Addressing an issue I discussed yesterday, and with what is possibly my favorite post title that I’ve come across: “Notice to publishers: curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal.”
As of February of this year, five publishing houses were not licensing to libraries; Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, which I reported yesterday, Penguin Group, Brilliance Audio, and Hachette Book Group, which I read yesterday would only license back catalog and was considering the rest but to no official end.
But I think this small post made a very good point. “Walking away from the library eBook market makes no financial long-term sense, nor does it continue the positive relationship that publishers and libraries have cultivated for centuries to help bring information and entertainment to people,” she said. Libraries are about books, and eventually, the difference between ebooks and book-books should not be philosophically different.
” I think it’s about damn time we, as library professionals, started getting the public riled up about this too,” she wrote. And I agree. Ebooks make me a little twitchy still, but that’s a personal weirdness (I’m going to be one of those hipsters collecting print books like vinyl records, like Jim suggested) and I seriously understand the importance of this situation changing.
She also mentioned legislation in her post, which had come up in my interview with Jim; the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. “Fragmentation and exclusionary business practices hurt the people we serve,” the blogger wrote, and I completely understand.
So yes, I’m willing to take this issue to heart and become a book activist.
More directly, a post titled “7 Lessons Learned While Being The Man.” A different perspective on what I was gleaning from my conversation with Jim.
I find it interesting that the blogger was actually hesitant to “be The Man,” i.e. be the one in charge. She was apparently encouraged as such: “You need to do this. We need more public library directors who are tech-savvy, willing to take risks, and who embrace change.” So far, that’s sounding to me like things every librarian I’ve spoken to has advocated for to some extent, not just for directors.
Her seven lessons:
- Budgets will hamstring your dreams: this one does not surprise me in the slightest. Budgetary concerns came up in every interview I had to some extent or another. Financial issues and time issues were among the most common themes.
- Be transparent: “One of the things I have had the hardest time with as a librarian has been the obfuscated decision-making processes that I bore witness to, the closed door meetings, the ‘nobody gets to know this except for us’ mentality,” she wrote. I’d never actually thought about such an issue, but it seems highly logical to me. I’m all for openness and honesty, which is really what this was about.
- Not everyone is going to like you-too bad for them: I know this is why I’d have a hard time being the director of anything. I have a personal problem with conflict, which I’m trying to get over, but I think this is good advice. “If I’m not pissing somebody off at any given time about something, then I’m probably not doing my job very well,” she said. Actually, I think that can apply to anything, even outside of libraries.
- Your job is to make everyone look good: Yes, this I understand. Taking the blame for others and giving others credit while being quiet about your own achievements is pretty standard to me.
- Small details matter: Again, something I understand and think applies not just to directorship.
- You’re always on: A vaguely terrifying truth, but one I understand.
- The days of sleeping well are over: Due largely to stress. And I can see this applying to many aspects of every career as well.
One of the things that Jim mentioned in our interview was that, while it is important for libraries to be involved in the world of ebooks and it is important for ebooks to be made available, every publishing house has a different attitude toward selling ebooks to libraries. I decided to do some research into this myself, so: the top seven publishing houses and ebooks.
- Random House Inc., whose popular titles include the Fifty Shades trilogy, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (basis for the HBO television series Game of Thrones), and Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy (basis for popular films in both Europe and America): willing to make their entire “frontlist and backlist” of titles available to libraries, so that’s good, but raised the prices they charge libraries for these ebooks “as much as 300 percent,” which is bad.
- HarperCollins, many of whose best-selling ebooks were unfamiliar to me: willing to sell every ebook they produce to libraries, which is good, but making libraries pay again after a title has been checked out 26 times, which is bad.
- Macmillan, many of whose best-selling titles were unfamiliar to me: not willing to sell any ebook to libraries, which is bad, with the exception of some academic texts, which is better.
- Penguin, many of whose front page ebooks were unfamiliar to me: willing to sell some ebooks to libraries, which is okay, but limiting that number of titles significantly, which is bad.
- Simon & Schuster Inc.: not willing to sell any ebook to libraries, which is bad, though they are willing to sell audio files, which is… okay. Not great.
- Hachette, whose popular titles include Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (basis for the upcoming film of the same name), the Twilight series (basis for the films and for many adolescents’ misguided fantasy lives), and books by Jon Stewart and his Daily Show writing team: willing to make their backlist available and possibly considering an arrangement for the rest.
- Scholastic Inc., whose popular titles include the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games trilogy: exploring opportunities, which is good.
In short: the existence of print libraries didn’t make people stop buying print books, so publishing houses need to learn that making ebooks available to libraries won’t make people stop buying ebooks either.
The John B. Nann article of the same title said, in one of its first paragraphs, “Many law libraries have seen a decline in the number of questions asked at the reference desk, while reporting that the questions that are being asked are far more complicated than in the past. Like the medical reference librarians, many law librarians also believe that the decline in the number of questions that we see is not because our patrons no longer need research assistance.” Indeed, this echoes a statement made by Jim during my interview with him; because simple queries can be looked up online, the librarians are being given the more challenging ones, and this is true of public librarians and academic librarians as well.
