What’s The Deal With Library Renewal Anyway?: Our New FAQ

March 5, 2012
Posted in: Uncategorized

In our last newsletter we asked folks to submit their questions about Library Renewal to us. And they sure did! Since then we have been engaged in a variety of exciting projects that, by their nature, answer many of the questions we received. But most of that work has been behind the scenes. Happily, the time is right now to share a slew of answers and info. We’re doing this via our latest newsletter and string of blog posts designed to get people up to date with Library Renewal. Learn about our recent work, our plans, our organizational needs, and get answers to most of those questions that you may have and that people sent in to us a few months back. The info below is taken from the new FAQ that now lives on the “About” page of Library Renewal, along with plenty of additional organizational information (including many “thank you!” messages to supporters who have helped us accomplish what we have been able to in the past year and who continue to drive our work together forward). If you have other questions please we welcome them and encourage you to submit them here. Reach out and we’ll get back to you quickly with info and answers.

1. What is Library Renewal and why do you exist?
2. What does Library Renewal do?
3. How can I get involved and how can I get my library involved?
4. What are Library Renewal’s plans for the future?
5. How are you going to make those plans happen and how can I help?

1. What is Library Renewal and why do you exist?
Ahhh, the eternal questions of existence! Happily, libraries provide so many answers it only makes sense that we can answer this one. Here goes:

In 2010 Library Renewal was formed as a new kind of grassroots, non-profit organization “to further the mission of libraries, primarily as it relates to electronic content” (our working Mission Statement). While we started talking about and researching the idea in early 2008, we formally established Library Renewal as a Federal 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 2010. Library Renewal was formed because it was clear to those involved that the future of content access through libraries is largely in electronic formats, and the ways libraries currently acquire e-content is inefficient, very costly, and ultimately unsustainable. Early in our work we also saw clearly that in order to substantially and effectively address e-content access issues in libraries, we all needed a new kind of organization that could be used as a place to come together, develop relationships and partnerships, and create new solutions related to the future of libraries and e-content access.

In order to further this mission, over the past two years Library Renewal has dedicated thousands of hours of research toward the goal of delivering e-content to library users in new, equitable, effective, and affordable ways. Naturally this research has taught us quite a lot and has been very revealing. The first important thing our research shows us is that as content access and consumption trends move away from print and physical media, electronic content is rapidly becoming the dominant format in libraries. This was an assumption we brought to our research, but we wanted to test it to make sure we were pursuing something that would be truly useful to libraries. It ended up not being just an assumption, though, and our data conservatively projects that by the year 2020, the majority of content accessed though libraries will be in electronic format (ebooks, emusic, eperiodicals, etc.), not in print format (physical books, journals, etc.). This is exciting for libraries; it could easily be a huge boon to them and their individual missions, and their use and efficacy could increase substantially for a variety of reasons.

However, our research points out a horrible problem and a significant challenge that requires serious innovation and new ways of thinking and acting around issues of e-content and libraries. The first challenge, made crystal clear by our internal research, is that by using current e-content distribution and acquisition systems libraries risk significant and long-lasting failures – failures that will drastically reduce their relevancy, use and funding levels. Working on this issue is definitely part of why Library Renewal exists, and it is certainly part of what drives a good deal of our work.

The simple fact is that libraries (along with publishers, authors and rights holders) need something drastically different: an effective, equitable electronic content access and distribution system, a system that puts libraries in control, along with authors, publishers and rights holders. This system would allow libraries to dictate what they pay for e-content, but hinges on our ability to create the right kind of infrastructure for libraries to deliver it to people in new ways.

The creation of this library e-content infrastructure is critical to understanding why Library Renewal exists. Why? Because using current systems, be they commercial or even non-profit, libraries (and therefore taxpayers) are paying about twice the cost of a print book for an ebook. Twice as much. This is mainly because for libraries, when it comes to books and other commonly circulated physical media, pricing and acquisition systems have been well-established for many decades. While far from perfect, these systems for acquiring content for libraries worked fairly well..

