Breaking Up and Moving On: Emery/Stone Chapter 7 & 8

On Breaking Up:

As a follow-up to their chapter on annual reviews, Jill Emery and Graham Stone offer advice to librarians who have decided that they need to cancel some of their electronic resources. Cancellation cannot be a decision that you make on your own (nor can you keep it to yourself). It is important to communicate with stakeholders and help them understand the repercussions of the change. For example, I would imagine that sometimes when budgets are cut, the budget “cutters” may not always realize what is being lost. Meeting with the faculty to help them understand what needs to be done may help them prioritize and puts the onus of a difficult decision on them. Stakeholders may also shed some light on reasons for underperformance of a resource.

Even if you are ending a relationship with a vendor, you shouldn’t burn any bridges. After all, you never know if that representative you just yelled at for raising your subscription rates will decide to move and become your new representative with a different vendor. Or, your funding may return in a couple of years, and you might want to take them back–who wants to go back with their tail between their legs. Instead, it’s best to approach cancellation with the attitude that feedback helps the market. Regardless of your reason for leaving, letting the vendor know why might help them improve their service or someday help you again.

Of course, your patrons will also need to be notified–the more notice, the better. Change is hard for folks and the transition will be smoother if they know it’s coming or if you can give them some time to get used to the replacement. It’s a good too to keep notes on your reasons and plans for canceling for your staff. You wouldn’t want someone to accidentally re-order something that you just tried to cancel. Also, down the road, that stinker of a cancelled database might be on the table to be purchased again and we wouldn’t want to repeat a mistake just because you didn’t communicate the problem with them.


Moving On:

Emery and Stone suggest that the state of e-books is in the same mess that e-journals were in about 10 years ago. Here’s hoping that vendors, librarians and researchers figure out what they want and how to use them soon. There’s some disagreement on the best format for e-books in libraries, so like a lot of things, they feel like a risky place in which to sink a lot of money. Traditional publishing may look different in the future and scholarly content delivery may come from sources we wouldn’t expect. The trick is to be on the cutting edge, but not the bleeding edge.

In my opinion, the most exciting prospect for electronic resource management is the refinement of the workflows in ILS and ERM Systems. Like Ken Chad says, ILSs are “ripe for disruption.” As electronic resources have taken their place in libraries and we’ve need ERMS to keep track of them, it only makes sense that the ERMS and the ILS start working together. Why not look for a consolidation that saves time and keeps us from duplicating information? New systems will help us work smarter, not harder. To get better, we’ll need to keep looking at TERMS and understand the frustrations, needs and wants of the information professionals on the front lines.

Patron-Driven Acquisition: What happens when everyone relinquishes control (at least, for a few areas)

For a library to pilot a patron-driven acquisition program, it has to be willing to trust that the materials its patrons select are worth the money. The safeguards often put in place by librarians before triggering an auto-purchase (such as paying 10% for several short-term loans before purchasing) crank up the price, but also demonstrate that the title is in demand and has proven its usefulness. The librarian has to give up control of the selection process and trust that the money won’t be wasted. I like that the patron is given the power to show through their actual research process what they are looking for.

Is it strange that I no longer expect that industry to work to provide products based on the wants and needs of its clients? It’s just good business to do this, yet we’ve gotten so used to just accepting whatever is put in front of us, like it’s our parents telling us to “Eat your vegetables; they’re good for you.” The one-size-fits-all business model has become the norm.

Yet, here in two of our readings for this unit (Herrera, 2012, and Hamel et al., 2012), we see examples of academic libraries (University of Mississippi Libraries and University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries) who were able to successfully collaborate with e-book aggregators to create PDA programs aligned with their institutions values, missions and budgets! Both reports expressed concerns that they were still working to resolve, but also that the projects had been worth pursuing. Barb Hamel of UW-Madison Libraries came to speak to our class live and echoed Herrera’s conclusion: PDA e-books have a place as a PIECE of a collection policy. There also has to be room, especially in the budget, for a regular [print and database] collection too.

Polanka & Delquie, in their chapter of the 2011 book, Patron-Driven Acquisitions: History and Best Practices, provided a useful analysis of the aggregators providing PDA e-books, all of which seemed to offer fair and logical options for their clients. I think the authors were right to conclude that the evolution of such programs will depend on the market, the roles of librarians and the adoption of e-books. If libraries are able to create successful PDA systems, their patrons get what they are interested in AND their vendors earn a steady stream of e-book sales from the libraries, without the cost of shipping and binding and processing. Win-Win-Win.

