Category Archives: Community Engagement

Re: Freegal and the new “ownership”

From the Thinking Library:

I just got off the phone with Freegal representatives after a lengthy discussion about how I believe that Freegal isn’t a sustainable model for libraries. Even more, I think it’s probably detrimental to libraries in the long run. I understand that serving up downloadable content through Freegal is making our patrons excited – who wouldn’t be?!? Free music (subsidized by the library)!! Here’s some things I’ve been thinking about with Freegal, Overdrive, and copyright to publisher content in the digital world…

See Adam’s full post on the fair-use debate about library access to e-content here.

I agree with Adam that Freegal is not a good deal for libraries since it drives patronage without really supporting the underlying mission of the library. I would OverDrive isn’t a good deal either, though for differen reasons. That said, what does a digital content provision model look like built around fair-use?

Just as he pointed out, why pay for a hot dog (or a song, book, magazine article, etc…) if you can easily get one for free? Digitally speaking, one copy of a piece of content may as well be a thousand copies. Fair-use as it relates to libraries seems to be bound in someways to the limitations imposed by physical copies. Content providers benefit from fair-use of physical copies because, in order to ensure unlimited access to something, a predictable number of patrons will go on to buy something based upon content they accessed via the library. If however a patron can access e-content easily and inexpensively via the library, why ever purchase it? I agree with him that libraries are largely abdicating their voice in the current conversation to the market place and third-party entities. If we do step-up to the table to play a more active role, how do we offer e-content via fair-use and protect the right of content-publishers to profit from their intellectual property without artificially imposing print-based limitations on e-content?

I would argue the way forward isn’t by providing access to popular e-media at the library, for-profit groups already do this better than we do and there’s no reason to compete in an already tight market.

I think there’s a viable model to be found in libraries becoming super-local publishers of patron created-content. I keep seeing bits and pieces all over the web and in various articles about this idea, and there are a few places trying it on various levels (the DOK in Delft, Netherlands, and the Digital Media Lab at the Skokie, IL public library come to mind) but most of the efforts I’ve found so far rely heavily on specialized (read: expensive) technology that I’m not sure is a viable option for most libraries in the current economy. Further, there’s almost no functional discussion of how to do this kind of content creation and collection development doing on, at least not that I can find in the Midwest. People seem to be talking about the idea, but few have concrete ideas of how to actually do it.

I presented at KLA a few weeks back on building collections of patron-created content based on the content patrons are already creating via Web 2.0 social media tools like facebook, blogger, and YouTube. I’m still figuring out the functional details, but there’s got to be a way to harness the creative content our patrons are already producing, help them to create that content, and make the local library the place to collect and share that content. This whole model creates uniquely local content that no third party can take away from us or jack the price up on. Then again maybe I’m dreaming. But I’m still young and a student, I can afford to be idealistic at this stage.


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Giving up the Temple Robes

“Instead of finding things, how about doing things? How about creating localized collections of our most unique stuff and, more importantly, helping our library users to do the same? Watching the Harper¬Collins/Overdrive ebook license limitation kerfuffle leads me to imagine a future where libraries gather, produce, and curate content in ways only beginning to be explored that bypass the traditional author to publisher to library to reader model we’ve worked with for ¬decades” (Stephens, 2011).

He’s certainly not the first person to make this observation, but he’s perhaps one of the biggest “mainstream” names to really start talking about this kind of uniquely local, patron-centered and created collection. The fact of the matter is that resources like, Netflix, Gamefly, etc. all provide popular content more conveniently and reliably than we (libraries) do or can. Further, we may not be big enough fish in the revenue stream for major content providers (i.e. HarperCollins) or even the third-party intermediaries (See Kelley, 2011 on the ongoing negotiations between the State of KS and OverDrive) to play ball with in terms of negotiating access to e-content in a way that’s advantageous to our institutions and mission. It is becoming increasingly apparent that we cannot survive as the “temple of the book” (Neiberger, 2009), and our attempts providing econtent thus far have only been so-so.

And yet the profession doesn’t seem to be taking notice of the changes around us, at least not in a dramatic way. In response to the HarperCollins situation, the ALA didn’t convene committees and research teams to figure out how to survive as relevant, vital institutions without the likes of HarperCollins. Instead, it’s focused on fighting a losing battle with them over content we can’t own anyway!

