."

pbinkley said...

Mita, I think we're the first to call on you to honour your pledge to up your pledge: U of Alberta Libraries is now an ungluer. (https://unglue.it/supporter/UAlbertaLibrary/)