If you're going to use a stick, you'd better have a big enough stick

Comic Twitter has been alive with the sound of mutiny for the last few days, in response to Harper Collins announcing a 26-time lending limit on their eBooks. In case you've not seen this news, the short version is that the (huge) publisher has somewhat shafted libraries by imposing a pretty small limit on the number of times their e-books can be borrowed, before they need to be re-purchased. (A fuller explanation can be read here on LibrarybyDay, including links to a whole bunch of articles on the subject.)

One of the responses to this has been a call to boycott Harper Collins. There is a special website for it and everything. I can see why people are in favour of this, and it's nice to see some aggression from the library community in the face of a threat. However, this boycott fails on two fundamental levels, in my opinion:

ONE: the stick you are trying to beat the publisher with is not big enough. They can get by despite a library boycott.

TWO: there is no point in protesting about / boycotting ANYTHING unless you are presenting a viable alternative. (Student fee protesters take note.)

This excellent post by Sarah Glassmeyer does the maths and concludes that libraries simply don't make up enough of publisher's revenues for a boycott (which would only ever be partial if it happened in earnest at all) to be a game changer. There is no point in starting a fight if you don't have a chance of winning the fight - you'll end up bloodied, or having to back down.

And as for point two, there is no way Harper Collins would do this without giving it some serious, long, hard, thought. They would also have anticipated an angry reaction from the library industry - and they have gone ahead anyway. Therefore, what are the chances of them caving in because of librarians protesting now? I think you have to put a viable compromise on the table to be taken seriously, not just lash out because it's unfair. The library industry is acting like a wounded animal, when cooler heads are called for. Where is the alternative model for Harper Collins to consider?

Other things that spring to mind about the boycott idea:

  • It doesn't make the library industry look too good
  • As many others have said, you've got more chance of making change happen from the inside than from the outside
  • We've been screwed by publishers for years (I used to work in e-Resources, trust me) so why particularly call for collective action now? What do we do if the other publishers fall into line - boycott all of them? We have a duty to our own customers to actually provide them with stuff
  • Yet again, we are an industry divided. We need to be on the same page to move forward! But I realise that is very hard to achieve.


Just my opinion.

- thewikiman

library euthanasia, twapperkeeper, echolib, and New Professionals Conference

 NB: It's been pointed out to me that the links in this post are not working from Google Reader, for some reason. Apologies for that - while I sort it out, the links definitely do work online... If you are viewing this in Reader, then copy and paste this URL - http://thewikiman.org/blog/?p=473 - into your browser to get a working version! He'll reap what we sow...



A whole bundle of little things in this post, starting with a link to a provocative blog post from the Library Thing Thingology Blog - have a look at this.

The central premise is a quote from a further blog post from idealog.com, about e-books killing book stores. The key part of that quote is this: "If you are for bookstores lasting as long as possible, you want to slow down the uptake of ebooks." The implication (in fact it's not an implication; the idealog blog post explicitly states this) is that we have to make an uncomfortable choice between attempting to slow down the uptake of new technology, or hastening the death of the book-store. Thingology extrapolates this to libraries, reasonably enough, and although it stops short of actually advocating strategically slowing the influx and influence of e-books, the blog post is entitled 'Why are you for killing libraries?' and the suggestion clearly is that we are being complicit in our own demise. It's thought-provoking stuff - I may save my own opinions for an entry to the LISNews Contest... But in a nut-shell,  I don't think we should slow down the technology, as we exist to facilitate access to information and if we can't do that we shouldn't be here. We need to adapt, or die, but quite honestly either of those is probably preferable to deliberately obstructing progress.

Anyhow. In other news, I've been guilty of not using twapperkeeperwhen linking to the #echolib debate on Twitter. When pointing people towards the discussion regarding how to move library advocacy beyond the echo-chamber, I've just linked to a search of Twitter- but this only keeps post from the last few days. Twapperkeeper allows you to archive all the tweets relating to any hash-tag - I'm sure most of you reading this use it already, but I thought I'd mention it just in case... Turns out Emma Cragg has already set up an archive for #echolib, so thank you to her - it has all the tweets on the subject, from the very beginning.

Myself and Woodsiegirlhave not just been collecting comments / articles / ideas on this echolib subject for reasons of idle curiosity, by the way - we're going to run a seminar on the subject at the CILIP Yorkshire & Humberside branch Member's Day / AGM in York on April 7th, so if you're around then do come along; we'll be pumping you for information and ideas as well as presenting our own! I'm hoping this'll be the first of a few sessions / presentations etc on the subject - and CILIP members, look out for an article in Update soon.

Finally just to say there is still time for a New Professionals Conference proposal submission! Submission details are here, and you can read the papers from last year for some inspiration, here. New Professionals, too, has its own twapper archive, for tweets using the #npc2010 hashtag - it is still in its infancy for now but we'll use in the run-up t0, during, and after the conference.

- thewikiman