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Librarian Sued By Publisher for Saying Mean Things

There’s a librarian in the Great White North (or at least McMaster University in Ontario) under legal siege by the Edwin Mellen Press for writing a blog post criticizing EMP. A “faithful reader” sent these links about the story and wondered what my take on them would be. My first take was a double take. Suing a librarian for criticizing your press? Doesn’t that seem excessive?

The best summary of the story at this point is probably this Inside Higher Education article, following up on the blog posts.

The librarian in question wrote a blog post in 2010 critical of everything EMP. Now EMP wants $3 million from him and McMaster for defamation.

Oh, and the librarian is an American who was at an American university when he wrote the blog post, but wasn’t sued until 2012, after he had moved to Canada to take a job at McMaster.

We can’t say for sure why on the timing, but EMP did sue an American magazine in American court in 1993 for a devastating article criticizing them and lost. Perhaps they thought they’d have better luck in Canada.

It’s hard to know what to think, other than I hope that that it all goes away. It seems such a disproportionate response to a blog post. But here are a couple of observations.

A publisher suing a librarian for a critical blog post seems oversensitive to me. Oxford, Cambridge, and Sage have been roundly criticized for suing Georgia State, and they haven’t bothered to respond. Elsevier has more or less been called an evil empire in public by many a librarian and researcher and they just shrug it off.

A single librarian writes a single blog post and you sue for $3 million? It’s not like this librarian has the ear of the profession, unlike some pseudonymous bloggers I could mention. This was a relatively obscure blog post that’s now very well known by thousands of people, most of whom are your customers.

Instead of focusing your ire on an obscure library blogger, do like other publishers and just ignore librarians completely. Really, no one pays attention to what librarians say, or at least they don’t until publishers sue them.

The second thought is, do you really want to be known forever as the publisher who sued a librarian for writing a blog post? Your suit complains that the post was up from September 2010 to March 2012. That was one post, now removed, from a relatively unknown library blogger.

Suing that magazine in 1993? Them was pre-Google days.

Google Edwin Mellen Press from now on and you know what you’ll find? From now on you’re going to find blog posts and news articles about Mellen suing some poor librarian for writing a blog post.

These posts aren’t defaming anyone, either. They’re just reporting the facts. Maybe you thought those facts wouldn’t go public, but they did. And they’ll stay that way, because things last forever on the Internet. Maybe there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but then again maybe there is. Librarians are the ones buying your books, and a lot of librarians are now annoyed with you.

Since starting a draft of this post, I found out there’s a petition asking you to stop the suit against the librarian and McMaster University. Probably a good idea to accede to the request.

If you don’t mind a little advice, and I get the feeling you probably do but I’m going to give it anyway, drop the suit. You might win in the court of Canada, but you’ll lose in the court of public opinion of the group that matters most, the librarians you depend on to buy your books. Your short term gain could be a long term loss.

Here’s how to do it without losing any more face: Drop the suit. Issue a statement saying that you sued just to make the point that librarians shouldn’t say mean things about you, and now that everyone knows about the case you’ve made that point and everyone knows it, so there’s really no reason to go on.

I’d buy it.

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Comments

  1. the.effing.librarian says:

    I don’t know when he moved to Canada, but the last comment on the original post is from 2/11, so if he started there after that, it would seem that Canada should deny the suit. IANAL, even in Canada, but saying you were libeled by something with a date earlier than you can file a complaint against seems like they are just taking advantage of Canadian law when it shouldn’t apply. unless time works diffently in cold weather; maybe slower, and it’s still 2010 up there? other than the date of the comments, I don’t have any opinions on what he said nor his right to say it before visiting Canada. but I know now that with the people I’ve pissed off on the internets, I don’t ever expect to make that trip to the Great White North, knowing I could end up in court for something I wrote 5 years ago.

  2. Further down the comments on a MetaFilter thread about this case, a few other people have described their experiences with EMP:

    http://www.metafilter.com/124794/On-questioning-the-quality-of-a-publisher

  3. It would appear this publisher’s never heard of the Streisand Effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect

    …brig

  4. librarian.in.training says:

    I am currently a library student and will be an official librarian in May. For one of my classes I am following your blog and this article really bugged me.

