The American Library Association (ALA) today released a new report examining critical issues underlying equitable access to digital content through our nation’s libraries. In the report, titled “E-content: The Digital Dialogue,” authors explore an unprecedented and splintered landscape in which several major publishers refuse to sell ebooks to libraries; proprietary platforms fragment our cultural record; and reader privacy is endangered.
“Broad information access is essential for communities to compete in the global knowledge economy,” said ALA President Molly Raphael. “As more and more content is delivered digitally, we simply cannot afford to lock down books and lock out readers. This timely supplement addresses the need to protect fair and reasonable library access to digital information.”
The report, published as a supplement to American Libraries magazine, explores various licensing models and the state of librarian-publisher relations. Additionally, the report provides an update on the ALA-wide effort to promote access to digital content (co-chaired by Robert Wolven, associate university librarian at Columbia University, and Sari Feldman, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library). The effort includes meeting with publishers, distributors and other important stakeholders; championing public advocacy, and writing position papers that advance practical business models without compromising library values.
“Publishers, distributors and libraries must accept that new models of lending will not look like the old print model,” writes Robert C. Maier, director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, and Carrie Russell, director of the ALA Program on Public Access to Information. “We are not just trying to solve a library lending problem, although that is the current emergency.”
After detailing his conversations with a reader, writer, publisher and bookseller, Douglas County Public Library Director James LaRue also asks librarians to “rethink,” and lays out directions to pursue, including an updated legal framework, new content management models and partnership opportunities with other stakeholders in the reading ecosystem.
“Libraries will have to transform into places that help citizens become full-fledged creative members of their communities, both producing and archiving personal stories,” writes Peter Brantley, director of the BookServer Project at the Internet Archive.
Lisa Long Hickman, sales and marketing manager of Dzanc Books, argues for open lines of communication to enable fair play, and Deborah Caldwell-Stone deputy director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, urges proactive steps to protect library users’ privacy rights.
“This report reflects both the here and now, and what is to come down the digital road,” said Alan Inouye, director of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, and editor of the publication.