Review: Patience and Fortitude by Scott Sherman

Review: Patience and Fortitude by Scott ShermanPatience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library by Scott Sherman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: current events, history, libraries, nonfiction
Pages: 205
Published by Melville House on June 23rd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A riveting investigation of a beloved library caught in the crosshairs of real estate, power, and the people’s interests—by the reporter who broke the story   In a series of cover stories for The Nation magazine, journalist Scott Sherman uncovered the ways in which Wall Street logic almost took down one of New York City’s most beloved and iconic institutions: the New York Public Library.
In the years preceding the 2008 financial crisis, the library’s leaders forged an audacious plan to sell off multiple branch libraries, mutilate a historic building, and send millions of books to a storage facility in New Jersey. Scholars, researchers, and readers would be out of luck, but real estate developers and New York’s Mayor Bloomberg would get what they wanted.
But when the story broke, the people fought back, as famous writers, professors, and citizens’ groups came together to defend a national treasure.
Rich with revealing interviews with key figures, Patience and Fortitude is at once a hugely readable history of the library’s secret plans, and a stirring account of a rare triumph against the forces of money and power.

The iconic lions that welcome readers to the entrance of the New York Public Library’s Central Library are named “Patience” and “Fortitude”. This made me wonder about the names of the two equally iconic lions that guard the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago. Those two don’t have official names, but their unofficial titles are “stands in an attitude of defiance” and “on the prowl”. The difference in names may describe the difference between New York and Chicago, right there.

At the entrance to the New York Public Library
At the entrance to the New York Public Library

But the patience and fortitude in this book about the New York Public Library and its most recent step into controversy may be better attributed to those who campaigned against what looks remarkably like a real-estate boondoggle, at least from the outside looking in.

There’s plenty of story here. It begins with the very origins of NYPL, and its rather strange and certainly unique financing. In spite of the name, NYPL was never a public library in the way that most of us think of one. It is not a department of the city of New York, and is not owned or managed by the city. Nor is it an independent taxing district as many libraries are in the Midwest (and probably elsewhere)

Instead, NYPL is a private non-profit entity that owns the buildings of the library, while the city provides funds for personnel and other services – funds which are then administered by the private non-profit. To add to the confusion, the research function of NYPL was never intended to be supported by taxpayer dollars. The intent was for the research library to be supported by donations.

So there are two effectively competing agencies housed uneasily under one administrative roof, while everyone hopes that someone else will pay the bills. A plan which never works, but does provide at least some of the genesis for the mess that NYPL found itself in from 2007 until 2014.

Entrance to Donnell Library Center
Entrance to Donnell Library Center

The plan was to sell both the Donnell Library and the Mid-Manhattan Library, and to gut the Central Library’s book stacks, then combine all the services into the single remaining building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. While the Donnell Library building was sold, the great recession intervened before any more damage could be done.

As the text makes pretty clear, it’s not that there wasn’t a financial crisis that needed to be solved, it’s that in the end, no one except the consultants and their staunchest supporters believed that the solution being proposed would actually solve anything at all. Those in opposition were convinced, and it looks like correctly, that the plan would cause structural damage to the Central Library building, further erode services both to the public and to researchers, and would not actually generate the income necessary to sustain the library. It didn’t help their cause that the claims of damage and rot to the structure of those incredible book stacks seemed overblown, and that no less drastic solutions were even considered.

In the end, it all looked like a grand shell game being played with other people’s money. In this case, NYPL’s money. It also looked increasingly to outsiders that even though no one involved from the library’s side did anything illegal, or made any money under the table, that there was more than a whiff of sweetheart dealing in the way that the properties were going to be, or in the case of the Donnell Library actually were, disposed of.

And no one anywhere should ever believe any consultant on a major building project who claims that there can’t possibly be any cost overruns. There almost inevitably are cost overruns, and the less you expect them, the more ruinous they are.

Reality Rating B+: Before I discuss the gist of this story, I need to insert a caveat or three. I am a librarian, and while I never worked at NYPL, I did work at two of the other city libraries named in the text, Chicago and Seattle. I also served in a middle-management position, not just at CPL and SPL, but also at several middle-sized public libraries, which gave me the opportunity to observe library board meetings on a regular basis, and interact with the boards of trustees at some of those institutions. What I am saying is that I know something about how the sausage is made, and can see similarities to situations I worked in fairly clearly.

So reading this book felt a bit like insider baseball. Some of the people involved were nationally recognized it the profession. And the situations they got themselves into had the ring of familiarity.