More locally, I recently attended the 2011 KLA conference, themed “Share the Vision.” While there was some interesting technology sessions, a whole virtual track for professionals who could not attend, and some great informal discussions of the impact of digital content on the field, the amount of e-content items on the agenda was next to none. The only ebooks related presentation was an introduction to the media, not a professional discussion on the nature or value of it. While I met some incredible people and had some great learning experiences, I did not see a “vision” for how libraries to move forward into the 21st century, at least with regards to our growing digital collections and their implications.

Library school doesn’t offer the answer either. My current MLS program, as good as it is and as much as I am enjoying it, offers a single elective focused on community engagement, while classes on traditional reference services and organizational systems are required, core courses. Maybe we are stuck in the past.

As a whole, we are not asking, “what else can we do? What other options exist?” Let’s look to the DOK Library Concept center in the Netherlands who are using cutting edge technology to build the kind of unique patron experiences (Boekesteijn, 2008) that would make Bell (2009). Closer to home, let’s look at Digital Media Lab at Skokie Public Library (Stephens, 2011) that’s trying to do the same right here in the Midwest.

No budget for a state of art media lab? We have other options! I’ve recently started a project looking at how libraries can build upon the social networking and Web 2.0 tools already used by their patrons to create unique content for library collections inexpensively (Howard, 2011). I don’t know how it will work yet, but I know that it is possible and that there are other people in the field who have the experience and know how to make this kind of project work. It’s not a matter of budget; it’s a matter of will power.

As a profession have to give up our vestments as keepers of the book temple and start figuring out how to keep our doors open as relevant, uniquely local institutions. As Hoenke (2011) pointed out, public libraries often have access to local historical and genealogical information that’s hard to come by anywhere else in our communities. Every public library has its own unique set of patrons, community needs, wants, and concerns that the library can help serve! How can we use these resources to once again become intensely local, community based organizations that are of unique value rather than free versions of the video store and where you can also get free help with a government document or a job search? That’s not to say these other functions are not valuable, but in this era of budget cuts and intensifying competition, unless we can dynamically deliver a product or service that no other group or institution can, I firmly believe we will soon be going the way of Blockbuster and Borders – overrun by more relevant, proactive competitors.

Bell, S. (2009, August-September). From gatekeepers to gate-openers. American Libraries, 50-53.

Boekesteijn, E. (2008, April). Discover Innovations at DOK, Holand’s “Library Concept Center.” Marketing Library Services, 22(2). Retrieved from

Hoenke, J. (2011, February 28). Thank you Harper Collins (for making the path forward a little clearer). Tame the Web. Retrieved from

Howard, B. (2011, April). Patron-created content: Building digital collections without fear. Poster session presented at the annual conference of the Kansas Library Association, Topeka, KS.

Kelley, M. (2011, April 6). Kansas State Librarian Goes Eyeball to Eyeball with OverDrive in Contract Talks. Library Journal – LJXpress Newsletter. Retrieved from

Neiburger, E. (2010, October 16). YouTube – Eli Neiburger at the LJ/SLJ eBook Summit: Libraries are Screwed, Unless… Part 2. Retrieved April 5, 2011, from

Stephens, M. (2011, April 15). Stuck in the Past | Office Hours. Library Journal: Office Hours. Retrieved from

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Filed under Community Engagement, Marketing & Outreach, State of the Profession, Technology

Building Relationships, Creating Value

From a recent Library Journal article:

“The collaboration among the Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA), Douglas County Libraries, and Red Rocks Community College Library will allow the libraries to buy, store, and manage access to ebooks on library servers; integrate the ebooks into their catalogs; and provide click-through purchases of the titles from the library catalog” (Kelley, 2011).

Jamie LaRue, Director of the Douglas County Libraries: “As a public sector entity I’m happy to partner with private entities when it’s a good deal for both of us. But I think our constituents expect better of us than…just hand[ing] over public money to corporations on whatever terms they set. We’re librarians. We’re supposed to be smart” (Kelley, 2011).

You can read the full article here.

Libraries can ensure their continued existence and relevance if they are able to define for their patrons and deliver to those patrons those services which are unique to the library and its professional capacities (Bell, 2009). Further, when determining those services to offer and prioritize, libraries must evaluate everything they do by asking the all important question, does this create public value? If yes, is it the best use of available support, and human and capital resources? (Roger, 2002).

