Category Archives: State of the Profession

Kansas Library to swtich to 3M – Another Litmus Test for E-content provision

As discussed previously on this blog, the ability of the Kansas State Library consortium to successfully negotiate with e-content platform provider OverDrive will set the standard for the foreseeable future for collective bargaining of libraries with e-content creators and third-party platform providers (See the original article on the showdown with OverDrive here).

The struggle for KS libraries (and many others) has been that OverDrive is really the only game in town, making substantive negotiation difficult. That was until 3M decided to jump into the market with a new EBook Lending service (see details here) which the state of KS has decided to adopt as a beta tester (again, details here).

First, I’d like to commend the Kansas State Library for taking advantage of an alternative instead of capitulating to OverDrive’s outrageous rate increase. More importantly though, the library consortium is arguing it can make this shift, with it’s ebook content intact, because it OWNS the content and therefore should have the right to move it where ever it likes.

The implications here are huge. The entire ebook market currently functions on a licensing model, though few consumers realize it. If the state library can successfully argue that it owns this e-content (which the contract with OverDrive would seem to support and the KS State Attorney General’s office sure seems to support the ownership argument) it could set a precdent for e-content ownership for other libraries and private consumers.

The new agreement with 3M assures publishers of the same print-based model of lending as did the OverDrive contract, one-copy lent to one patron at a time. If the Library can successfully argue that it OWNS this content, it may theoretically have the leway to get more creative with its lending of these resources and embrace the potential of e-resources without artificially imposing print limitations on their usage. While unlikely as such “creative thinking” would jepordize relationships with publishers, asserting ownership of e-content is an important first step.

Watch closely folks, the future of e-content is playing out right here in Kansas!

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It’s about interaction

It’s about interaction

“Librarians often envision the role of the library as a community center. Social media allows them to put this philosophy directly into practice…when a library involves itself in social media…it’s going to be expected to interact.” (Solomon, 2011, p. 2).

The most successful service companies build customer loyalty through one-of-a-kind customer experiences that bring the public back wanting more. They build these experiences by actively trying to understand their customer bases’ wants and how they as an organization can respond to those wants (Bell, 2009). In other words, they interact with their customers.

In her handy little volume recently published by the ALA, veteran librarian and social media expert Laura Solomon applies this focus on interaction to the use of social media in libraries. If a library is going to jump into the realm of facebook, twitter, delicious, etc. then it cannot use these tools for SHARING information and conversations as a means to BROADCAST information. In other words, we can’t treat facebook or even YouTube like a television or radio ad. By its very nature, social media is interactive, a back and forth among multiple voices. Too often I watch organizations of all kinds try to force social media to be one more media outlet when in reality it is not an outlet at all. Social media is a communal act of creation and dialog, and if we’re just pushing out information, it’s like we’ve got our fingers in our ears to what the other people in the conversation are saying to us and about us (Solomon, 2011).

A recent Library Journal article on the use of Facebook as a tool for Reader’s Advisory illustrated the difference between interaction and broadcasting brilliantly. The library in question had developed a social media “presence” sometime ago, but only saw dramatic value in that presence with a special project to engage individual patrons in acts of public reader’s advisory via their facebook page. The response was so high they had to shut down the project after 8 hours, but the value of it in terms of building relationships and meeting patrons where they are was evident (Kastner, 2011). Read the full article here.

I talked about this concept of interaction a bit myself with my own recent research project on using social media tools to create catalogable content for public library collections (Howard, 2011). Social media participation means content creation. This is content that is public and communal by nature. Constantly being consumed, reconstructed, recycled, and re-imagined. If libraries can tap into this ongoing conversation, develop ourselves as not just a participant but a valuable resource to facilitate the dialog, then we go a long way to ensuring our viability and value in a digital age.

With that being said, in some ways I think the constantly-creative element of the social media process is somewhat subliminal, or at least beyond easy comprehension. This seems especially true for those of us born on the edges of the digital native generation. The internet, email, facebook, they’re all a daily part of my life and have been so seamlessly for what feels like ages. That said, I am much more like my parents than my nieces and nephews in the way I interact with these tools. I consume media and information from them, like I would a television show or a magazine. I don’t often contribute to the conversation, and when I do it’s often just to put my own thoughts out into the ether and watch what happens (which is what I’m doing now).

Thus I think the challenge is similar for many libraries and for myself. Many of us these Web 2.0 tools every day, but do we really understand them? What else can we be doing to get more out of them, for our own benefit and for the benefit of the communities we belong to? How do we make the leap from consumer to community member?

I’m working on it. Maybe you can let me know how I’m doing.

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

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.