Unfortunately, those models do not work with e-content. And from established vendors to the libraries and librarians who have been their customers for many decades, change is very hard. This is another reason why Library Renewal exists. While we know the history, the market and the pricing very well, and we also understand the technological and business aspects involved, we are designed as an organization to work on these issues in new ways: unencumbered and free of any obstacles or restrictions but our mission. We have the chance to arrive as a new library e-content player, one that acts to further our mission–to further the mission of libraries as it relates to e-content. The fact that we are not bound to previously-existing legacy products and can serve as a single destination to large groups of libraries and library staff is powerful and unique, and definitely part of why Library Renewal exists as an organization.

So, we have come together as a new kind of non-profit organization, to serve libraries in new, practical ways as they struggle to deal with the challenges and opportunities presented by e-content. We are librarians, businesspeople, lawyers, technologists and concerned citizens brought together by the mission of Library Renewal to discover how to create a new infrastructure for the acquisition and circulation of electronic content. And yes, we do have a plan to make this happen.

So, now that you know why we are here, what do we do at Library Renewal? See the next question for that answer!

2. What does Library Renewal do?
We do four things:

1. Develop Relationships
Library Renewal has been reaching out to at least one new person a week the since the spring of 2009. We have talked with leaders at local, state, national and international levels about electronic content access, the future of libraries and what libraries can accomplish through Library Renewal. We have talked individually with hundreds of people and presented to thousands in-person and online about the mission, ideas and ideals of Library Renewal.

2. Form Partnerships
Many of the relationships we have developed have turned into partnerships. The simplest example of that evolution is Library Renewal’s Board. Our Board is composed of a small, select group of individuals who contribute guidance, time, thoughts, ideas and energy to further the organization’s mission.

Current Board Members include:
Jason Griffey (TN)
Gina Millsap (KS)
Eli Neiburger (MI)
Matt Weaver (OH)
David King – Secretary (KS)
Michael Porter – President/CEO (WA)
Please note that we are currently looking to slightly expand our Board. We seek select individuals to help lead the organization who are very well-informed and keenly interested in e-content issues, and who want to work to further the mission of both the organization and of libraries. We are also committed to and actively seeking ways to add more diversity to the leadership of the organization.

We have also started partnering with individual libraries at an advisory level via our Partner Library Advisory Council, which meets monthly and works on a variety of projects together and in sub-groups, often bringing in other libraries, librarians and other experts from the legal, business and technology industries.

Some of our current Partner Libraries include:
Santa Monica Public Library (CA)
Connecticut State Library (CT)
King County Library System (WA)
Midwest Collaborative for Library Services (MCLS, serving 900+ libraries in MI and IN)
Fountaindale Library District (IL)
Newark Public Library (TX)
Princeton Public Library (NJ)
Lester Public Library (WI)
Public Library of Arlington (MA)

We are also starting to actively seek partnerships with a variety of organizations serving the library, publishing, legal and technology industries, all in an effort to further our organizational mission.

3. Do Research
As we mentioned earlier in this FAQ, throughout much of 2011 and into 2012 members of the Library Renewal team have done significant amounts of behind-the-scenes research. Because of this, we know the players in the ebook and econtent marketplace like few others. We have spent many months digging carefully and deeply into the numerical details of the e-content marketplace. We know how much publishers are charging, what vendors are marking up and the added fees that libraries incur when acquiring e-content. This has been a gigantic effort involving dozens of people from a variety of professional areas and backgrounds, and has included the cooperation of libraries from around the country.

The numbers, and the stories behind those numbers, are powerful and compelling. However, we must say at this time that we are not publishing our research. This will invariably cause many to ask why we have made this decision. First, it is important to understand that, having analyzed the research we compiled, we have hit upon a powerful solution that has been demonstrated to work in other business contexts. Our experience, relationships, partnerships and research tell us that we have a practical and equitable way forward that can solve most of the woes libraries, authors, publishers and rights holders suffer from now. While that may sound hyperbolic to some, we truly believe we have a solution for libraries that could cut their costs almost in half, while providing more money to rights holders and publishers than they receive using the broken systems now in place. Consequently, if we release our figures we are concerned a commercial vendor would build the system we are seeking funding to build, saving libraries *some* money but getting rich in the process.

