In some of my posts, I have mentioned how I think the traditional information universe is being turned upside down. I thought it might be helpful to provide some examples.
Formerly, publishers and libraries believed they were "on
the same side". Yes, there was some anger from libraries because
books would go out of print too soon or were too expensive, or the
publishers might complain that libraries were not buying enough of
the books they published, but all in all, libraries and publishers
considered one another as friends and allies. The issue of
interlibrary loan was always strained however. What librarians saw
as sharing, a publisher saw quite differently. As a publisher once
told me, "Interlibrary loan? We call that interlibrary theft!" But
for a long time, this sore point could be more or less ignored.
So far as I know, this sore point first came to a boil with restrictions on
interlibrary loans of electronic journal articles, which, to the publishers,
turned out to be completely different from making a photocopy of a
printed issue and mailing it to another library. Librarians
considered that sending a file by email instead of sending a
photocopy through the regular mail was the same thing and it just
saved them time and money. When libraries shared using digital files, that is when publishers got
very angry. The Subito experience that seriously limited document
delivery is an important case. (I have found this to be terribly
complex and won't attempt to summarize it. Here are a couple of documents for those who are interested: http://archive.ifla.org/IV/ifla71/papers/097e-Rosemann.pdf,
Related problems with ebooks has only made the situation worse. Many
of the most popular publishers do not allow libraries to
purchase ebooks at all (which seems to me to be a kind of
discrimination against libraries), they add heavy regulations (limit of 26 loans with
Harper-Collins) or they charge such high rates that clearly show they are not interested in selling ebooks to libraries in the slightest (Random House
raising prices by 300% to libraries) http://techcrunch.com/2012/03/02/necessary-evil-random-house-triples-prices-of-library-e-books/.
Here is a great page from Library Journal that sums up policies:
Even with physical books, things are changing with the ruling that books
printed outside the U.S. are not subject to the "first sale
doctrine" and therefore cannot be lent through interlibrary loan!
Another example is seen with apps being made for mobile computing. With an app and a cellphone or tablet, people can be anywhere and use an Amazon app
to do an instant
price compare. "Anywhere" includes inside a
bookstore, or a music and video store, where someone can do a instant price compare for an item the are looking at on the shelf. It should come as no real surprise that stores do not like the Amazon app. http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111214/06322517083/local-bookstores-call-boycott-amazon-advertising-their-prices.shtml.
But libraries can make apps too, so people can do exactly the same thing to discover whether a specific book or video or music is available for free from
the library and even place a hold on it. Here is a video describing
It looks like a very nice app, but I can certainly understand that
the owner of a bookstore or video store would not like that app any bit better than the Amazon app.
The "problem" in the eyes of publishers of bookstores
is, of course, not so much with the library app, but with the library
itself where people can get the same books, music, videos, and so on, for
free. As long as people in the bookstore did not know they could have a copy for free, it was one thing, but now people have more information at their fingertips and to publishers and retailers, it means lost revenue. I completely understand that but of course, a library has always
meant lost revenue to a publisher or retailer. It is just that technology has made the issue
more vital today.
Therefore in many ways, for publishers and retailers, the library is turning from a friendly consumer into a competitor. And, a
competitor that publishers believe is using unfair methods in many
That doesn't end the matter though: the publishers and distributors have
relations with the creators, and these relations are changing
in fundamental ways as well. The open access movement among the
scholarly community is now well known and researchers are starting
to realize that publishers are not necessarily their friends, that
is: what is good for the publisher may not be good for the creators.
University presses are having a very difficult time of it and are no
longer seen as the only option, or even the most effective option, for scholars to communicate with
their colleagues. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jep/3336451.0013.209?rgn=main;view=fulltext
In fact, the creators are beginning to rebel against the traditional
methods. The example of the Elsevier boycott is very telling http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/02/elsevier-boycott-not-a-petition-but-a-declaration-of-independence/,
but the publishers have their own agendas as well, as shown from
this bit of news: Apple apparently refused to publish this person's book in digital
form because it had links to be able to buy books at Amazon.com, a competitor of
Finally, new writers now have other outlets that several
prefer to the traditional routes of publishers http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/mar/04/self-publishing-ebooks-rachel-abbott.
The response of publishers has so far been to try to retain the
control they have always had, but everything is changing no matter
how much they try to stop it. Since creating a copy of something is so
incredibly easy--once it is electronic--plus the fact that the
way the Internet works is based on creating exact copies of files, it
has turned out that the value of the copy itself has decreased to where it
is practically worthless. Nevertheless, publishers continue to try
to maintain control over the copy (copyright). It seems to me that
the only solution for some publishers would be to shut down the
Internet! That is not going to happen (at least I hope not!) so if
publishers are to survive, they must find other ways, but they
insist on trying to maintain their traditional control over copies.
This serves neither the customers nor the creators. I won't try to
predict the future, but I don't think this situation can go on
There is one more development I would like to point out: more people
seem to be aware of the consequences of online tracking which is the very basis of most search engines and information companies. The concept that everyone is beginning to live within what is called a "filter
bubble" is becoming generally known, especially after Eli Pariser's book "The Filter Bubble" and his excellent TED
talk http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html. Now there is even a new web search tool with the unfortunate name
"DuckDuckGo" (I find it embarrassing to even type it) but it claims
to return results based on no tracking. http://duckduckgo.com/.
Google responded to all of this after DuckDuckGo came online. It makes for a very interesting discussion. http://www.seroundtable.com/google-search-bubble-response-13591.html.
If librarians are to remain relevant to their communities, they must
rediscover what it is they really do. The information universe is in
a state of intensive change in the areas of search and information
creation, and libraries cannot be serious players in those realms. They can only sit back and watch. I think publishers must also rediscover what it is that
they really do.
For libraries, part of this rediscovery will be to
learn who our friends and allies really are today. As we see
from the examples above, the public seems to be exploring several
questions: whether publishers are really and truly on their side,
whether what Google and the search engines provide is good or bad
Librarians have a lot to say about precisely these matters. They provide help the members of their communities in many ways and are still a
trusted voice. There seems to be a huge opportunity to demonstrate
the value of library values today. And it may even be appreciated!