In five to ten years, however, I wonder if these vendors of PDA systems will still be as “nice” and responsive to the libraries they serve—or if we will be back to the big guy telling the little guys “how it’s going to be”…

E-books and E-wolves

E-book sales are rising: Amazon, the largest bookseller in the U.S. has been reporting since 2011 that it sells more e-books than print books. In fact, book readership is also rising, partially because of the spread of e-books. The Pew Research Center published a report in April 2012 that the average e-book reader reads more books a year than the average non-e-book reader.  In the U.K., The Guardian reported in August 2012 that Kindle users there were buying four times as many books as they were before becoming a Kindle-owner. In a more recent Pew study published October 2012, younger readers are actually reading even more than adults. E-books haven’t completely replaced print books in the lives of readers, but usage is growing and we may see them dominate someday soon, given the sale trends in the book market. Regardless, people are starting to agree that we are seeing a true “renaissance of reading.” With change and opportunity, however, come the wolves; in this case, the “digital” wolves.

Librarians, both public and school, have been wise to respond to the popularity of e-reading. Many libraries are experimenting with lending out e-readers pre-loaded with digital books. It is becoming more common for public libraries to subscribe to services like OverDrive, so that patrons can check out e-books from the library for free on their personal e-readers. Similarly, some schools are using Follett Shelf to provide e-book access to students and teachers.

Unfortunately, there is often a sticker-shock attached to the transition to e-books. These are definitely not cheap services—and the Digital Rights Management (DRM) policies of these e-book providers leave consumers at the mercy of the publishers’ whims. On the surface, it appears DRM policies are used to combat piracy so that e-book files will not be set loose to be copied and distributed freely on the Internet. However, DRM is much more powerful than that; it ties e-books to specific distributers and devices. That is, if you buy an Amazon e-book, their intention is that you can only read it on an Amazon device, likewise with Barnes and Noble Nook e-books, etc.

If a library decides to go with a service like OverDrive, they pay for an annual subscription to a finite number of copies. If they stop paying for the subscription, they lose the e-books. A base subscription might cost a school library $4000 a year, with $2000 of that available for selecting the actual e-books. An elementary school librarian that I know in the Madison Metropolitan School District told me that this would represent about 75% of his entire budget for library materials—for most school librarians, this would be a non-option. With Follett, a library purchases the e-books indefinitely for a higher cost than a print book, but with limitations on which books are available or how a book can be accessed. Price inflation and price setting among these publishers and suppliers has meant that the e-book purchasing power for a library is probably shrinking.

Is this simple supply-and-demand, where the publishers and suppliers know that consumers are willing to pay exorbitant prices because of the uniqueness or convenience of the product? Or are they simply taking advantage because no one has stepped in to stop them? Anti-trust laws were put into place at the turn of the century so as to protect consumers from unfair price controls and business practices. While there have been some minor challenges to content providers like Amazon and Apple, it seems that, as far as the law is concerned, digital content is still in its infancy and consumers are not the ones in control. The proverbial wolves are in the henhouse.

When you purchase a DRM e-book, the book is never truly yours. Unlike most purchases, once the money changes hands, the product is not totally in the consumer’s possession; publishers or distributors have control over where and if you can access it. Strings are always attached. Case in point: Media commentator Martin Bekkelund wrote a blog post in October 2012 about an Amazon customer, Linn Jordet Nygaard, whose Kindle was remotely wiped and her entire Kindle library deleted with no proper explanation from Amazon, other than that they reserve this right and that she is hereby black-listed. (Update: after a lot of bad press and general uproar from the web community, Linn’s Kindle library was mysteriously reactivated.) While this has not been my experience with Amazon Customer Service and my Kindle account—I have always found them to be exemplary, fair and honest—it is an important reminder not to take your rights as a consumer for granted. In this case, it’s probably best to think of e-books not as owned, but rented.

What are libraries to do if they want to be fiscally responsible while responding to their patrons’ demands? It seems pretty risky to go all-in and make an investment that could be negated at the whim of a content provider. Furthermore, vendors that provide viable options with a decent amount of content seem to have priced themselves at a level that is out-of-reach for many libraries.

A grassroots movement called ReadersFirst.org is encouraging libraries to band together and advocate for their e-book users. However, it’s high time that we as consumers and taxpayers also band together for our libraries to demand that e-book publishers and suppliers stop taking advantage of our public money and provide a fair service at a fair price. Perhaps the government needs to invoke anti-trust laws against the monopolistic, monopsonistic and oligopolistic behaviors that prey on our library and school budgets.