Libraries & Publishers – An Open Letter

The American Library Association’s president, Maureen Sullivan, caused a bit of a flutter when she released an open letter to publishers last week. The letter is specifically to three magnate publishing houses: Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin, and their practices regarding ebook sales (or, lack thereof, really) to libraries.

© Irina Zeylikovich 2012 CC BY-NC 3.0

Being relatively new to the profession, I was admittedly baffled that publishers simply wouldn’t sell ebooks to libraries. Libraries were trying to give them money, why wouldn’t they take it?! (Harkens to HBO not offering services without a cable plan, a little.) The Association of American Publishers has called Ms. Sullivan’s letter “disappointing,” but what strikes me is that she makes case that publishers and libraries should have a symbiotic relationship, rather that the somewhat antagonistic one at present:

Librarians understand that publishing is not just another industry. It has special and important significance to society. Libraries complement and, in fact, actively support this industry by supporting literacy and seeking to spread an infectious and lifelong love of reading and learning.

I’d also like to highlight the conclusion of Ms. Sullivan’s letter:

We librarians cannot stand by and do nothing while some publishers deepen the digital divide. We cannot wait passively while some publishers deny access to our cultural record. We must speak out on behalf of today’s—and tomorrow’s—readers. The library community demands meaningful change and creative solutions that serve libraries and our readers who rightfully expect the same access to ebooks as they have to printed books.

So, which side will you be on? Will you join us in a future of liberating literature for all? Libraries stand with readers, thinkers, writers, dreamers, and inventors. Books and knowledge—in all their forms—are essential. Access to them must not be denied.

Now, I may be admittedly biased, working in a library and all, but I’m going to argue that this is a good thing, regardless of where you stand on the matter, and I’m pretty sure my argument holds up if you read the Association of American Publishers’s (AAP) response to Ms. Sullivan’s letter.

The one thing we should all be able to agree on is that we’re in a time of transition, and those are never easy. The good thing about this is that there’s a dialogue that is in a public venue – because this affects more than librarians and publishers, but ultimately the library patrons too – and it doesn’t matter what sort of library it is, we deal with it in our health sciences library, and it is certainly an issue in public libraries. The encouraging part? AAP is inviting Ms. Sullivan to speak to hundreds of its members, as they grapple with working out the “technological, operational, financial and other challenges” that stand in the way of fruitful collaboration. Talk about a silver lining.

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