The financial situation at NYPL was never very stable. As a librarian, it was considered a great place to have on your resume, but a lousy place to actually work because NYPL did not pay a living wage for the city of New York. Reading the introductory chapters of this book makes it pretty clear why the finances were so precarious.

One of the things that I found amazing was the way that the powers that be at NYPL during this era used their unique situation to suit themselves. They went to the city hat in hand to beg for money for this project, while at the same time frequently ignoring Freedom of Information Act Requests and even demands from the press or the State Legislature for information, and they did it with impunity as a “private non-profit”.

The main part of this saga begins in 2007. This was just before the great recession dropped the bottom out of the real estate market pretty much everywhere. It was also the point where the Google Books project to digitize the collections of great research libraries, including NYPL, was in full swing – and before it ran afoul of the copyright laws in court. Some pundits on the bleeding edge were predicting that libraries would either be all digital or completely obsolete in a relatively short time. Basing the building design on a premise that hadn’t yet been proven looks foolhardy in retrospect. Especially when combined with the notion that “everything will be digitized” when the volume of “everything” that existed prior to the ubiquity of computers is much too high a volume to be digitized within the lifetime of anyone now living.

There has also been a longstanding shift in the library profession to a “give ‘em what they want” mentality. The other side of that coin is when “they” stop wanting something, it’s time to throw it out to make way for something new that “they” will want. This works fairly well in most public libraries, and is an absolute necessity because real estate and shelf space are generally expensive and always finite. But in a research library like the NYPL Central, the intention is to keep a broad and deep collection because we don’t know what some researcher will want 5 or 10 or 50 years from now. But we know that if we don’t preserve it, it won’t exist for that researcher to find.

A panoramic view of the Rose Reading Room
A panoramic view of the Rose Reading Room

And then there was the issue at NYPL that the steel book stacks are physically supporting the Rose Reading Room on the top floor. Take out the book stacks and the top floor becomes the bottom floor with a sudden and resounding crash. While there were designs to account for this, none of them seemed as sturdy, robust or even as beautiful and simply functional as the existing stacks.

Part of the plan was that the 3 million volumes housed in those stacks be relocated to off-site storage in New Jersey for better preservation. There was a frequently articulated promise that books would be made available within 24 hours. The problem with this part of the plan was that patrons already had plenty of experience with off-site storage, and 24 hours was known to be a laughable dream. Three or four days was considered an achievable dream, but a week was not unheard of.

As part of this phase of the plan, the powers that be conducted a stealth removal of the books in the stacks, sending them to off-site storage and to private warehouses. The stacks are now echoingly empty, even though the grand plan is dead, and some of the books are completely inaccessible. Others were lost in transition.

There have been any number of libraries and library directors who have found themselves in the midst of hurricanes of controversy over plans to vastly eliminate or move the collections of their libraries. One of the more infamous cases occurred at the San Francisco Public Library in the mid 1990s (see Nicholson Baker’s scathing book, Double Fold, for an example of just how acid the vitriol became). There are more recent stories from the Urbana Free Library in Illinois and the Berkeley Public Library in California. Every librarian knows that massively weeding or otherwise removing the collection is one of the fastest ways to generate negative publicity that libraries can fall into. But the librarians seem to have been left out of the decision-making loop in all of the planning for this great plan.

The NYPL Central Library, with its enduring and patient lions, is a living symbol of the city. It is also a storied place of history, where many scholars and writers did their research and composed some of their greatest work. It’s also a place that, in spite of its often shaky finances, fulfilled every library’s purpose of being the “People’s University” with its doors and its collections open to any researcher or reader who visited its hallowed halls. There were too many people, both famous and forgotten, who loved that building and the purpose it served.

The real estate moguls never had a chance. Just this once, the pen was mightier than the pocketbook. But it was still one hell of a fight.

Guest Post from Author Mary Ann Rivers on Why I Love Libraries and Librarians + Giveaway

Today I’d like to extend a very warm welcome Mary Ann Rivers, who recently published her terrific first book, The Story Guy (reviewed here). Her guest post topic is particularly near and dear to my heart, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

The-Story-Guy-Blog-Tour-300x83

Why I Love Libraries and Librarians by Mary Ann Rivers

Libraries are the very best effort of society. The very best. Humans are very good at falling in love and at making libraries and precious little else. Everything else we do, is basically the business of filling libraries—with stories, with information about the human project. The very tiniest towns have some kind of library, and big cities have libraries that are glorious expressions of architecture and media.

