ALA in NYC (Part 1): Working together, sharing solutions

Last week, OITP Director Alan Inouye and I escaped the DC swamp momentarily for a trip to NYC. We accompanied the Digital Content Working Group (DCWG) co-chairs Carolyn Anthony and Erika Linke, ALA President Julie Todaro and President-elect Jim Neal as part of ALA’s DCWG leadership contingent that meets periodically with publishers in New York City. ALA started these meetings several years ago, initially to convince trade publishers to sell e-books to public libraries. Since that time, public libraries can buy e-books, but there are still ongoing conversations with publishers about business models, contract terms and prices as well common interests and potential collaborations.

ALA representatives in front of Brooklyn Public Library door

Left to right: Julie Todaro, Carrie Russell, Erika Linke, Jim Neal, Carolyn Anthony Photo credit: Alan Inouye

During this trip, we met with representatives from Penguin Random House and Hachette Book Group. We discussed e-book prices and audio books as well as the health of the publishing market. In general, library e-book sales have remained stable, print sales have gone up and audiobooks have skyrocketed. We also discussed hybrid business models and the reasons why publishers were not ready to offer more than one model. New aggregator platforms are coming to the library market, and some platforms do not have the capability (yet) to serve up more than one model. Of note, Hachette Book Group has recently acquired Perseus Book Group, a large mid-size trade publisher, and is working through that transition.

The ALA delegation also met with Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) leadership at their Central Library. Hosted by Director and Chief Librarian Lisa Rosenblum, our meeting also included BPL President & CEO Linda Johnson as well as two members of their Board of Trustees and senior staffers from around the Library. Our tour of the facilities and the subject-specific centers was the highlight of the trip for me. (My next blog post will describe a lot of exciting things that Brooklyn Public is doing to engage and help the community!)

During our meeting with the senior staffers, we learned more about the Brooklyn community and how the library and its 60 branches are serving them. Linda Johnson said “Our mission is literacy, in the broadest sense of the word.” One focal point, however, was the future and the improvement of the infrastructure at both the Central Library and the branches. The hallmark of renovation plans must be flexibility, given how libraries are evolving, and the path of change is far from certain. ALA provided updates on several initiatives, including the new ALA Book Club Central and our work on national public policy and lobbying. We found the meeting to be quite useful in getting a better appreciation for the priorities, needs and perspectives of a large, urban library system—essential as Washington enters into discussions about a possible infrastructure bill (given libraries’ vital role in our nation’s digital infrastructure by providing internet access) and repealing/reforming the Affordable Care Act. With major changes in the program, people will come to the library for help.

busy street in New York City

Photo credit: KelliParker369

In addition, we met with the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) staff, who have moved into their new building under renovation. (Grab a hard hat and keep your coat on – no heat after 4 pm.) METRO is a membership based non-profit that serves all types of libraries in the five boroughs of NYC in addition to Westchester County. The issue of space came up again as Director Nate Hill reiterated the need for flexible space. Particularly in New York City, space is at a premium, and you have to make the most out of what you have. METRO will offer new production services and programs to its members.

Another important meeting was with staff and members of the board of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and its new executive director, Brian O’Leary, a well-known publishing consultant. BISG’s mission is “to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry.” They are the problem solvers: through standards development or other collaborations with the book industry and libraries, they identify glitches in the supply chain from the publishers, intermediaries and libraries and then collaborate with these communities to fix problems. Fixing problems depends on “shared solutions,” so collaboration among the players is vital. With an ambitious schedule before them, ALA can expect to see more programs, research and helpful products such as BISG’s recently published BISG Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing. There is also a greater opportunity for ALA to partner with BISG.

So many projects and new developments, and so little time and resources! The New York City trip was a bit of a whirlwind, especially when I was trying to meet the airport shuttle at my hotel in an insanely short period of time. But I made it—back to the swamp.

About Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the Director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Office for Information Technology Policy. Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books and other public policy issues. She has a MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a MA in media arts from the University of Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at crussell@alawash.org.

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