Battles & Wars

We librarians are in a war for survival but we keep getting caught up in battles.  The battle with Overdrive, the battle with Harper Collins, Penguin, other publishers, the battle with database providers, the battle with Apple, Facebook, and everybody else trying to limit choices/privacy, etc. and we are losing them and losing them badly.  It is time to remember the War.

I don’t know about you, but I am fighting the War to make the Library vital to my community and make the community I serve the best in the world.

I don’t care about eBooks, I am not sure I even care about books anymore except that my community uses them for the moment.  But the writing is on the wall.  If your library is spending all its energy on righteous indignation about corporations not playing fair, and fighting the same battle over and over again perhaps it is time to step back and remember the War.  It is not about books, it is about the community.

I appreciate and admire the people (where do you get the energy?) and organizations fighting the battles, but I am sick of all the kvetching and hopeless hand wringing.  Play the long game, go out there and do something awesome, screw ebooks, screw books.


TTW Contributor: Mick Jacobsen

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11 thoughts on “Battles & Wars”

  1. I appreciate the contrarian spirit of your post, Mick. Libraries do need to more aggressively pivot toward their communities and think about how they can best serve them in the here and now. And a good case can be made that we’re expanding excessive amounts of time and energy in a messy battle we brought on ourselves (“E-Books for all at your Library!”) and a battle we seem to be painfully losing. Hunched down in the trenches, battling for relevancy, it seems at times as though we’ve come to believe the only way libraries can survive is to be a place of books and e-books. It’s a frustratingly bibliocentric focus, to be sure, though it’s our brand. OCLC’s 2010 “Perceptions of Libraries” report found that for 75% of those surveyed, “books” was the first thing that came to mind when thinking about libraries. That’s up from 69% in ’05. We’ve got a long, steep slog in front of us if we want to change that perception.

    While I share your frustration, it’s way too easy to throw up our hands and say, “We don’t care about e-books or even books, dagburnit!” Because here’s the thing: our communities do still care deeply about books and they’re excited (albeit frustrated) by e-books. The “something awesome” most folks want and expect from their local library, what currently makes them vital, is consumable media in all its physical and digital forms. Changing that perception, changing our brand, with little understanding of marketing (raise your hand if your library school offered courses in marketing) to say nothing of budgets for such a thing, will be a long process, and one many libraries, I fear, won’t successfully navigate. Some will. It’s up to each library, each community, to decide.

  2. it’s nice to play the long game, but companies play the long game of stripping communities of identity for decades, pretending that they’re not is also not paying attention to the war.

    i’ve got time and energy to vent some anger and still be a vibrant part of my community. it serves us well to let our communities know when they’re being given the short end of the stick as opposed to when they’rebeing treated fairly.

  3. I live in Sonoma where we are about to see a newly remodeled public library open in March. Our library is a hub for the community. All socio-economic levels use our library. There are public groups that meet in their meeting room, computers that visitors can use to research and connect on the Internet and many library programs for children through adults.

    Our library is an amazing place, itialways filled with people who love and value the information and services available there. Our librarians are helpful, dedicated, friendly and knowledgable.

    Libraries are a valuable part of this community.

    The gift of knowledge and a love of books and reading were the greatest gifts my parents gave to me. Having a place to go that houses books and information is an important part of my world.

    The form that books take is changing. I am part of that evolution and I love books in all forms, from ink on paper to digital publications.

    Long live libraries that are accessible, vital places filled with knowledge seekers and sharers.

  4. People are using libraries as a pawn in the content wars. Stop for a second. There are many reasons why libraries are terribly broken:

    * They’re ungreen. You need to go to them, often by driving. eBooks don’t require that.

    * They’re a big gate keeper. Your librarian decides what you can read. Some are forward thinking but some aren’t. The Internet revolution is about destroying gate keepers.

    * They’re not free. We like to think that, but we pay every April 15th.

    * They don’t have a feedback loop. The ebook marketplace sends more money to the popular authors. If a library buys paper copies of books X and books Y and only X turns out to be popular, book X becomes dogeared and Y gets moldy on the shelf. But the authors of both think they sold one copy.

    * Paper books wear out, get mildewed, and fall apart. The most popular material takes the worst beating.

    * They break the cost feedback. Users think the content is all free and don’t get any signal about how much it cost to develop. They’re less likely to appreciate expensive content because it all looks free. Given a choice between filling their shelves with a trashy romance that took several weeks to write and deeply researched historical biography, they’re given the incentive to choose the cheap content.