I had a difficult childhood, and libraries saved me. I could be just exactly who I was in a library, or I could be someone else entirely. Physically, libraries are beautiful and safe; inside the mind they’re dangerous and illicit. As a child, the combination of that, of being safe with a free mind, was completely irresistible. Is still irresistible. I go every week, sometimes every day—even though I borrow most of my library books as digital media on my ereader (I love digital borrowing—it means the library is open 24 hours a day).

Librarians dedicate their work to the service of the very best of what it is we do as humans. It’s difficult schooling, and so librarians are obviously gorgeously smart; but also librarians have to negotiate the whole world and their community at the same time. Digital engagement is huge, but what if you serve poor rural or urban patrons? How do ereaders get in your community’s hands? If you’re serving in a world class library, you have the challenge of trying to represent your patrons, AND all other librarians.

Librarians help us ask questions, not just find the answer. They look at their community and try to fill the holes in it. They read to our kids, sometimes when no one else does. They figure out how and why we read so that the most perfect book is right in front of us when we explore the stacks. Carrie asks Brian if he has a librarian fetish. His answer is the same as mine, “who doesn’t?”

Mary Ann RiversAbout Mary Ann RiversMary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son.

To learn more about Mary Ann, visit her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

~~~~~~TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

Mary Ann is giving away a NetGalley review copy of The Story Guy to ten lucky winners! To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:

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Black Friday Blog Hop

What does Black Friday mean to you? Traditionally, it’s the first day of the Christmas Holiday season. It also used to represent the day that a lot of retailers finally turned a profit for the year, meaning that their account books turned from “red ink” to “black”.

As a public librarian, for me it’s usually meant one of the busiest days of the year. Sounds funny, doesn’t it. People don’t shop at the library. But for students, it’s the last big weekend before end of semester, and a lot of students have big papers or projects to finish. College students are home for the weekend, and turn up at their local library to study.

Even with the internet, people still come in for help. And folks who are off work for the long weekend come in looking for good books to read. Libraries have lots of those. Patrons who want ebooks want recommendations.

The more things change, the more things remain the same.

So this is my last year with the holiday weekend off. I start my new job in early December. Next Black Friday, I’ll be working. It’s all good.

What does Black Friday mean to you? Work? Shopping? Bargain-hunting? Or just a long relaxing weekend in a turkey-induced coma? Participating in the Black Friday Blog Hop?

Speaking of the Black Friday Blog Hop

We have THREE grand prizes. You as a reader can go to EACH blog and comment with your email address and be entered to win. Yep, you can enter over 200 times! As for MY prize, I’m giving away a $10 Amazon Gift Card, to help with all that Holiday shopping you still have to do. Follow the Rafflecopter to enter.

Now what are those prizes?
1st Grand Prize: A Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet
2nd Grand Prize: A $75 Amazon or B&N Gift Card
3rd Grand Prize: A Swag Pack that contains paperbacks, ebooks, 50+ bookmarks, cover flats, magnets, pens, coffee cozies, and more!


To Find the other 200+ Authors & Bloggers Click HERE!


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ARC-Gate at ALA

Last week, and it is difficult to believe it was already more than a week ago, the American Library Association held its Annual Conference in the land of Mickey Mouse, Anaheim, California.

And there was a kerfuffle on YouTube about ARCs and who should be able to pick up how many on the exhibit hall floor.

Two bloggers at The Lost Lola posted a 22-minute video, since retracted, detailing their incredibly awesome book haul at ALA. They scored, and I think scored is a fair assessment, two copies of everything possible, including a lot of books they had no personal interest in.

A librarian who blogs at Stackedbooks questioned on Twitter how authors would feel “knowing a librarian couldn’t get an arc of their book at ALA, but a blogger picked up multiple copies.”

The Lost Lolas have printed an impressive and well-thought out response and clarification, but lots of questions still stand.

Let’s start at the beginning. I have described ALA as BEA for librarians, and I think it’s a fair description. ALA is a business conference for libraries, just as BEA is a business conference for the book industry. And just like the book industry, a good bit of the business of libraries happens to be books.

Not all of it, but a lot of it. That doesn’t make ALA a book convention. There was another half of the exhibits that was all about automated systems, materials-handling units, furniture, and supplies. This stuff isn’t sexy, but it was all on that floor. And those things are a significant part of the business of libraries.

Libraries do promote reading. And one of the ways we promote reading is through books. (I can hear you saying “well, duh” from here). Libraries are also part of the publishers’ ecosystem to promote books and authors. Libraries constitute about 10% of book sales in the U.S overall. For some genres and markets, like children’s books and audiobooks, we’re a lot more.