Kastner, A. (2011, May 1). Facebook RA. Library Journal, 136(8), 24-26. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/communitylibraryculture/890008-271/facebook_ra.html.csp

Solomon, L. (2011). Doing social media so it matters : a librarian’s guide. Chicago: American Library Association.

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I am not an information scientist.

I am a librarian. Or at least that’s what I hope to be. While I’m not sure how I feel about the debate between the “Information Paradigm” and the “Library Service Paradigm” (Rubin, 2010, p. 90-94), I do see the debate between a more traditional, service-oriented professional stance and a more technical one going on all around me in classes, blogs, and recent professional debates (see the recent unrest caused by the declaration of the head of the McMaster University Library that he would not hire any more librarians, instead focusing on technical and IT  personnel – Rogers, 2011). This disturbs me frankly, but has generated great debate about the nature of our field which needs to happen if we are to evolve and mature into the 21st century.

Bell argues for creating unique patron experiences and building relationships with patrons as key to ensuring the survival of our institutions (Bell, 2009). While I would argue the longevity of the profession is perhaps more important the continued survival of libraries as places and that the two are not entirely linked, I agree with his fundamental argument which is built around service provision. Service provision is about people, meeting their needs in a way that makes them want to come back to your resource again and again.

I believe that at the heart of librarianship is a dedication to service; to promoting the public good and advancing the cause of democracy through an informed public (Rubin, 2010, p. 105). I guess I’m a classic Millenial, I want my work to mean something beyond a paycheck. Is that such a bad thing though? I feel overwhelmed by the speed of technological change in our society and its implication for our field, but I’d hate to see the heart of service and caring, of education, drummed out of our profession for the sake of technical expertise and perceived efficiency. Then librarianship would cease to be the field I was so excited to join and I’d be out looking for something else again. The question for me then, is how to balance the need for technological savvy and evolution with the heart of service and education that has been the hallmark of Librarianship since its inception? It’s not a question I know the answer to yet, but it’s one I try to keep in mind as I work my way through entering the field.

When all else fails or I’m struggling through my coursework, this phrase always comes back to me and gives me a little push: “Libraries serve humanity” (Rubin, 2010,  p. 409). Amen.

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

Rogers, J. (2011, April 8). This is NOT the future of librarianship. Attempting Elegance. Retrieved April 26, 2011, from http://www.attemptingelegance.com/?p=1031

Rubin, R. (2010). Foundations of library and information science (3rd ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

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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 Amazon.com, 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 amazon.com 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 http://www.infotoday.com/mls/mar08/Boekesteijn.shtml

Hoenke, J. (2011, February 28). Thank you Harper Collins (for making the path forward a little clearer). Tame the Web. Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2011/02/28/thank-you-harper-collins-for-making-the-path-forward-a-little-clearer/

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 http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/newslettersnewsletterbucketljxpress/890089-441/kansas_state_librarian_goes_eyeball.html.csp

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 http://youtu.be/KqAwj5ssU2c

Stephens, M. (2011, April 15). Stuck in the Past | Office Hours. Library Journal: Office Hours. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/communityopinion/889752-274/stuck_in_the_past_.html.csp

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Kansas & OverDrive – The Future of the Consortia Model of Contract Negotiation

Italicized portions from (Kelly, 2011b), read the full article here

The state librarian of Kansas is playing country hardball with ebook vendor OverDrive, rejecting contract renewal proposals that, in one case, would have increased administrative fees nearly 700 percent by 2014…

…A subsequent proposal would have reduced the state library’s administrative fee and, instead, levied (through the state library) fees on member libraries based on the population served. The fees would have ranged from $600 for the smallest libraries (service area up to 1000) to $12,000 for the largest (service area over 100,000).

Yet under the consortia model, when one library or library system (say Johnson County Library), purchases content to be added to the ebook collection, that content is then available to ANYONE within the consortium, not just the library who paid for the content. While this may provide for a larger, more diverse collection, it also means libraries buy content that their patrons may seldom get to use. To pass on additional administrative fees for volume usage without also loosening rules about lending of ebooks to allow libraries to make sure their own patrons get to benefit from the money their library is spending seems like charging more money for the same flawed service, which makes no sense.

OverDrive said the higher fee for the larger libraries in the state would help defray the costs of “product development,” according to Donna Lauffer, the county librarian for the 13-branch Johnson County Library in Overland Park.

“The OverDrive product is difficult to use and so we spend a lot of time explaining how to use it,” she told LJ. “And there isn’t really a competitor to OverDrive…. So, now we’re being asked by OverDrive to contribute money to help develop their products as well as to buy the content. We expect them to develop their product. They should have been developing their product all along,” she said.

