October 1, 2014

ALA President Talks to Publishers at AAP Event in NYC

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American Library Association President Maureen Sullivan spoke to about 100 publishers this week during an Association of American Publishers event in New York. The presentation struck a more placatory tone than Sullivan’s open letter to publishers regarding the current state of ebook access in libraries. Sent just days earlier, it began by arguing that “it’s a rare thing in a free market when a customer is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is ‘no good here.’ Surprisingly, after centuries of enthusiastically supporting publishers’ products, libraries find themselves in just that position with purchasing e-books from three of the largest publishers in the world.”

Instead, Sullivan began the speech by emphasizing the history of cooperation between libraries and publishers, and noting that both fields are attempting to address “a time of extensive change in how content is created, distributed, read, and used.”

Yet libraries and publishers continue to have a shared interest in cultivating an informed public that is able to access books and other content in a timely manner, she said. While ALA takes seriously the challenges facing publishers, libraries are finding it increasingly difficult to provide that access, when a growing volume of content is being produced and consumed as digital content that libraries are unable to purchase.

“It’s really forcing us to think very differently about the work that we do, [and] how it is that we engage with our various stakeholders,” she said. “I’ll say again, because it is critically important. We hold very dear as our role and mission, the importance of making sure that the broad public—as diverse as it is in this country and around the globe—continues to have equitable access to information and content in whatever form it might be available.”

Tight budgets have made it difficult for many libraries to keep pace with these rapid changes in how content is created and consumed. The participation of publishers will be critical in creating “a healthy reading ecosystem,” Sullivan said.

“We want you to be successful,” She told the audience of publishers. “But we also want for our libraries to come to a place where we can say across the board, that equitable access is there, and these materials are available at a reasonable price.”

As major publishers either continue to refuse to sell to libraries, or announce steep price hikes for their content, patience has been wearing thin within the field, she added. —Matt Enis, LJ

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Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.