For midlist authors, libraries are a critical lifeline. Libraries provide the author, not just sales, but also word-of-mouth “advertising”. If the librarian likes the book, it gets “sold” across the desk. One enthusiastic reader puts the book directly into the hands of another. It’s a trust relationship.

We bloggers are trying to get into that “space” but we’re not there yet.

For anyone who has noticed that I’ve said we on both sides of this issue, I have. I am a librarian. I attend ALA because I am a member of the Association, and because I serve on a committee. I’m part of the business of the Association that gets done at the Conference.

And right now, most of my day-to-day work is as a book blogger.

But ALA is a business convention. It’s one of the largest conventions in the U.S. Not just for the number of people who attend (20,000!), but also for the number of simultaneous meeting rooms. On Saturday and Sunday, there are more than 100 meetings every hour.

And because it’s a business convention, if you’re there to be at a meeting, or three, or five, you can’t drop everything to stalk the exhibit halls for the author signings. People notice when you don’t show up at committee meetings, especially if you’re the chair of the committee. Or when you don’t make the presentation when you are one of the speakers.

ALA is a volunteer-run organization for the most part. The members do most of the work.

So when a librarian can’t be in the exhibit hall at a particular time for a particular signing, it’s because she or he has a commitment to keep. It’s a working conference.

But what ALA isn’t, is a book convention. It’s not RomCon or the RT Booklovers Convention or even WorldCon. There’s a picture (at right) from the RT Booklovers Book Fair, where the description touts the 100’s of authors who are there just to sign books. That’s not what ALA is.

The thing about this whole mess is that all the parties involved went in with different expectations. The bloggers saw it as a book conventions, with that set of expectations. They had a plan of attack to maximize their resources to get as much out of the book convention as possible. What they did is understandable from that perspective.

The librarians who come to the conference see it as professional development, or professional commitment. They get ARCs for a whole different set of reasons. Some are just for reading. But a lot more have to do with programming, especially YA programming. Teen librarians want ARCs to give to teen readers as prizes for book clubs, to plan programs, and just to figure out what their groups will be reading next.

Yes, the libraries that sent those librarians should find better ways to reach out to publishers, and should have better funding. And a lot of other things. But library budgets are shrinking right now. And a lot of librarians are self-funded to conferences. In other words, they pay their own way.

Just like bloggers.

The questions remain. Should ALA change their policies regarding exhibits-only passes to give preferential treatment to members and book-industry professionals? BEA has only just begun admitting the general public, and only on a very restricted basis.

However, book reviewers, including bloggers, are eligible for attendance at BEA, it’s just more expensive than an ALA exhibits-only pass. Considerably more expensive.

This isn’t just a question about ARCs. It isn’t even a question about ALA policy.

Why did the issue of ARCs touch so many hot buttons  among both librarians and bloggers?

What do ARCs mean to you? What does a massive ARC haul mean to you? Why do we covet ARCs? What do we do with them after the conference?

And what will we do when publishers stop printing them?

(This post was previously published at Book Lovers Inc.)

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

And now libraries know that Random House is planning to use real silver for that lining.

The problem with Random House’s plan is that libraries don’t have all that much silver to give them  in this era of shrinking budgets.

On February 2, Random House, the only one of the “Big 6” publishers to provide ebooks to libraries without restrictions, made an announcement that they would continue their generous policy, but that there would be a price hike to deal with some of the issues surrounding permanent access to ebooks.

Most libraries probably expected the price to rise somewhere in the neighborhood of 50%. Maybe double.

The hammer fell March 1. Hammer as in auction hammer. Or the hammer of doom.

Yesterday, Random House tripled the prices of their ebooks. You read that right. An ebook that cost a library $15 on Monday, costs $45 today. The libraries are reeling from the sticker shock.

But what will this mean?

Library budgets are not growing, they are flat or shrinking. Public libraries are creatures of local government, and tax revenues at the local government level are still sucky. Let’s be blunt here.

If the per-title price rises significantly, as it has just done. and the budget stays flat, what will happen? In most cases, libraries will buy fewer titles with the same dollars. Some will rearrange their budgets as much as they can, but very, very few will be able to triple their ebook budgets.

What gets purchased in this scenario? High-demand titles get purchased, so the hold queues get filled. Or at least stay tamed. John Grisham does not lose many library sales out of this.

What doesn’t get purchased? Mid-list authors and debut authors, because there is very little money left in the budget with which to take a chance. And the next John Grisham and Nora Roberts and James Patterson have to come from somewhere. Some of them will come from self-publication Cinderella stories like Amanda Hocking, but some will still come from the mid-list. If they get the chance.

