I’m Crazy for Ebooks

Ebook-related issues are critically important for the future of libraries and rightly demand heightened attention

June 5, 2013


We have made progress. I know this because I now experience the condition of ebook derangement syndrome. In early 2012, the urgent questions revolved around why the Big Six wouldn’t do business with libraries or, for those publishers who did, why the terms were so unfavorable. We really focused on these issues last year and into 2013, land while we’ve made some headway, much more remains for us to do.

In 2012, and with increasing intensity into 2013, our understanding of the larger ebook context developed. Self-publishing, interoperability of library systems for digital content, library as publisher, ebook archiving and preservation, and other concepts became more prevalent in ALA’s work. These issues and others are critically important for the future of libraries and rightly demand heightened attention. But, of course, addressing the basic challenges the Big Six pose remains a priority. There is a necessary balance between two contrasting ways to view the ebook problem.

This third American Libraries supplement on ebooks and digital content reflects this balance. We begin with a review of ALA’s efforts and plans, as synthesized by ALA President-Elect Barbara Stripling, Marijke Visser of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, and Digital Content and Libraries Working Group (DCWG) cochairs Sari Feldman and Robert Wolven in “ALA, Future of Libraries, Digital Content, and Ebooks.”

In “Working Directly with Publishers: Lessons Learned,” Rochelle Logan of Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries (DCL) discusses her positive interactions with publishers eager to place ebooks in libraries. In a sidebar, librarian and attorney Mary Minow and librarian Angeline Nalepa of South Suburban College in South Holland, Illinois, offer some cautionary advice about signing (or not signing) nondisclosure agreements that come with ebook licenses.

We then turn to the larger context. In “Ebooks in 2013: Promises Broken, Promises Kept, and Faustian Bargains,” Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, articulates some of the problems that the rise of ebooks has caused libraries. James LaRue, director of DCL, is a bit more upbeat about the future in “Wanna Write a Good One?” in which he envisions a bigger role for libraries as publishers. Peter Brantley, director of scholarly communication at Hypothes.is, explores in “The Unpackaged Book” the technical and business possibilities of a bestselling ebook. These possibilities could catalyze opportunities for readers and libraries if we can only find a way to get beyond the modest functionality present today in mainstream ebooks.

We concludes with the observation that communication, cooperation, and collaboration within the library community are more important than ever. In “Librarians Working Together,” ALA President Maureen Sullivan, ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels, and I provide a rationale for this observation and discuss how the library community is responding. ALA certainly does not possess all the answers in this regard, but we offer goodwill in terms of working with other players in the library ecosystem.

ALAN S. INOUYE is director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and program manager of ALA’s Digital Content Initiative.



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