Hey Authors! Where’s the Library Love When it Comes to Ebooks?

Every time news breaks about a library getting its budget slashed, or a system under threat of being shut down, we see authors from all over the world eager to publicly proclaim their love of libraries. On blogs, on social media, in articles and print, they speak of the irreducible importance of libraries in their careers, their lives, and their communities. They argue passionately for the societal value of the free access to information that only libraries provide.

Such declarations of library love from our favorite authors are not only incredibly heart-warming – they’re essential in our efforts to maintain library service and support in our communities.

In the current struggle between libraries and publishers over ebook lending, I’ve often wondered what would happen if all these authors were to jump into the debate with the same level of library love they show when our budgets are threatened.

Imagine how things might change if enough prominent, best-selling authors were to demand that their publishers provide electronic versions of their work to libraries under non-restrictive terms. Consider the potential impact on publishers’ stances if their own golden geese were to take our side in this argument.

We need the author love! We need it to determine the fate of ebook lending!

And yet… When it comes to the issue of ebook lending, many authors have been largely silent. Even worse – somehow the Author’s Guild has taken the lead in the anti-modern-book-tech-lending movement. A cursory web search for “Author’s Guild ebooks” and “Author’s Guild libraries” brings up pages of articles and commentaries on their suits against Google Books and the Hathi Trust Digital Library – the latter of which especially has major negative ramifications for libraries everywhere. Recently, news hit that the Author’s Guild is now considering similar action against the service 1DollarScan. According to an article posted by Publishers Weekly, Authors Guild’s executive director Paul Aiken released this statement:

If the information on [1DollarScan’s] website is accurate, this is a copyright infringement service. Their fair use defense is laughable… There are differences between digitization projects of 1DollarScan and Google and HathiTrust, but they share this: each is subverting the author’s fundamental right to choose whether or not to make a work available digitally, and under what terms. Though it makes sense for most authors to enter the digital book market, digitization has clear risks. It’s not up to unlicensed third parties to choose whether to take those risks with an author’s work.

This anti-technology and electronic distribution stance runs completely counter to the last several decades of acquired wisdom about the role that libraries play in book sales – namely, that libraries are a major driving force behind the sale of books. There exists no better avenue for people to discover new authors and new works. While much of our data on this comes from print books, the preliminary data we have on ebooks shows no indication that this new format will be any different in this regard. A Patron Profiles survey conducted in October of last year already provides compelling evidence that libraries are driving ebook sales the same way they’ve always driven print.

So how did this happen? How is it that authors can be so vocal in their support of libraries, but their primary professional advocacy organization is leading the charge to sever libraries’ access to their work in electronic formats? How can a decades-long history of being publishers’ allies in the promotion of book sales sudden disappear just because a new technology enters the market that they don’t understand?

Where’s the trust?

Are library-loving authors comfortable being tarred with this luddite brush, one which has the potential to impact library ebook lending in a huge and negative way?

Re-read the quote from Paul Aiken above – the Author’s Guild believes that authors have a fundamental right to choose whether or not to make their work available digitally, and under what terms.

Authors – Libraries need your help!

We need you to chose to make your works available to us to lend in electronic formats! We need you to take up our baton and demand that your publishers provide fair & useful ebook lending terms for libraries! Your readers will thank you, your libraries will thank you, and your communities will thank you!

As Scott Turow, president of the Author’s Guild himself said:

Widespread public access to knowledge, like public education, is one of the pillars of our democracy, a guarantee that we can maintain a well-informed citizenry… Most important of all, perhaps, a library within a community stands as a testimonial to its values, its belief in universal access to literature and knowledge.

Ebooks aren’t just a new fad in our literary culture – they’re its future. Our communities must have the same rights of access to ebooks that they’ve had to print books for over a century.

Our democracy and our culture depend on it.

UPDATE: A few hours after I posted this entry, a friend of mine shared this article on Twitter:

Libraries and Ebooks by Ursula K. Le Guin on Book View Café.

Ms. Le Guin has long been one of my favorite authors and a personal hero of mine. This makes me appreciate her all the more!

Ms. Le Guin – I know you’ll never read this little blog of mine, but I want to take this moment to say, “Thank you!” From the bottom of my ebook-loving librarian heart, thank you for you support of libraries!

“1DollarScan Takes Service to Cloud, Authors Guild Worried.” August 23, 2012. Publishers Weekly. Accessed August 28, 2012 http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/53661-1dollarscan-takes-service-to-cloud-authors-guild-worried.html

Turow, Scott. “Let-Them-Eat-Cake-Attitude Threatens to Destroy a Network of Public Assets.” February 15, 2011. Huffington Post. Accessed August 28, 2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-turow/letthemeatcakeattitude-th_b_823609.html

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