Unlike V.C. Andrews, most authors do not write from beyond the grave. What are the publishers planning to do when the current crop of bestselling juggernauts decide to retire?  The number one way that readers decide to purchase a book is because they liked the author’s last book. The trick seems to be to get people to read an author the first time. And with the demise of more and more bricks-and-mortar bookstores, that trick is getting harder all the time.

But protecting their authors is not what this move is about. Revenue numbers from 2011 are starting to come in from the major publishers, and the picture that emerges is very interesting. Sales of print are down, digital is up and profitability is up. Think about it for a minute. Digital books have no inventory, no print costs, and very low distribution costs. Most of the infrastructure to produce them already exists. For the publisher, they are almost pure profit.

Profitability is in no way a bad thing. It’s required for a business to remain in business. But let’s not pretend. Random House is charging more for their ebooks to libraries because Random House believes:

that pricing to libraries must account for the higher value of this institutional model, which permits e-books to be repeatedly circulated without limitation. The library e-book and the lending privileges it allows enables many more readers to enjoy that copy than a typical consumer copy. Therefore, Random House believes it has greater value, and should be priced accordingly.

In other words, because they can.

The Fiction about Friction

Let’s talk about a concept that keeps coming up in the conversation about ebook lending in libraries. The publishers who are currently not participating in the library ebook market all seem to be worrying about the lack of “friction” in the library ebook lending transaction as far as the patrons are concerned.

What do they mean by “friction”?

With physical media, in other words, books and CDs and DVDs, patrons have to come to the library to borrow them and come back to the library to return them. According to the February 10 post in Publisher’s Lunch, forcing patrons to come into the library to borrow ebooks is also the appropriate model for ebook lending. The publishers say they are doing this for the libraries’ own good, to reinforce the concept of the library as destination. Research indicates that ebook users are already “power users” of library resources, regularly visiting their local libraries for programming and to borrow materials, as well as borrowing ebooks online, and doing all those activities in great gulps.

Back to that “friction” thing again. The publishers seem to be laboring under a set of misapprehensions about how “easy” it is to borrow an ebook from a library. Let’s look at that for a moment.

According to the recent report in American Libraries, when ALA President Molly Raphael met with the Big 6 publishers in New York recently, many of the executives from those publishers were laboring under the mistaken belief libraries loaned ebooks to anyone who happened to click through their websites. We all know that’s not the case.

Libraries are responsible to their communities, and their resources are paid for by the taxes raised in those communities. We make our resources available to those who live or own property in the community. Many libraries make arrangements with their neighboring communities to reciprocally serve their patrons.

So it’s not quite as easy as the publishers think. But is it easy?

The so-called “friction” in borrowing an ebook from the library is different than the model the publishers are used to, but it is definitely there.

The hold queues for ebooks are very, very long. A recent article in the Washington Post showed hundreds of people waiting in line for some of the titles. The libraries in the D.C. metro area also have attempted to purchase copies to meet the demand, but the numbers are staggering. Placing a hold for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and seeing yourself listed as number 508 in the queue has to be a shock to anyone.

The second piece of grit that causes no end of friction is the general supply of ebooks. Period. When a person logs into their local library’s ebooks collection and wants to read something, anything, but just get a book, right now, can they? The answer generally is only if they understand the system and are willing to take something they may not be familiar with.

Patrons complain, with justification, that everything is out.  My LPOW has about 10,000 ebooks on OverDrive. However, if I check to see what a patron might check out, the first several screens all tell me to put myself on the waiting list. It is possible to search for only the titles currently available, but you have to know how to do that. And if you do know, you must search for EPUB, PDF, Open EPUB and Open PDF separately. There’s no option for just ebook. Out of those 10,000 ebooks, there are only 50 science fiction and fantasy titles in today. I did a quick scroll through, and a significant chunk of those are unfortunately mis-categorized. They’re really paranormal romance, which wouldn’t bother me, but would disappoint a lot of readers.

That’s not all the friction in this potential transaction.

Those of us who have been on the receiving end, know that dealing with end-users brings its own variety of friction. Whatever the client program is, whether it is OverDrive’s Media Console or the search program or the patron’s device or any other piece of the puzzle, there is a chain. Server to website to search to download to device to human. Any one of those parts can suffer a classic case of “failure to communicate” and when the chain breaks, the patron calls the library.