Would you agree to pay Microsoft or Adobe more money for the use of the same flawed product for explicit purpose of increasing their R&D budget? Of course not! This is supposed to be the advantage of the open market, competition for business drives innovation and cost-cutting for the benefit of the consumer. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a viable competitor to OverDrive at the moment, leaving Kansas Libraries hamstrung over the content already purchased via OverDrive. OverDrive knows this, hence their attempt to remove the clause of their original contract with the Kansas State Library which requires them to help migrate content to a new platform should the library consortium choose to end the relationship with OverDrive. Fortunately, the Consortium caught the change:

…”It doesn’t feel like we’re at the table out here in Kansas. We don’t feel like we are a partner.”
The question of access may pivot around clause 11.4 of the current contract, which has been excised from the renewal proposals, Budler said. The clause, Budler believes, obliges OverDrive to cooperate in the transfer of content to another service provider in the event the contract is terminated.

“We noted that they have tried to pull this clause, and we will be looking more deeply into that,” she said…

In my admittedly inexperienced view, there are two major things at stake here. The biggest one is the consortium model of contract negotiation. While the Kansas model is not ideal in terms of serving local patron needs with e-content as noted above, from a contract negotiation stand point the bigger issue will be the ability of the state system to stand its ground with a for-profit partner and effectively advocate for the needs of its member organizations. Any individual Kansas library or library system, short of perhaps Johnson County Library (a 13-branch system), doesn’t represent enough revenue to OverDrive to be worth playing hardball with. If say, Leavenworth County Library (a single library, no branches) tried the tactics being used by the Kansas State Library, OverDrive would simply stop doing business with them. Individually, we’re not big enough fish in the revenue stream to effectively advocate for ourselves and our patrons. Only collectively do we have the purchasing power to take a meaningful seat at the table, rather than simply accept the terms offered us or be shut out.

If the Kansas Consortium is not able to effectively bargain with OverDrive and must resort to letting individual libraries fend for themselves, we should expect more price gouging and increasingly restrictive licensing agreements ala HarperCollins.

The second issue is the nature of e-content provision itself. This situation raises the question of what kind of partnerships with for-profit service providers are we utilizing and do they best serve our needs and the wants and needs of our patrons? Can we effectively compete in the popular media e-content market, or do we need to look to another model that allows greater local control and can forego the kind of liabilities inherit in these relationships? There is a serious question as to whether Kansas Libraries OWN the content that has been purchased through OverDrive, or if it has simply been licensed. If the latter, it may be impossible to force OverDrive to migrate that content to another system regardless of what the original contract states.

Perhaps we in Kansas should look to the e-content model being pioneered by a pair of libraries and a group of small regional publishers in Colorado. This system, set to go online this summer, allows the libraries to directly own and service the e-content they lend and supports the regional economy by providing a pass-thru buying system that puts money in the pockets of other Coloradoans, not a third-party platform provider (Kelly, 2011a). The system is still an attempt to force a print-based model on e-content, but at least it’s one that puts content creators and libraries on equal footing.

Looking further down the road, what are our alternatives to the print-limitations being artificially imposed on e-content? A single digital copy of something is effectively an unlimited number of copies. Why treat it like it’s a book? Digital media is fundamentally different than print media (Griffey, 2010). This difference is what part of what makes e-content so exciting, because it effectively eliminates the limitations of physical space and location that are a fundamental part of print media. We are artificially placing this limitation on content to meet the demands of content providers and intermediaries? Let’s get creative here, what new compensation models are out there that let us reward people for their work and respect their intellectual property rights without hamstringing the best advantages of the medium?

Whether you care about Kansans’ access to e-content or not, this debate will have huge ramifications for the field as a whole and will set a precedent for library-to-private-industry relationships for years. Either we’ll be partners at the table, or peons subject to the dictates of for-profit enterprise. I for one hope that Kansas will walk away from the table, keep its money, and develop something uniquely suited to our needs, wants, and situation. Not a realistic solution perhaps, but I’m just a student. For now I can afford to dream.


Griffey, J. (2010). Ebook Sanity. Library Journal, 135(13), 25-6. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/communityopinion/885940-274/ebook_sanity.html.csp

Kelley, M. (2011, March 17). Colorado Publishers and Libraries Collaborate on Ebook Lending Model. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/newslettersnewsletterbucketljxpress/889765-441/colorado_publishers_and_libraries_collaborate.html.csp

Kelley, M. (2011, April 6). Kansas State Librarian Goes Eyeball to Eyeball with OverDrive in Contract Talks. Library Journal – LJXpress Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/newslettersnewsletterbucketljxpress/890089-441/kansas_state_librarian_goes_eyeball.html.csp

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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 Amazon.com.

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. LibraryJournal.com. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/newslettersnewsletterbucketljxpress/889765-441/colorado_publishers_and_libraries_collaborate.html.csp

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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