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
In other words, ebooks didn’t just appear overnight and it would have been useful if ALA was way ahead of the curve building relationships and visioning possible models with publishers years ago as ebooks began to slowly grow in popularity and usage. Also, why are publishers still in need of specifics? Why haven’t concrete models been proposed and discussed by this point?
Hopefully, understanding why it took so long to get to where we are now will help make sure it doesn’t happen again as other issues that require cooperation from various groups come up.
ALA has a role in fully understanding new technologies and the related issues they could bring about and then developing the necessary relationships with various groups long before the technology becomes mainstream.
- The ALA’s statement about ebook access in libraries on Monday
- The AAP responding with a statement of their own on Tuesday.
- Jeremy Greenfield from Digital Book World was in attendance and reports in the post, “Librarian Patience Has Run out on E-Book Lending Issues, Library Association Says”.
- See Also: Live Tweets from the Event Can Be Found on the DBW Twitter page.
- UPDATE 1: ALA Responds to AAP Challenges on Ebooks….Before They are Even Issued (via ALA)
- UPDATE 2: Summary of Remarks from Maureen Sullivan’s Presentation (via ALA)
- UPDATE 3: ALA Officials Ask for ‘Equitable Access to E-books at Fair Prices’ (by Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly)