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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Challenges of a Digital Age

Sometimes I don’t think the public in general (including many information professionals) really understands the nature of the technology that we make use of everyday, or the implications of that technology.

Griffey (2010) argued that we are trying to force a print-based conceptual model onto the world of digital resources when in fact the two are dynamically different and require distinctly different treatment and approaches (p. 25-6).

Even when we do shift our thinking towards a digital universe, it seems a basic understanding of the technology involved is still missing. For example, a colleague’s recent class paper suggested that digital resources could reduce library operating costs by removing the expense of maintaining a physical collection. While I don’t doubt that there may be some savings there, esp. in terms of reduced space requirements, this colleague’s paper didn’t even mention the costs inherent in maintaining a digital collection (digital or no, the information has to be physically stored SOMEWHERE and high-capacity servers require much greater technical expertise than basic book repair). Even if a library is not going to maintain its own digital collection, there are serious challenges posed by a library’s leasing access to another’s materials rather than purchasing them as discussed by Rubin (2010, p. 342-3).

Perhaps of greatest concern is this idea that once something is online, it’s forever. While unflattering photos and poorly worded quips seem nearly impossible to get rid of, the Library of Congress has recognized that information that is “born digital” is inherently mutable and fragile thus posing unique challenges in terms of preservation (Rubin 2010, p. 356). Thus, just because we take a collection digital does not mean it is any safer than having it in hard copy, perhaps even less so based on current limitations of how many copies can be made of digital materials based on frankly outdated limitations imposed by current copyright law (Rubin 2010, p. 357).

Knowing the above and yet based upon interactions with colleagues and classmates, it strikes me that even within the profession, there is a potentially massive information gap between the real opportunities and challenges posed by digital resources and the digital world as we perceive it on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, I value an LIS education that focuses on the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of the profession and focuses on service (the using of tools) rather than the purely technical. I’m struggling to define for myself where the balance lies between being a LIS professional and being a tech professional. Maybe I’m creating a differentiation between the two that can no longer be sustained.

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

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

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Copyrights & Wrongs

Lessig’s (2010) article on the need to reform copyright law for the 21st century is both fascinating and terrifying. Rubin (2010) makes some interesting points about how content creators and providers are increasingly using licensing (esp. of digital content) as a means of skirting the rights provided by First Sale to reuse/redistribution of materials.

Griffey (2010) argues that digital content is a whole new ballgame and that it needs a completely reworked conceptualization of copyright in order to both provide for the needs of society and protect the rights of content creators. It would seem Lessig is making an argument for adapting the current print regime to the digital age, and I have to say on the surface of it it’s convincing. I have to admit I like the argument for having content creator’s shoulder the responsibility of registering their works within “five years after a work is published” (Lessig 2010) but I wonder if it falls prey to just the sort of short-sightedness Griffey bemoans in his article.

For example, if I create a research paper and then post my work to a public blog, is it then “published”? Would I then own the copyright, or would I need to register the work? If part of a collaborative project and stolen or otherwise used without my consent prior to its registration, would I have any recourse? Lessig seems focused primarily on books/magazine articles/etc. and to a lesser extent films. What about the range of new media born digital? When is one of these works “published”, or is that a term that can’t really apply anymore? If it can, we need to create or redefine a whole range of terminology before we can even start to re-write the rules.

I agree that copyright law needs to be updated, and relatedly perhaps as a group libraries could find a way to negotiate collectively for some kind of updated copyright rather than trying to make due with ever more restrictive licensing agreements. It seems like someone needs to stand up for the reader/patron/user/etc. who has a vested interest in both sides, content creation and reasonable rules for access and distribution. I’m not sure who else represents a more neutral party.

Griffey, J. (2010). Ebook Sanity. Library Journal (1976), 135(13), 25-6.

Lessig, L. (2010, January 26). For the love of culture: Google, copyright, and out future. The New Republic. Retrived from: http://www.tnr.com/article/the-love-culture

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

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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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