March 16, 2018

ALA Midwinter Rundown: Ebooks, Dues, and Library/Vendor Relations

Welcome to Midwinter bannerDespite conventional wisdom that conferences held on the coasts draw smaller crowds and complaints from some vendors that show floor traffic was down, Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of the American Library Association (ALA), reported that this year’s Midwinter attendance totaled 10,731. That’s up slightly from 2012’s 9,929 and 2011’s 10,110, though below 2010’s high of 11,095.

The buzz around the conference was a natural evolution of the preoccupations that have dominated librarianship recently, with no major new issues coming out of left field: the disruptive and transformative potential of new technologies continued to dominate the conversation, from ebooks to maker spaces (an incredibly well-attended track on Monday).

The technology theme continued at LJ’s own events, both held at Seattle’s Metropolitan Grill. The Librarian of the Year dinner, honoring Jo Budler, state librarian of Kansas, featured many testimonials by attendees to her groundbreaking work on ebook ownership for libraries (along with her straightforward demeanor and profusion of pets). And Lilia Pavlovsky, honored at the reception for the LJ Teaching Award 2012, is renowned for both teaching effective use of cutting edge technology, and using new technologies to teach.

Likewise, meeting efforts were devoted to wrestling with stubborn evergreen conundrums of the field, like how best to serve homeless patrons — something the Intellectual Freedom Committee declined to enshrine in the Library Bill of Rights this conference — and raise enough money to address ongoing needs, let alone expand the library mandate through new initiatives like ALA’s The Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities, a partnership with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, kicked off at Midwinter by ALA President Maureen Sullivan via a press conference and series of related conversations.

Paying Our Dues

The ALA Council approved a resolution at the Midwinter meeting which would raise ALA’s personal membership dues, which have not been increased since 2006. From 2013-2017, the proposal would peg dues to the national average Consumer Price Index (CPI), so that the executive board could approve an annual increase as long as it didn’t exceed the percentage change in the CPI for the previous calendar year, rounded to the nearest dollar. Dues could thus increase $1-$4 annually without requiring a vote of the full membership each time. Any greater increase would require approval by a vote of Council and a mail vote of ALA personal members. The membership will vote on this plan on the ALA ballot this spring, and if it passes, it will take effect on September 1.

The Council also elected Jim Neal and Sara Kelly Johns to the Executive Board. Neal, who also serves as ALA treasurer, reported that although revenue in 2012 increased in publishing,  meetings/conferences, and grants/awards for a 6.6 percent total increase, ALA still ended 2012 with a net loss of approximately $1.3 million. The 2013 budget has been planned for 0.5 percent less expenditures, including savings on health insurance and delayed, modest salary increases. Meanwhile, divisions saw an increase in revenues of 12.1 percent, and a decline of nearly 5 percent in expenses.

According to Neal, net revenue for Midwinter has improved, though the revenue from the summer Annual conference has declined. (This marks an interesting contrast with word on the show floor, in which one vendor told LJ they planned to reduce their presence at Midwinter and another said they wished they could stop coming altogether.)

Ebooks May Have Turned the Corner

While it’s clear by now that the ongoing saga of ebooks for public libraries has many more than four corners (not to mention as many dropping shoes as Imelda Marcos), it seemed at Midwinter that things may have at least reached the next stage. In addition to Macmillan’s conference-timed announcement of an ebook lending pilot, the ReadersFirst Initiative (collocated with Midwinter but not officially part of it) explored ebook discovery and interoperability with existing ILSes. Meanwhile, ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Working Group (DCWG) delivered an ebook scorecard, which librarians can use to weigh 15 ebook contract variables of importance to their libraries. (See also “DCWG: Showcase the Influence of Libraries with National Book of the Month” for more from the DCWG sessions.)

For the future, DCWG plans to continue collaborations with ReadersFirst and the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and has in the works a survey of public libraries, asking them to weigh different factors used to make purchasing decisions. Meanwhile, the group will also to take a broader view of digital publishing beyond the big six publishers and will likewise focus on econtent availability for school libraries.

Add in the recent IFLA think piece on the issue, which included a handy matrix of publishers’ models, and it seems clear that library leaders, publishers, and vendors are grappling substantively with the issue, leading one prominent public library director to tell LJ that he was content to leave it in their hands and turn his attention to other core issues until something comes of those efforts.

Crossing the Streams in Academic Publishing

Of course, much greater variety of ebooks and ebook lending models has long been available to academic libraries than have been offered to public. But that didn’t mean there was nothing left to talk about: at the Publisher/Vendor Library Relations (PVLR) Interest Group forum, enhanced ebooks and apps raised challenges for librarians, including lack of the ability to cite a specific fact and be sure it would still be there in iteratively updated sources, as well as problems in cataloging, and even circulation, thanks to issues with authentication and proxies.

Some concern also arose during the PVLR planning meeting that ProQuest’s recent acquisition of EBL, and plans to merge it with ebrary, would jeopardize the continued availability of simultaneous lending through EBL. However, ProQuest reassured LJ on the point, saying that EBL’s strengths in “innovative lending models” was one of the aspects of the company which they will be looking to preserve in the integration. (The PVLR meeting was also notable for the absence of any publishers or public library representatives, making planning for an Annual presentation of interest to all its constituencies a bit of a shot in the dark for the academic librarians and vendors who did attend.)

Though the ebrary/EBL deal is expected to close in six to eight weeks, Kevin Sayar, Senior Vice President and General Manager, ProQuest Workflow Solutions, told LJ not to look for short term changes thereafter. “It won’t be a quick moving from one to the other,” Sayar said, but rather “identifying the best pieces of both and finding a way to put them together.” Both teams are staying on to manage existing products and services in the short term, and eventually merge them into a single platform over the course of roughly the next 18 months.

Meanwhile Gale/Cengage, another major player in the academic scene, has big news coming, but they can’t yet say what it is. In the meantime, they are also looking to the Brazilian and Saudi Arabian markets, extending the hot buzzword of the moment, MOOCs, from the academic to the public library space with Ed2Go as well as supporting a Harvard EdX MOOC at no charge, and partnering with OCLC to make all Gale databases and archives discoverable through WorldCat Local.

And that’s not OCLC’s only major new discoverability offering: the non-profit also detailed its partnership with Goodreads, allowing users to find titles at OCLC subscribe libraries as well as libraries to create their own groups and host Goodreads reviews in their own catalogs.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.