Monday, November 28, 2011

Whoever you're with, know what you have.

So, lately, the "ebook revolution" and librarians have reminded me of the Farm Bureau Insurance commercials making the rounds. I don't think they are regional commercials, but in case they are, here is an example:



Librarians are knocking on wood when it comes to their electronic resources. The Penguin saga is just one more example that we need a course correction in how we're approaching this issue. The problem isn't Penguin. They are a for-profit company and are acting in their own best interest. The problem isn't Overdrive. They are also a for-profit company and also acting in their own best interest. The problem is we have jumped into this marketplace without knowledge and we keep expecting other companies to take care of us. We expect Overdrive (and Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan, and...) to be on our side, to make sure we are protected, when that is our job. It is our job to spend the money entrusted to us by our taxpayers. It is our job to make sure libraries and librarians are not cut out of the emerging digital marketplace. It is our job to make sure that the protections we have (First Sale Doctrine, Fair Use, etc) go forward and don't disappear. 

Look, I get it. I'm a collection development librarian. Of course I want to offer as much to my community as we can physically order and pay for in a budget year. I'm a professional shopper, for crying out loud, and I love to buy stuff that patrons enjoy! But, as an information professional, it is also my job to make sure that libraries are at the table in this discussion. (If you're not at the table, you're on the menu. Remember?) We haven't been sidelined, we've put ourselves on the sidelines by waiting and expecting others to have our best interest at heart. Everything about our current electronic resources climate requires action by library professionals. Whether that is educating patrons on devices and content, on what we can and can't buy, on what we will and will not buy (and the reasons for it), or educating the politicians who debate and pass our budgets on these same issues.

It requires us to stop knocking on wood when it comes to the contracts we sign for digital content. This isn't just for Overdrive or 3M or any other ebook platform, but also for electronic database agreements. Do you know what is in the contract that you signed? Many of us, myself included, may have passed that up the chain of command, but more than one person in an organization should know what the contract says. If you know what it says, do you know what it means? What are you allowed to do? What are you responsible for? Are you on the hook for patrons' bad behavior with your electronic content? How is your pricing structured? If you're in a consortium, what additional rules apply because of it? If you don't like a term or two (or fifteen or twenty) in the contract you're given, can you negotiate? Is there some sort of non-disclosure agreement embedded in your contract? I was surprised the first time I heard that some vendors include this. They don't want you comparing price and/or services with other libraries. But if you have purchased a service with public funds, you should NOT be signing a non disclosure agreement! The terms of your contract should be open because that isn't YOUR money you're spending. It belongs to the public.

If there are lawyers in your area, and you need help deciphering a vendor contract, ask for help. Yes, it will cost you something. It is worth it. A good lawyer will not only untangle the boilerplate for you, they will EXPLAIN it in a way that you can understand. If you're in an area that has a library school, you may have a library legal expert near at hand. This is a hot academic research issue now, so maybe helping you would help them as well. Even if that isn't the case, they will almost certainly understand your mission, what you're trying to accomplish, and what pitfalls may lie in the contract you're about to sign. There are some great resources available without personally contacting a lawyer. The Library Law Blog is a great place to check for the latest issues and discussion on these topics. The Liblicense-L listserv, though it caters mostly to academic libraries, is also fantastic. Here are the archives from 1997-November 16, 2011; the current archives (Nov 17th, 2011 -) can be found here. Librarians discuss all things license related, including vendor terms and how they successfully negotiated them.

Yes, sometimes vendors offer a "take it or leave it" contract or terms, and that's when we have to decide if what they're offering is worth what we have to pay to get it. If it is worth it, sign the contract. Once the contract is signed, make sure that the vendor lives up to everything they've agreed to on paper. If it isn't worth it, walk away. If enough libraries walk away, the terms will change. Vendors need your business (and your money) just as much, if not more, as you need their product. As more vendors enter the marketplace, those contract terms will ease because they want your business. (Isn't it amazing how many "library edition" audiobook companies lowered their prices once Midwest Tapes entered the marketplace?)

It was just very disheartening to read so many tweets and posts that didn't realize (still) that we license material, we don't own it. The publisher (or vendor) can pull it, etc. etc. etc. This isn't just true for libraries, by the way, but also for consumers. Remember when Amazon deleted Orwell books (ha!) from Kindles? All of us who are spending the public's money owe it to them, and to our profession, to understand what we're paying for.

