“Sometimes I feel like we set ourselves up to fail.”
March 16, 2011
Posted in: Board Member Posts
Last week, at Avon Lake Public Library (Avon Lake, Ohio), I gave a talk to the Lorain County Resource Sharing Committee, a group of reference librarians from libraries around Lorain County, Ohio. The topic was the current state of ebooks in libraries. We talked about #HCOD. We talked about devices, and DRM. We talked a lot about problems, that the choices that libraries have made about offering electronic content.
The title of this post is a quote from one of the attendees, who did not limit its scope to ebooks. It captured the sentiments of many in this lively, engaged group (seriously, I had a total blast). It was not the first time I’d heard it, and I imagine many of you have heard it–or even said it before.
An example of this feeling came in our discussions of the ereader boom and the effects on libraries and publishing in general. Many librarians at the talk came from small, rural libraries. Ereaders were the hot gift of the last holiday season all across the country; but in rural areas, where fewer households have computers–less than 50% of households own a computer in the county where one attendee works–they presented a particular problem. What does a patron do when she receives an ereader as a gift, but doesn’t own a computer? She goes to her library to use the computers to upload ebooks. But there is a problem: because of Adobe Digital Editions’ requirements for device authentication, a public computer cannot serve as a public download station. The library’s own computers are unable to support a library-provided service.
How do we set up ourselves to fail? Andy Woodworth suggests that far too often, libraries don’t say “no” when faced with a bad deal. We contract with vendors without fully understanding the limitations of their systems. We also set ourselves up to fail because libraries are not involved in the design of these services. Libraries are advocates for our patrons; yet when we negotiate with third-party service providers, too often we let the conversation flow one way, with the vendor saying how things are going to be.
The day before my talk, Iris Jastram and Steve Lawson published a blog post in which they laid a solid conceptual foundation for the development of an ebook system that would provide maximum benefit to library customers. Their ideas are grounded in reality, and the values of our profession. Their plan addresses issues of vendor control over libraries’ operations. In the wake of HCOD, there is a renewed interest in pursuing collaboration within our industry. And frankly, the time is right. Whether such a project as suggested by Iris and Steve leads to a new library-built service, a set of best practices that libraries can use to communicate patrons’ needs to vendors, or something else entirely, collaboration is critical to the development of improved services for our customers.
For all of the problems with electronic content in libraries, there won’t be a single solution. Library Renewal wants to hear your ideas, and help facilitate both new partnerships, and the exchange of ideas. Libraries can fix what is wrong with electronic content, and we had better: we have seen the solutions that publishers and vendors have in store for us.
Library Renewal Board Member