OverDrive’s Media Console isn’t quite as intuitive to use as the Kindle app, or the Nook app, or Bluefire. It’s pretty decent, and I frequently use it for EPUB format books, but there are a couple of things that get to me. For example, I can rename books in Bluefire and I can’t in OverDrive.

But the transaction to borrow an ebook in OverDrive far from frictionless. There’s no ability to search all of one type of format. So a patron can’t just search for “ebooks” or just search for “audiobooks”. The format limits are EPUB or PDF, and MP3 Audiobook or WMA Audiobook.

Once you find something you want to borrow, there’s the need for a library card number and a PIN, or personal identification number. Some libraries have made this easy by tying it to something the patron can’t forget, some don’t. But once past that hurdle, there’s the whole download business. If you’re reasonably savvy about your device, it is a piece of cake. With an iPhone or an iPad, there is, of course, an app for that.

Dealing with a side load through Adobe Digital Editions into a Classic Nook the first time is not for the faint of of heart, and not the night before you leave on vacation. Especially not if your flight is at “oh dark thirty”. Of those “power users” that LJ surveyed; 23% have given up on borrowing an ebook from the library because the process was “too complicated”.

If our sophisticated users have difficulty with the process, what about the new ereader users? A lot of people who are not tech-savvy got ereaders  because of the convenience factor and the content, but not the “gee-whiz” factor. How “frictionless” will they think the current ebook lending process is?

There is plenty of friction in the ebook borrowing transaction. The libraries are having enough issues ensuring that their interface with living, breathing patrons who use the library is as frictionless as possible.

What we don’t need is publishers telling us that library ebook lending needs more of this so-called “friction” than it already has. What we need is more ebooks in the library market.

Penguin wobbling toward 1984

On February 9, Penguin Books announced that it has pulled out of its contract with OverDrive to supply ebooks and downloadable audiobooks to libraries. The effective date of Penguin’s withdrawal from the library space is February 10.

Are you watching all those birds in tuxedos? They’re marching away.

The penguins have been milling around since November 2011, ever since Penguin Books stopped providing new titles for libraries through OverDrive. Since November, only their backlist has been available. So a library could get added copies of the first 33 books in J.D. Robb’s In Death series, but when the 34th book comes out in February, libraries won’t be able to get it.

This decision doesn’t just affect OverDrive. Penguin Books are not available through 3M, OverDrive’s newest competition. And they won’t be. Penguin Books doesn’t have a contract with 3M.

As of this writing, Penguin is negotiating a “continuance agreement” with OverDrive, so that libraries won’t lose access to the Penguin ebooks they currently have in their catalogs. In other words, the ebooks the libraries purchased last October. And the added copies they purchased last month.

That’s the thing about ebook purchases: they usually aren’t purchases. They’re usually licenses. This is a point where libraries need to read the fine print in the contract with their vendors.

So without that “continuance agreement,” Penguin can withdraw all their content. All their ebooks, all their audiobooks. In an infamous 2009 incident Amazon erased copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from Kindles when it turned out that the particular edition users had purchased was being sold by a publisher that didn’t happen to have the rights to sell it.

If Penguin withdraws OverDrive’s right to lend Penguin content, the same thing could happen to libraries. Penguin content could disappear overnight.

Penguin Books published Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. It’s too bad that the recent meeting between the leaders of the American Library Association and top executives of Penguin Books as well as other Big 6 publishers did not “help” Penguin to reach a conclusion more favorable to libraries than this complete withdrawal. For the sake of library patrons everywhere, I hope that Penguin will see the light on this issue and reach a “continuation agreement” with OverDrive soon.

 

Ebooks in Public Libraries: Whither, Which, How

The Digital Public Library of America discussion list has kicked into high gear again, in anticipation of an in-person meeting at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in mid-January, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.

The piece of the discussion that has caught my interest concerns the future availability of ebooks for public libraries to loan to patrons — and whether lending ebooks to patrons should be part of any public library future.

Statistics are showing double the ereader penetration in the US population from this time last year, not counting multi-function tablet (i.e. iPad) use. Libraries really don’t have the luxury to pretend this isn’t happening. The question remains what they can do about it.

The other question is, what do libraries provide? The “Big 6” publishers are increasingly skittish about providing ebooks for public libraries to lend.

  • Only Random House just plain lets libraries buy their ebooks to lend to patrons.