As we work to secure funding to build a system “by libraries, for libraries and with libraries,” one that takes revenue generated by the system and applies it to opening access and bridging the digital divide, we simply can’t share all of the jaw-dropping research and figures we have compiled to date.

4. Create Solutions
As you can see, our research points toward solutions. We are poised to start building those solutions and turn them into a new reality that eliminates excess expense and inefficiency, creates a larger set of opportunities for authors, publishers and rights holders to generate revenue and, most importantly, gets libraries and library patrons fairly-priced access to electronic materials.

3. How can I get involved and how can I get my library involved with Library Renewal?
This is the most popular question we get here at Library Renewal, and the answers are fairly simple.
Subscribe, follow, volunteer, communicate and donate!

1. Subscribe to our newsletter.
2. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more regular updates.
3. Volunteer! Watch for our occasional calls for volunteers (or Advocates as we call you fine folks) in our newsletter and on Facebook and Twitter. For example, right now we are looking for folks to work on our Fundraising Advisory Committee to help us develop relationships and leads and write grants.
4. Tell other people about Library Renewal, our mission and our work.
5. Communicate with us! Tell us how we can do better and how you want to help. Send us your feedback, ideas for partnerships, stories relevant to our mission or whatever you like. We always say we are designed to be “By libraries, for libraries and with libraries,” and your voice is an important part of what makes that happen.
6. Make a direct monetary donation (using the button below) or donate via our store and get unique, carefully designed and high quality “thank you” gifts for you donations.


4. What are Library Renewal’s plans for the future?
Well, first, we will keep doing all we can. We will continue in our work and keep involving more people and organizations, growing the movement and pushing things forward in alignment with our mission.

Second, we will work to secure funding. We need to cover our operating expenses to continue to deepen our relationships, partnerships, outreach and advocacy. Our work has several small parts that are very important, and getting these parts funded at a very basic level is important to our stability as an organization.

Finally, as you have read above, we have powerful research and connections already in place. Using our relationships and partnerships with experts from a wide variety of industries – business, legal, technology, libraries – we have compiled expert research and used it to carefully develop a business plan for the models we propose. We have partners from the business, legal and technology world ready to work on building a new infrastructure for electronic content access and distribution through libraries (as described in the answers to Question 2).

5. How are you going to make those plans happen (and how can I help?)
We are talking more about our ideas and our plans. We are reaching out to foundations and potential donors, big and small. We are asking you to help spread the word about our organization, our mission and our plans.

We are dedicated professionals who are absolutely committed to a vibrant future for libraries and the communities they serve. We firmly believe that as content access shifts away from print and physical materials, if libraries do not create their own infrastructure to facilitate access on terms that are true to the principles of libraries and librarianship, while keeping a keen eye on the larger market, they are in trouble.

We believe that the numbers are compelling, that libraries are necessary, and that once people with the ability to move our plans forward know more about our work and who we are as an organization, we will succeed. The truth is, there is no other organization serving libraries today that is trying to do what we are doing. We have the expertise, the ideas, the energy and the facts. We will keep working, and with your help and the help of others, libraries will be able to thrive even more in the coming decades, in part because of the work we do together.

If you work for or know folks working in a foundation, or might otherwise be interested in supporting our work, please drop us a line. Additionally, we are currently working on building our Fundraising Advisory Council here at Library Renewal, so if you have experience in this arena and would like to join with us, please be in touch.

Many thanks to:
Sara Douglas, Kendra Auberry, Phil Spirito, Lynn Barker Steinmayer, Gabe Gossett, Teresa Schmidt, Virginia Freyre, Justin, Azevedo, Andrea Davis, Ann Wilberton, Kate Geiger, Cassie Guthrie, April Layne Pavis, Katherine Makens, Andrea Mullarkey, Jeff Granger, John Fisher, Scott Duimstra, Jennifer Ferriss, Paula Brehm-Heeger, Beth A. Tribe, Lauren Pressley, Kristi Chadwick, Michael Golrick, and the (literally) dozens of other folks who sent in questions about Library Renewal for our FAQ.

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