“We are in fact answering the questions but are answering them so efficiently that they don’t appear in our reference desk statistics,” Nann hypothesized. However, the idea that many do not utilize the librarians out of nerves or even a simple lack of awareness must be considered and worked around.
Nann presents the idea of personal librarians for students to counteract these problems: “A personal librarian program is ridiculously simple. Each incoming student is assigned a librarian. The librarian contacts the student at the beginning of his or her time at the school and at regular intervals. Basically, that’s it,” he says. As a student, I know that I personally would appreciate this resource, but I also know that it could have its downsides. As with having an assigned counselor at school, for example, there can be a sense that it is only perfunctory and not actually personal at all after a while if not handled carefully. So long as an actual working relationship like Nann discusses in the article can be formed, it seems very viable, however.
“It is our responsibility as librarians to reach out to them in any and every way that makes sense, while giving due consideration to our resources, culture, and history,” Nann said. That seems to be more or less the mission statement of every librarian I’ve spoken to, so if you have to go about it in this way, I say why not.
According to Wikipedia.
I’ve read twenty of the titles on this list and been exposed of even more than that. Thirteen of them were read for school; two of them are books I have a deep personal attachment to (The Handmaid’s Tale because I love Margaret Atwood, The Perks of Being a Wallflower because it was my absolute favorite book from the time I was in junior high). I’m pretty sure that every book I have read that’s on this list has impacted my life a little bit, if for no other reason than giving me a greater insight into cultural references.
I can’t imagine not having access to these books. I shudder to imagine it, really. I think that’s an important part of being a librarian: the struggle against banning books. If I wind up working in an area of librarianship that relates to these texts (and even if I don’t) I will work my hardest to speak out about this situation. I owe it to the community I end up serving and the community of readers at large.
Censorship is definitely one of my hottest-button issues. It’s in my Top 5 Things I Get Legitimately Angry About. I typically run screaming from political discussions if I have a choice (people are entitled to their opinions, of course, and I have my own, but I prefer not to get in arguments with people I otherwise respect) but I can’t really resist an opportunity to soapbox about censorship.
I’ve been lucky. I haven’t actually dealt with a lot of it firsthand. At my high school, we didn’t really deal with “banned books,” and when a kid or their family specifically objected to a text, they would be given an alternate assignment and no fuss would be made about it.
After reading the posted writings, I found the ALA’s list of the Top 10 most banned books of 2011. I’ve read exactly two of them; most of them I haven’t even heard of. The reasons cited for banning The Hunger Games, a young adult postapocalypse adventure novel, are these: “Anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence.” Okay, there’s violence, yes. It’s a book about kids being forced to kill each other for entertainment purposes. I don’t actually recall too much offensive language, though. Maybe the occasional hell or damn or something, but it was a young adult novel. I really do want to know what they’re referring to as “occult/satanic” and “anti-family,” though. I’m pretty sure the premise of the entire first book is that the protagonist volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games out of love because they are family. And “insensitivity”? Isn’t every book about insensitivity?
Reading the reasons people choose to ban books just makes me want to shake them. Verbally. In the USA Today article, “Krug said libraries strive for diversity, not balance. If someone doesn’t like what’s on the shelf, they don’t have to read it, she said.” Exactly. I’m personally not going to object to someone reading anything based on the content (I might object based on whether it is or is not actually well-written, but that’s a matter of taste, and I would never stop someone from it) but if someone thinks that Harry Potter worships the devil or Huckleberry Finn is just too racially insensitive (well, it’s about racism, but) I suppose that’s their prerogative.
It’s important for libraries and schools to be able to provide everything they can to people. If a person is personally offended by the material, they don’t have to check it out, but they shouldn’t have the ability to keep others from it. And a librarian has a responsibility to fight for this right to information with all their power.
This is a particularly interesting little piece about researching and the wackiness that ensues.
No matter what research method you’re using, be it books, Google, or databases, you can apparently encounter issues such as this. The blog’s author was looking for a particular quotation and found four variations, all similar but not the same, none of which actually featured the person mentioned in the original search at all.
(I, the amateur searcher of all things, have never experienced this exact dilemma myself. I’ve gotten lost searching for red herrings on imdb and Wikipedia, though, so I feel their pain.)
I think the reason I like this story is that is shows that yes, anyone can be fallible, including historical research. The author did her job quite well, that’s not the issue at hand, but either due to poor documentation or multiple recorded instances of essentially the same thing being said, it turned into what the author describes as “historical games of telephone.” It’s interesting.
It’s also interesting how the same thing could have been said in variations so many times and recorded; people say similar things all the time, that’s not weird, but it’s interesting that four different recorded histories recorded it four different ways on four separate instances. Years apart, locations apart, everything. The strangest things travel like that. And we have librarians to cut to the truth of it.