  • Harper Collins sells to libraries, and every time the copy has been checked out 26 times, the library has to buy it again.
  • Which puts Harper Collins ahead of Penguin and Hachette, who have both stopped selling ebooks to libraries.
  • And even further ahead of Simon and Schuster and Macmillan, who have never sold ebooks to libraries.

But back to the DPLA, which has been discussing the future of ebook publishing as it relates to libraries. There’s been a particular thread about commercial fiction and public library patrons.

The assumption that keeps niggling at me is that all the current trends will continue, and that the only changes we will see will be for the worse from the perspective of the library as institution.

My interpretation of the trendline being predicted is that the publishers will continue their unfortunate circling of their wagons, and that the lending rights that libraries have traditionally enjoyed with physical materials will disappear in the electronic age as publishers attempt to preserve their profit margins. Brilliance Audio’s scheduled January 31, 2012 withdrawal from the library download market is another step in this trend, as is the support of many, many publishers in the library marketplace for SOPA.

Publishers are worrying about their profits because those profits are based on a physical distribution model, and the physical distribution model is collapsing. And the publishers are becoming less optimistic about digital being their savior than they used to be, at least according to recent reports out of Digital Book World. So they are hanging on to every penny they can. Publishers have always feared that books borrowed from libraries have represented sales lost. But with physical books, sales to libraries were impossible to prevent.

With ebooks (and e-audiobooks) publishers don’t have to sell to libraries. So some of them are increasingly choosing not to — especially the big ones who believe that their authors don’t need libraries to help them develop a following.

But there are a lot of authors who do want their books, especially their ebooks, in libraries. I was interviewed by author Lindsay Buroker for an article on her blog about how self-published authors could get their books into their local libraries.

Self-published authors and authors who are published by small independent publishers are searching eagerly for ways to get their books into libraries. Increasingly those books are exclusively ebooks. Many of those authors would even be willing to donate a copy to their local public library (maybe not every public library, mind you, but the one in their own hometown) just to get readers.

In the print world, they used to be able to donate actual books. But in the digital world, what’s the mechanism? They don’t want to donate rights, they want to donate a couple of copies, and quite likely DRM-free copies at that, but how can they do it?

And for anyone who doesn’t think there is money in self-published authors, remember that Amazon has offered special incentives for self-published authors to make their work exclusively available through the Kindle Selects Program for 90-day periods.

This a a world that is changing faster than the “Big 6” can keep up with, which is why they are circling those wagons.

So, in this corner, we have the big publishers who either haven’t entered the library market or are sounding a retreat.

And in this corner, we have a lot of independent publishers and self-published authors who would love to enter the library space and are hungry for readers–readers that libraries know how to provide.

Libraries need  the equivalent of Smashwords for libraries. This may turn out to be something like what OverDrive will be when the big publishers have dropped out of the library market, with the addition of a method for self-published authors to donate copies or for libraries to buy copies of their work and lend it.

From a library institutional perspective, the library would miss the big blockbuster books. But we may not be able to keep those no matter what we do.  What we would get is a lot of popular content of the type that public library patrons read, popular genre fiction of all types. It would even cost less for the library than the current model. It might even be possible to have enough material so that people would have to wait forever for an ebook.

Yes, it would be different from how public libraries do ebooks now. But the future is going to be different. The question is, can we work toward making it different in a way we can have some control over? Can we have a future with a chance at a win-win?

March of the Penguins

This story may sound slightly familiar. Penguin Books has decided to opt out of the Library ebook market. The company is citing “security concerns“, much in the same way that Harper Collins cited the “need to protect their authors” when they imposed the 26-circulation cap on library ebook lending back in February 2011.

The same rules are applying in both cases, Harper Collins picked a date, and any item purchased before that date had unlimited loans–anything after that date was subject to the “Rule of 26”. Penguin is doing the same thing: anything purchased before a specific date, the libraries get to keep (without Kindle lending options). Anything after that date, well there is no after. Any library who has a lot of fans of Penguin authors is going to have a lot of unhappy patrons.

Although most of the focus is on OverDrive, because that’s the way most public libraries get their ebook content and deliver it to patrons, a Penguin statement refers to all library lending, not just OverDrive — and not just the Kindle Lending Library, either.

