I'm sharing a copy of an email that I sent to ALA President Roberta Stevens because I worry about the profession's use of restrictive communication platforms on the web, like Facebook. I recently canceled my Facebook account, and because of this larger decision, I haven't been able to read President Stevens' recent statement on the HarperCollins situation in full (nor can I participate in the "Librarians Against DRM" group discussion any longer).
I don't think an ALA member should have to agree to Facebook's terms of service in order to read news from our president. I also think that librarians at large should understand the dangers of restricting information in this way. Let's keep our professional conversations that happen online out of walled gardens and gated communities and on the open web. I highly recommend this piece (that I also mention below) by friends dkg and jrollins: The Problem with Proprietary Social Networks
If President Stevens responds to my email, I will ask her if I can share her response here. My hope is that she will understand these issues and communicate with ALA members in an open platform.
****Please see the update below****
I am interested to know whether my colleagues also feel that this calls for some kind of resolution to be proposed to the Council--that ALA should not communicate via restricted third party sites that require a membership to view content. If there are librarians who are interested to bring this resolution to the Council, please get in touch with me, or leave a comment here. I'm interested to hear others' thoughts about this topic and to get some guidance about ALA resolutions in general.
Hello President Stevens,
Barbara Fister has again written a thoughtful piece about our current ebook situation. Barbara got me thinking (as she always does--otherwise she's publishing something that I had felt but hadn't yet been able to articulate):
I think the time has come for all of us to step back and ask if we're creating healthy conditions for the long-term survival of accessible knowledge or if, by embracing digital deals with strings to satisfy our patrons' immediate but ignorant needs, we're letting our communities down, badly.
Fister also talks about boycotts, our permanent collections, and library neutrality--all things I think about a lot these days.
Whether you agree that boycotts are a worthwhile tactic or not, there is one argument against the HarperCollins boycott that really bothers me: the stance that we, as librarians, don't matter. It might be true, in an age of conglomeritis*, that we do not represent the largest portion of a monolith like NewsCorp's overall income (who own HarperCollins, btw). As Chris Dodge has pointed out, commercial publications are often only a small part of an overall corporate empire which may include “retail stores, film and television production, and professional sports teams” (See: Dodge, Chris. "Alternative to what?" Counterpoise 2.2 (1998): 11-12).
But to say that we professionally that we are ineffectual, even if we're just claiming this about our buying power, is a particularly sad way to argue for always accepting things as they are, instead of the way they should be.
Just look at what Ann Sparanese was able to do for Micheal Moore's book Stupid White Men. Or what a few thousand people were able to do in my second hometown (Madison, Wisconsin). Or what is currently happening all over the globe with folks who have decided to voice what they want, in the face of how things are or how they have been for decades. It's not difficult right now to see how a unified group can make a difference.
This is not the most important political battle taking place in the world today. Whether ebooks are restricted, disappear or record data about what we read is not the most important topic to all people. But we can make a difference, and now is the time to do it. Choose whatever strategy you like, even if it's just talking about our options, or buying print instead. But please don't support the loss of the right to read digitally, and certainly not by claiming that we don't matter.
*I'm borrowing "conglomeritis" here from Celeste West, a library heroine who knew a thing or two about corporate publishing and its hold on libraries.
Please use these images in support of our work against DRM with the Readers' Bill of Rights for Digital Books.
Defective by Design defines Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) here: What is DRM?
The graphics were created for us by cartoonist and QuestionCopyright.org artist-in-residence Nina Paley. You can support Nina's work and view her amazing and Creative Commons licensed film, Sita Sings the Blues, over at her website.
Update: SVG Files are now attached (below)!
Below are a few examples of current ebook publishers that meet the criteria of the Readers' Bill of Rights for Digital Books:
You get lifetime access to ebooks you purchase through oreilly.com. Whenever possible we provide them to you in five DRM-free file formats — PDF, ePub, Kindle-compatible .mobi, DAISY, and Android .apk — that you can use on the devices of your choice. Our ebooks are enhanced with color images, even when the print version is black and white. They are fully searchable, and you can cut-and-paste and print them. We also alert you when we've updated your ebooks with corrections and additions.
“Libraries buy direct from us and they own the content,” he said. “Once users download content, they can give it out, share, whatever. They own it.” Scotti explained that once libraries have paid for the content, the e-books are available without charge to everyone at these institutions, so there’s no need to repost or redistribute it online. Once the e-book is downloaded from the library, no return is necessary. “Some of our competitors are afraid to do this,” Scotti said, “but we say, free the content.’”
Please leave a comment if you know of additional publishers/vendors that do not threaten readers' rights!
If this website, and our work, became totally irrelevant.
Just think: our whole campaign--the reason we created this website, the reason we're willing to donate our time and energy and why we are willing to confront personal fears of public speaking--could become totally unnecessary.
In reading all the posts and calls for revolution and other bills of rights that have been published in the last few days--about the HarperCollins situation (which I am also thankful for--because it has brought up a lot of topics we can't ignore) and beyond, I've been pretty heartened to think that the future that we want, that includes the freedom to read--in a digital format--might be possible.
Cory Doctorow just posted a great response over on Boing Boing to a new policy that HarperCollins is trying to impose via Overdrive: that access to digital books would expire after 26 checkouts through their online system. Artificial scarcity at its worst.
I agree with Cory's solution to this problem: Don't give your library's dollars to support these schemes. Don't purchase ebooks that have DRM. Period.
I know you've all been waiting for this: comments are now functional here on the site, and our friend the news feed has re-appeared on the right hand side of the page. We're working hard here in the lab to bring some new content and discussion about all of the topics that are swirling around ebooks right now (like lending (approved) books from kindle to kindle? or the "legalities" of lending ebook devices from libraries?). Stay tuned.
We're excited to announce that will be celebrating Open Access Week in conjunction with CUNY Libraries during the week of October 18, 2010.
Our presentation, "The Rights of Readers and the Threat of the Kindle," will be part of the "Open Access - Activism around Emerging Issues in Scholarship" panel on Monday, October 18th in the Brooklyn College Library's Woody Tanger Auditorium, and will be free and open to the public.
Further details on the week's events follow; it should prove to be an amazing week of thought and discussion, complete with a free screening of Nina Paley's wonderful Sita Sings the Blues Wednesday evening. Stay tuned for further updates!
The FSF is gathering signatures to a petition against the ACTA treaty, an international IP treaty the very text of which is secret. Obama has decided its contents are a matter of "national security", despite potentially being a law by which his subjects will have to abide.