    I really loved this statement “Do you really want to be known forever as the publisher who sued a librarian for writing a blog post?” Which is what will happen, as said in the article, things last forever on the internet. But will librarians ever forgive them?

    This is something we all need to think about as library professionals, would you want to support someone who will sue you for saying “mean things” about them? I know life is sometimes just like the old days on the playground with bullies and the bullied, but when we have the power (since we choose what goes into our collections), why would we take this garbage from a big baby bully? =P

  5. William Leddy says:

    Any law librarians out there?

  6. Thomas Anthony kelly says:

    I find this whole debate to be nuts. Every book is a unique product. Some are good and some are poor. The actual publisher is no indication of quality. Every book needs to be judged on its individual merits. I know of some excellent books published by EMP which have had excellent reviews in leading scholarly journals.

    • Morse says:

      You don’t sound like a librarian who purchases books for a library, but you do sound like a Mellen author.

    • Mark says:

      WARNING! this comment by “Thomas Anthony kelly” is duplicated in a number of web pages detailing the foolish Edwin Mellen Press lawsuit, just like actual Edwin Mellen Press publications, which are dressed as academic publications but are only fit for a recycling bin, this is just copy & paste propaganda probably from Edwin Mellen Press themselves but dressed as a “real” user comment, copy the text & paste it into google & see how many hits you get & judge for yourselves!

  7. Thomas Anthony Kelly says:

    I am not a librarian. They are not in a position to make judgments about the academic quality of academic books, regardless of publisher. I am indeed a Mellen author, and a Routledge author, and an Oxford University Press author, and a Palgrave Macmillan author….your point being?

    • Morse says:

      I couldn’t find your name in the list of Mellen authors. Could you please list the title of the book(s) you published with them?

    • Morse says:

      You responded to my previous comment within 3 minutes. Why the delay now? Until you provide the list of books you have allegedly published with Mellen, Routledge, OUP, and MacMillan, I will continue to believe that you are a partial observer biased toward Mellen rather than the objective author you pretend to be. Claiming that the debate is “nuts” considering the overwhelming support for Askey and the longstanding criticism of Mellen from many quarters puts the burden of proof on you.

      Oh, and if you think no librarians are capable of making “judgments about the academic quality of academic books,” you clearly do no know what you are talking about.

    • John Jackson says:

      Thomas, I have an advanced degree in Information Science (among other things) and thus I *AM* qualified to make judgments about academic books: it is part of the education that every librarian (esp. at an academic library) must go through. I have entire books on how to assess the quality of academic literature, if you’re interested, and yes, the publisher can be one (of many) factors to be considered.

  8. Thomas Anthony Kelly says:

    I was in bed sir. It now reallybotghers me that librarians are making decisions about what books to buy. I many parts of the world they make their purchases on the recommendations of academics who read them first. Your wemails are now taking a harrasment tone – one followed by another in rapid succession.

    • Mike S. says:

      There’s no way you should be granted a graduate degree in anything without being able to assess scholarly work as good, average, or poor.

      I don’t have a degree in journalism, but I have no problem stating that the Queens Tribune prints a lower quality of reporting than the New York Times. Or maybe I should ask a journalist before deciding which paper to pick up?

  9. Thomas Anthony Kelly says:

    Are you saying one cannot assess a book unless one reads it? I hope so. I believe that every book should be assessed on its merit, not on the reputation (whether deserved or otherwise) of the publisher of that book

  10. Al Cornish says:

    Regardless of the legal aspects, the Edwin Mellen Press has demonstrated basic incompetence in communicating with the academic community after filing the two lawsuits.

    The vendor has a Twitter account (@MellenPress), but last posted to Twitter on December 13 of last year. Meanwhile, if you search the Twitter service for ‘mellen press,’ you can see the stream of attacks against the publisher and its lawsuits. Social media disengagement doesn’t work for retailers and it won’t work for a publisher that’s suing one of its customers.

    At the same time, a change.org petition calling on the EMP to drop the lawsuits now has over 3,100 signatures: http://www.change.org/petitions/edwin-mellen-press-end-libel-suit-against-dale-askey-and-mcmaster-university