Random House is now the librarian’s best friend in the ebook marketplace. They are the only one of the “Big 6” publishers that provides new titles and doesn’t cap lending. Hachette Group still allows unfettered access, but they hang on to their new ebooks for a while before libraries get access. That still makes them way friendlier than everyone else in this increasingly cold marketplace.

The irony in this news comes from the survey released last month from Library Journal‘s Patron Profiles. According to the survey data, library users are a publisher’s best customers. Not just because the libraries themselves provide a steady market, but because people who check out books from the library buy more books. And the data says this is just as true for ebooks as it is for print books. This is one of those things that librarians always knew, but it is excellent to see it backed up with statistics.

So, instead of library borrowing cutting into sales, what really happens is that library usage allows readers to find authors they really like. When they find an author they like, they go out and buy more books from that author, whether they are print books or ebooks. Penguin Books has just cut themselves out of that channel for introducing readers to their authors.

Penguin Book Group is the publisher of the Complete Idiot’s Guides. How appropriate.

 

Amazon and the library redux

Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of commentary in the library world about Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library.

Most of the the library and ebook pundits go over the nitty-gritty details of the Kindle Lending Library, compare the extremely restrictive terms of Amazon’s initial foray into lending services with the vast array of library offerings, and pronounce that libraries have nothing to worry about.

ReadWriteWeb warns its readers “not to get too excited” about the prospect of rushing out to join Amazon Prime and tearing up their library cards.

My personal favorite is the post at Agnostic, Maybe that The Amazon Lending Library is NOT the Library Apocalypse. For one thing, the library apocalypse is more likely going to come as a result of shrinking budgets than anything else.

But to stretch the apocalypse metaphor further, is Amazon helping to feed the Four Horsemen’s horses? That strikes this particular pundit as a much more likely scenario.

The particulars of the Amazon deal as currently stated are very restrictive.  However, many patrons think that library policies are very restrictive. I’m not saying that they are, I am saying that everything is a matter of perspective. How many patrons have we lost for life over arguments about 15 cent or 25 cent overdue fines?

Amazon will change the structure of the deal as soon as it decides it is beneficial for them to do so. I would be willing to bet that the one book per month limit is the first thing to go. One book at a time, like Netflix, will make more sense to most users. But Amazon had to start somewhere, and they can afford to think about the very long term. Their point is to sell Kindles and to get more Prime Members. (And now, to win the probable court case.)

What members of the general public have to say is quite informative. Amazon has a lot of mindshare and the lending program has generated a lot of interest. Lending books for no additional charge used to be one service that libraries offered that was not available on the net. It was a counter to the argument that “why do we need libraries, everything is on the net now?”

The Amazon Lending Library publicity means that people know there are other alternatives on the net for borrowing books. Just because that alternative is not available to everyone now, doesn’t mean that it can’t be expanded later. And people who are making the argument to cut library funding will NOT dive into that detail. The sound bite will be enough.

Libraries do lend ebooks, and thanks to services like OverDrive and Project Gutenberg, a library’s collection can be larger and more diverse than Amazon’s, especially since OverDrive was more careful about actually securing rights instead of just assuming it could do whatever it felt like.

But commenters on the Amazon kerfuffle make the point over and over that if a user wants anything popular from the library, they have to get on a long wait list. No one likes that. What Amazon is offering, limited as it appears to a librarian, is available to any qualified user who wants it, right now. The whole point of ebooks is that a reader can have what they want, when and where they want it.

Over on Librarian by Day, a lot of statistics are used to make the case Why Amazon’s Lending Library is Not a Threat to Public Libraries. The problem is that these kind of statistics don’t move people. Sound bites and stories move people. Every statistic is absolutely correct, and it all sounds like “preaching to the choir”. Anyone who is already convinced that libraries are necessary will be swayed by these facts. Anyone who wants to believe that we can all be replaced by an electronic device, or who just loves bright, shiny toys, or who is simply willing to be convinced because they want to lower their taxes, is going to follow the marketing, and Amazon does great marketing.

We can expect that Amazon will learn from the rollout of its lending program, make changes, and improve it, making it more attractive to its users.  But as was asked over at the E-Content blog at American Libraries, “Can we learn from it?

Amazon presents a challenge to libraries, not because this particular service is better than what libraries currently offer, but just because they generate a huge amount of press and they used the word “library” in their announcement. But what will we as librarians make of this challenge?