February 16, 2018

Feedback: Letters to LJ, September 15, 2012 Issue

ALA’s ebook focus

Patrick Losinski’s piece on ebooks (LJ 9/1/12) is terrific and describes the library/popular ebook issue as the existential issue that it is. The recent Pew report that found that only 12 percent of readers of ebooks borrowed one from a library last year and that the majority of Americans do not even know this service is provided by their library puts it in critical perspective (Francine Fialkoff, “Too Many Ebook Cooks,” Editorial, LJ 8/12, p. 8).

Libraries face a critical problem, and the public doesn’t even know. There is clearly a need for a coordinated outreach effort the likes of which the library community has never seen or even imagined. To me, Losinski’s statement underlines the need for a coordinated, national effort to mobilize all of our assets around the goal of ensuring that Americans have access to published content through their libraries.

With a lot of respect and appreciation for LJ’s Editor in Chief, I think that the American Library Association (ALA) has moved past the point of being incapacitated by committee. It took a while, but the ebook issue has now been taken on seriously by ALA. Its leadership has been actively engaged, and staff at ALA’s Office of Information Technology Policy (OITP) in Washington, DC, and at ALA Headquarters in Chicago have been tasked with working this issue, and we are seeing the results.

I was part of a group that posted “An Open Letter to E-Book Creators and Sellers from Library Customers” in May 2000, and like many I anguished as I watched the committee process stumble forward. I served on an OITP Ebook Task Force that worked in parallel with the EQUAAC (Equitable Access to Electronic Content) group. (The joke was that when ALA gets serious about something, it don’t just appoint a committee, it appoints two!) And I serve on the current Digital Content Working Group.

ALA now is focused and has great people and resources in place, and I am convinced that we can take up Patrick Losinski’s call to action and plan and conduct a coordinated, national campaign…. Our future depends on it.

—Charlie Parker, Exec. Dir., Tampa Bay Lib. Consortium, Tampa, FL

No collective effort

The ebook problem is not a lack of “sustained effort” by libraries (Francine Fialkoff, “Too Many Ebook Cooks,” Editorial, LJ 8/12, p. 8). It is a lack of collective effort. Publishers are not evil. They are businesses, with leaders who are obligated to act in the best financial interest of their shareholders. In other words, they follow the money. If libraries would organize themselves into book-purchasing pools—for all books, not just ebooks—they would become much more effective in negotiating with publishers.

If anyone at ALA is advocating a collective approach by libraries, I haven’t heard about it. But as shown in the article elsewhere in this issue (“Califa, DCL, Open Library Make Commitments to Smashwords’ Library Direct“), some leaders of the profession—including Jamie LaRue of Colorado’s Douglas County Libaries—do seem to think collective purchasing is part of the solution.

—Michael Henry Starks, Independent Instruction & Reference Libn., Zionsville, IN

Choice for the blind

Regarding Rae Wooten’s letter (“Exploiting victims,” Feedback, LJ 8/12, p. 10), only about five percent of the books published each year are ever produced in a format that is accessible to the blind, including as audio­books. By necessity, the blind have relied on audiobooks, hardcopy Braille, and other specialized formats for many years, chiefly because there was no choice.

In the age of ebooks, however, this is no longer the case. Digital books can easily be converted to synthetic speech or displayed in Braille on devices designed for that purpose. Apple’s iPad can already speak the text of all the books available through the iBook store or transmit their content to Braille displays. The only reason that the Barnes & Noble NOOK does not have this capability is that the company chose not to include it. And why would it, if librarians, despite their legal obligations, are not demanding ­accessibility?

Librarians have a legal and moral obligation to see that all of their patrons have access to everything in the library collection, not just the most popular books that happen to be available as audio­books. Librarians must also demand that any ebook vendor that wants to sell to libraries makes its ebooks accessible. If libraries do this, there will be more books accessible to everyone rather than just a few being accessible to the blind.

—Christopher S. Danielsen, Dir. of PR, Natl. Federation of the Blind, ­Baltimore


In the report of the appointment of ­Kelvin Watson as the new Director of E-Content Services and Strategy at Queens Library, NY, his name was inadvertently misspelled. LJ apologizes for the error.

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  1. As a professional librarian who is known, at times, for being radical and outspoken I believe it is time for libraries and book vendors to act radically. Committees that began addressing ebook issues back in 2000 and we are no further ahead in 2012 in our influence. We need more libraries replicating the Douglas County model; we need our book jobbers to join our cause – they have more clout with publishers and it impacts their bottom lines as well.

    Thus far ALA’s efforts haven’t impacted Hachette’s very recent decision to raise ebook prices for libraries to a ridiculous level. I still say ALA or PLA or someone or group should approach Amazon and see about buying our ebooks from them at the $9.99 or $12.99 rate. This would force our jobbers to join our cause and take action, or even (perish the thought) shift the paradigm of the library business model for acquiring content from one that hasn’t changes in decades.