Knowing that, what an exciting development out of Colorado in response to the Harper Collins debate! This is the kind of innovation that libraries need to take notice of. What an exciting opportunity to make use of the collection funds available to these two institutions in a way that allows them to further their missions without compromising their ethical standards or bargaining positions, while at the same time giving patrons access to content that would otherwise be difficult to come by! They are supporting regional authors and publishers and highlighting content that might otherwise be lost in the ever widening sea of digital resources available though such goliaths as GoogleBooks and

Perhaps this is the way forward for libraries as a means of building value locally for patrons and content creators. Let the for-profit businesses like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have the big publishers. They’re well suited to distributing that content and they need not worry about licensing issues. A model like this let’s libraries adapt the first-sale principle to a digital environment while still creating value for publishers and authors who have limited outlets for promotion and distribution. If I were looking for a good sci-fi novel (and I always am) and had a choice between a national best-seller and a title written by a Kansas native that was pointed out to me by my local librarian as a great read, I’d take the local content every time! Wouldn’t you?

I’m excited to see what happens when this system goes online in June. This cooperative, linking libraries with local, independent publishers meets the standards set by Bell and Roger. Perhaps, by lending ebooks as if they were real books is an illogical system and this is yet another attempt to force a bibliographic model on a digital one (Griffey, 2010). Even if it is, at least this doesn’t take advantage of any of the parties involved in the process. This strikes me as win-win-win (content creators/publishers, libraries, patrons). How often do we get to do that? When we can, shouldn’t we?

Bell, S. (2009, August/September). From gatekeppers to gate-openers. American Libraries, 50-53.

Griffey, J. (2010). Ebook Sanity. Library Journal, 135(13), 25-6.

Kelley, M. (2011, March 17). Colorado Publishers and Libraries Collaborate on Ebook Lending Model. Retrieved from

Rodger, E. (2002). Value & vision: Public libraries must create public value through renewal and reinvention. American Libraries, 33(10), 50-54.

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Filed under Community Engagement, Content Creation, Marketing & Outreach, Partnerships, State of the Profession, Technology

Library Self-Promotion

Rogers (2002) has told us that continued vitality in public libraries is to be found within the triangle of publicly-agreed upon value, strategic legal and political support, and optimization of organizational capacity (p. 53).

When conducting an informational interview with the Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Johnson County Public Library, I found a program within that institution that seemed to exemplify Roger’s concept. The program is a partnership between the Johnson County Public Library and Corrections Department to facilitate rehabilitation of youths in the country’s detention center and probation programs via literature. It uses both classical and pop literature to promote literacy as a tool for better health and quality of life first and foremost, but goes further to also engage young people in discussions of their own lives, how they can establish a sense of control and security, relate to others, etc.

The program was started as a “grass-roots” effort by concerned judges, corrections officers, and community members who then reached out to the library for tools and expert help. The library has taken this project up with great zest, going so far as to include it as part of the strategic plan as the library shuffles staff to serve three “priority populations/needs” into three specific branches so that all of the relevant professionals and resources can be concentrated in once facility.

The librarian I spoke to was obviously passionate about this program and shared great information not only about the trials and successes of the program itself, but the ongoing institutional and community collaboration that was part of making it a success. The cooperation between the various country governmental entities, community groups, and even within the library itself to meet this need frankly gave me goose bumps.

As exciting as this was though, I wonder today: why I have I never heard of it before? The research I’ve done on the program over the last two days has been fairly limited, but I’ve found no major news stories or community recognition of this program outside of media specifically related to the directly involved parties, and not even much of that. It’s not the lack of recognition that concerns me so much (though that is disheartening), but why not trumpet this kind of work from the roof tops to state legislators and donors alike looking for reasons to support library budgets? Why not promote this program and others like it among the Library’s volunteer opportunities? The library and it’s collaborators are going great work, but they’re not telling anyone!

I plan to follow-up with my contact to ask some questions related to this topic, but it leads me to wonder if libraries that are doing great work, making those all important “value-added enhancements” to their existing services and resources (Rogers 2002 p.53), are missing the final step in adequately documenting and promoting these efforts as part of the value they add to the communities they serve. Perhaps part of being an information advocate then is not just attracting new patronage or developing new services, but reminding people of whats already being done with great effect for the betterment of our communities.


Rodger, E.J. (2002, November). Value & vision: Public libraries must create public value through renewal and reinvention. American Libraries,33(10), 50-54.

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Filed under Community Engagement, Marketing & Outreach, Partnerships