Thursday, March 17, 2011

#hcod and Academic Libraries

The main source of outrage over HarperCollins decision to limit e-book checkouts came from public libraries and their staff, which makes sense since the market for circulating e-books comes more from their neck of the woods than mine. However, it's not difficult to envision a scenario in which academic libraries, even ones that don't loan e-books, are affected. That's one reason why I was surprised to see this post from the Annoyed Librarian, which challenges the big tent that is the American Library Association. I'm not going to get into the commonalities that all librarians share, mostly because Andy Woodworth does a good job with that, but also because I can see both sides of this debate. I think that the Annoyed Librarian's piece makes some good points about what separates academic, public, school, and special librarians, among others from archivists, and I saw these divisions from the start of my MLIS program, which were reified in the courses offered. So the following is done in the spirit of "If you tolerate this, then your children will be next."

The library where I work, the library that I now run, I guess, doesn't really do the book thing. We've got books, but they're books from the 70s, when the core of the school was arts and sciences. In the last fifteen years, four of which involve me, the school has expanded, moving from a college to a university with several professional schools. For a variety of reasons, all of them depressing, the library did not keep up. As a result, we've got a great collection of Victorian literature... and nobody to teach about it. We've got books in French and German... languages no longer offered. You get the idea. We're getting better, more current, but we've got a ways to go. We're starting a distance-learning, online-only program in the fall, and we push patrons towards electronic and digital resources because we think that's where the world's headed... but this make us more vulnerable. We provide access to information, to knowledge, that we don't own. E-books are different from books that way; we don't lease any physical copies of books, although students can do that through the campus bookstore.

What if the next move of other, more academic, publishers is to limit access to e-books in a way similar to HarperCollins? What if an e-book could be accessed or viewed, analogous to circulating, as I see it, 26 times? What would happen to our distance learning program then? What about e-books placed on reserve to be accessed via course management software? A class of 20 students wouldn't last half a semester under that regime, and thus the library's budget wouldn't, either. So you see, Annoyed Librarian, we're all in this together, we're not so dissimilar. Let's hang together instead of separately on this issue.

1 comment:

  1. Even more disconcerting would be the limitation of one or two circulation per academic text, much like the current business model of those publishers. They scramble to change punctuation, pictures, quiz questions, and wording in established disciplines (think physics, chemistry, English) just to justify a new edition/revision for sale. Publishers already HATE the used book market because they get none of that pie at all!

    I see this happening as books move more and more towards electrons and away from dead trees.