    I could go on, but I think you understand. Libraries and un-Internet and the only reason that many people are in love with them is because they think that they’re an argument against DRM or charging for content at all. But they’re not. They’re really big gatekeepered, ungreen collections that are expensive to maintain especially in these digital times.

    If we really want to build community, we should build community and not require it community to be tethered to some book-like things. If a cup of coffee and a danish are what it takes to build community, we shouldn’t drag along the books and all of their baggage just to win some war.

  5. I do some of my best reading in the bathroom … sitting on the bowl or lying in the tub … and in both places I don’t want no dang e-reader : ?

  6. Making, building, sharing, creating experiences, teaching, learning, exploring. To me, that’s what the library looks like.

    http://justinthelibrarian.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/mmppl/

    http://justinthelibrarian.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/ebooks-again/

    http://justinthelibrarian.wordpress.com/category/libraries/make-music-at-the-library-libraries/

    http://justinthelibrarian.wordpress.com/category/libraries/game-on-envisioning-your-own-video-game/

    The teens in the community that participate in these kinds of things at my library are the ones that love and value the library the most.

  7. Mick – This is one of the best approaches I’ve encountered. Thank you for sharing it here. I have been struggling to articulate the future I see for libraries in a post e-book/post amazon world and this sums it so well. My thoughts keep returning to what will be possible for social reading, creation of local and community content and what might just happen when authors start interacting directly with readers.

  8. Hi Mick – I really enjoyed your post and the PLA blog you linked to. You would certainly get no argument from the various media media industries (books, music, movies, newspapers, the list goes on and on) that they feel they are fighting a war. The war is taking place on many fronts, and allegiances are dynamic; Google, for example, is both friend and foe–they are advancing digitization practices and technology, and have been vocal critics of SOPA, but their blatant disregard for authors is deplorable.

    I am personally wary of the future for developing nations and underprivileged communities here at home. I recall the story of William Kamkwamba, a boy in Malawi who built a wind-powered electricity generator after he found an old physics textbook in a dilapidated library. The textbook was donated by a program in the US that redistributes old textbooks after schools retire them. I have a hard time seeing young William in that old library, dusting off an used Kindle, and worry that his epiphany will not even be possible in a future of computerized gadgets and digital content.

    In some ways, technology companies are like pied pipers or venus flytraps–Google hypnotized many of us with the allure of free online storage and fast search results, and only now do we realize they wanted to feed on our personal information. Same goes for Facebook. They are helping to break down old oligopolies, but it seems fair obvious that they are building their own ramparts across the battlefield. On the other hand, they aren’t (yet) fleecing libraries and readers any more than the traditional media industries have done for decades.

    My perspective on this war is a bit different because I write a lot about IT security and am not an experienced librarian. but even in the security domain, the behaviors of high-tech companies are often contradictory. Google is a leading advocate of Web security and has led the way in protecting Gmail users from man-in-the-middle attacks like Firesheep and CookieMonster (seriously!) that steal your cookies. And yet, just this week, Google has been accused of circumventing cookie security controls in Safari and Internet Explorer. This gaffe has exposed the obvious tensions inside Google between their security researchers (enhancing cookie security) and their application engineers (breaking cookie security).

    There can be no doubt that the goals of commercial enterprise are not often in harmony with the principles we espouse as LIS professionals, academics, and aficionados. But even in the fog of war, I believe there are opportunities in sight for libraries and private enterprise to work together and Do Something Awesome. For example, the UC Santa Cruz University Library was one of the first to donate its entire collection to Google Books, but the library also allowed the California Digital Library to digitize their books. I really admire this “why choose?” approach because it leverages Google’s technical and economic strengths (Google is able to digitize books at a lower cost with comparable quality) without compromising the university’s public service mission.

    This is not to say that we should relent in our efforts to combat corporate copyright abuse and media oligopolies. Continued, focused, tireless pressure on corporations and policymakers is absolutely necessary. But, coming back to your comment (and Michael’s mantra!), it’s not about the books, it’s about the community. Our responsibility is to our communities, and if they have a deep interest in e-books, we should be willing to reach across the aisle when there is an opportunity to leverage corporate interests to serve the public. If my hunch is right, there are roses to be discovered in the midst of all the the guns.

    Full disclosure: I received my Bachelor in Arts from UC Santa Cruz and am a bonafide intellectual pacifist. Make knowledge, not war!

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