Whoever we're with, understand what we have.

Stop knocking on wood.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hey, I was wondering.....

In catching up on patron requests this week, I realized how often some of the same questions come up over and over again. The process of filling out a request is pretty easy, but you do have to log in with your card number, fill out a form, etc, so it isn't without some effort. I wish there was a way to tell a wide range of people that some requests are unable to be filled before they go through the trouble of making the request.

That said, here are some things I am frequently asked by patrons:

Why do you have some of a series but not all?

Probably the question I am asked most often. The library collection is a not a static thing. Things go missing, get damaged, and get stolen all the time. So, the odds are good that we used to have book 2 of the series, but we don't anymore. I try to discourage people from discarding a series book if the other books in the series are circulating well, or if the author is still writing the series. Yes, most J.R. Ward fans agree that Lover Enshrined is one of the weaker books in the series. It may not compare favorably to others in the series, much less other books in general, in terms of recent circulations or number of circs. But she is still writing the series. The series is still popular. How do you justify having all the books except one in the collection? The same thing could be said of jumping on board a series once it moves from paperback to hardback. Lara Adrian's popular Midnight Breeds series is about to make that jump in January with Darker After Midnight. A lot of libraries, who don't bother with paperback fiction, will see this pop up and order it. Great! But this is book 10 in the series, so you should be prepared to get a ton of patron requests, or interlibrary loan requests, for the other books. Or you can preemptively buy them, because the new release always raises interest in the other books of the series. (I'm sure I've blogged about my puzzlement over anti-paperback prejudice. No need to re-hash that here....)

Why doesn't the library purchase books published only in the UK?

The world is a lot smaller now, and library patrons have much wider tastes. This is great. I get a lot more requests for books reviewed in UK newspapers that are not available in the US. Just last week, I got a request for James Patterson's Private: London which is, apparently, only available in the UK. James Patterson, how could you? This is really more of a philosophical thing than anything else. Is it possible to buy books published only in the UK? Sometimes. The Patterson book looks to be available on Baker & Taylor. But, given the amount of copies we would have to buy, how feasible is it? First of all, I'm not sure we would be able to get the number of copies we'd need. Second, how much would it cost to get them? Is that to say we absolutely will not add books unless they are published stateside? Of course not. The library is rarely a place of absolutes. But it would have to be something extraordinary and, truly, unique and essential to the collection. Most of the books that I get asked for will, eventually, see a US release and we would certainly order it when that occurred.

Why won't the library add my one donated copy of an out of print book to the collection? Or buy a used copy from Amazon?

Buying used copies is a risky thing. The condition may or may not be acceptable. Yes, we know that you're not buying for forever, but we do like it to last more than one or two circulations. And, with interlibrary loan and now digital format, some things that are out of print in print can still be acquired. (I'm looking directly at you, Lord Valentine's Castle!) With donated copies, of course, you're able to check the condition. Even so, the question becomes one of widespread access. How long is one copy of anything going to last? What happens if the hold list explodes and you can't acquire more copies? This happened to me recently. I found a pristine copy of Girl Missing by Tess Gerritsen in our donations store. A little bit of research showed me that in the US it was called Peggy Sue Got Murdered, which we had, but the copies were old. Girl Missing ended up getting its own record (gah!) and the next time I checked it, there were 66 holds! Patron holds cancel after one year so patron #66, if everyone before them kept the book for the maximum amount of time, would be waiting 198 weeks! And we can't even talk about that one copy possibly becoming missing/damaged/etc. Peggy Sue Got Murdered is out of print in the US, so we couldn't go that route. I broke down and started searching the used book market (66 holds!) but even paperback copies were expensive. So, to Amazon.co.uk I went. They allowed us to buy 5 copies at once. Five. Hey, every little bit helps, this is true. We have them, they are circulating (of course) We're down to 52 holds, and I should probably try and get another 5 copies. But just think how much easier, and how much less angst for the patron, if I'd never added that ONE donated copy in the beginning..... Using the library should not be an angsty proposition for the patron.

Do your patrons/colleagues have similar questions? What is your collection philosophy towards out of print, non-US editions or collecting series?