A verdict has finally been issued in the Georgia State University e-reserves case (Cambridge University Press et al v. Patton et al). Several publishers were suing GSU over their electronic reserves practices. The judge’s decision is mostly favorable to libraries. Most of the particular claims of infringement were rejected. The case, however, may establish some specific guidelines or safe havens that may not be exactly what librarians would want.
Further summaries of the case:
I’ve been working on a tech timeline (both personal and library) that I thought more appropriate over on my personal blog. Tell me about the technological change you’ve experienced in your career.
ALA Midwinter 2012: I don’t know if this is common knowledge, but a source at Ebsco tells me that Amazon will soon start offering Kindle downloadable content through academic e-book aggregators like Ebsco, Ebrary, and EBL. I didn’t hear a timeframe on this other than “soon.” Obviously, the Kindle program through OverDrive was considered a beta project. Amazon seems ready to expand library lending beyond the public library market.
As it was described to me, the Kindle academic lending would operate somewhat differently than the OverDrive program, which actually redirects users to affect the loan through the Amazon store. It sounds like the academic plan is to allow a seamless and direct load to the Kindle Fire. Other Kindle devices would require download to a computer and then transfer to the device. That procedure sounds a lot like Adobe DRM-protected files, where an e-book is downloaded and authorized through Adobe Digital Editions and then transferred to a registered device. One assumes that Amazon won’t using Adobe DRM. So, what is the transfer mechanism? Just a drag and drop file management process also seems unlikely. So, I don’t know how much all this is vapor ware , but my source seemed pretty confident it would hit the shelf fairly soon. Looking forward to seeing how it works out.
Project Muse is rolling out a beta site that demonstrates their future integration of journals and ebooks. (You’ll need a campus subscription to Project Muse to get to the beta.) The ebook product should go live in January 2012. We can certainly expect the ebooks to be a quality product, like the journals. Muse is collaborating with the University Press Content Consortium to provide “digital books” from about 65 different publishers. According to Project Muse newsletter, the digital and print versions of books will be released by the publishers simultaneously. The ebooks will also offer unlimited simultaneous use and will have no DRM. The files will be PDF.
If the beta site is any indication, each book will divided up into individual PDF files for each chapter. I know the intent is to keep the file sizes manageable and to make each book consumable in smaller bites. I think this actually works in a negative way towards download of books to mobile readers. Does anyone actually want to download and manage 15 different files in order to read a single book? There should be a choice to download the entire book. In fact, I’m rather disappointed there won’t be a file option other than PDF. EPUB would work more seamlessly with mobile readers (well, Kindle excepted).
One of the points I’m interested in is whether users will really embrace a journals-n-ebooks collection mix. I know several scientific publishers have already been offering this for several years. (See Elsevier and Springer for example.) And the great push in libraryland is to develop discovery layers that integrate everything into one search interface. Still, platforms like Project Muse and JSTOR that have done such a good job with providing journal access are venturing into new territory. (JSTOR will have an ebook product available on about the same timeframe as Muse.) Platforms like this have always been a selective subset of journals. In such a selective environment, does it make sense to integrate journals and books? Of course, their users will love these platforms. The user population for Muse comes primarily from book-centric humanities disciplines. They will likely love having more content and having books added to the mix.
The other day, I was at a retreat for my library’s administrative team. We were doing some strategic visioning. I managed to get some of my ideas about collections embraced. Well, actually, they were all pretty prepared to accept a lot of what I want to have as part of our collection vision. In fact, our head of discovery services (cataloging) was pretty quick to recognize the key concept: discovery and collections are one and the same. We spent some time coming up with metaphors for that idea. It’s the yin/yang of the library. Or maybe its a mobeus strip. Collections and discovery on different sides of the strip…wait a minute!
There are a couple of other key concepts to this vision. Discovery is seamless, which is to say all discovery looks the same. There are no separate interfaces. It’s all one interface, one discovery platform (though perhaps with many customization and personalization features). The other concept, however, is that the collection is a hybrid. Some of it is an owned physical collection, some of it is subscription-based, some free, some curated local data, much of it is digital. A lot of it is not owned or subscribed to in any normal sense of those words, but access to it is mediated instantaneously or on-the-fly. Demand driven collections that happen at the point of need.
The discovery mechanism is what allows your library users to have access to information. In this environment, library staff will be engaged in pointing the discovery mechanism in the direction of collections or repositories that are useful. Although I think users should also be able to point it anywhere they like. More to the point, library staff will be engaged as well in creating metadata for information objects that will make them more discoverable, regardless of whether they are already owned or subscribed to. I guess this also means that cataloging and acquisitions are more or less the same process.
I have a running debate in my brain: rent or own? Libraries have been in the ownership business for a long time. You might say we are almost obsessed with containers. In the past, information was only available in containers: a particular copy of a book, a print subscription to a journal. Those physical items sat on our library shelves. In fact, their very physicalness gave libraries a lot of rights that made library collections possible and practical (see the right of first sale doctrine). As we move into an electronic environment, a whole new set of principles and laws apply. I don’t think libraries and publishers have quite worked out their relationship in a totally digital world. It is a time of chaos. Libraries would still like to hold some of those rights that inhere in physical objects. Publishers, however, think different terms should apply. Mostly, publishers have had their way. Digital library collections are largely driven by license agreements that dictate different terms than the ownership model, or the level of ownership is limited or restricted (try interlibrary loaning an item from your digital collections).
But the radical thought I’m having is whether we should give up the notion of ownership altogether. What if libraries and collections staff focused their energies on use? What if our entire raison d’etre was simply to media and enable use? Give up the entire ownership model? This seems especially relevant in a digital library collection. Does it really matter if we own something that isn’t really “anywhere” anyway? This might make some of the recent ebook debates seem irrelevant. No HarperCollins limit on the number of uses your ebook can have before you have to buy it again. You pay for each use individually. This is scary for both libraries and publishers. It can make it difficult to budget for usage. For the library there are no discrete costs; they are behavior driven. For the publisher, they might discover that large swathes of their catalog do not generate any library sales at all. (See Go To Hellman on the Pareto Principle–in fact all of Eric’s recent posts.)
What one hopes is that the as-yet undetermined pricing model is fair to both libraries and publishers. For the libraries, one would hope that the unit or usage cost would be low enough to enable use of a greater number of unique titles at a total cost that was not greater than what we are already spending. Obviously, that is a hard thing to work out. Publisher: “How much money you got?” Library: “$100,000.” Publisher: “Send it to us.”
What kind of math can we use to determine fair usage cost? I think the library world needs to spent some energy thinking about this. Otherwise, the models will be entirely driven by the publishing world. ALA now has a Presidential Task Force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content, but the thinking needs to spread out beyond the task force. It is something all collections and acquisitions librarians should be thinking about and talking about. Collectively, we will come up with more and better ideas.
Just over a month ago, the library world blew up when OverDrive announced that ebooks from HarperCollins would have a limit of 26 uses, after which libraries would be required to buy an additional copy. Librarians, understandably, were not pleased.
Last week another limit to online access took effect. On March 28, the New York Times implemented a paywall. After using 20 articles within a month, visitors to nytimes.com will be asked to take out some kind of subscription. Subscribers to the print edition will have unlimited access. Little mention of this is being made in the library world.
Nonetheless, there do seem to be library implications. One presumes that IP addresses and cookies are the means by which NYT will track users and uses, and that subscriptions will be monitored with individual IDs and passwords. As of yet, there is no model for institutional access.
All these mechanisms present problems for access on public computers in libraries (or even on staff computers for that matter). Will particular computers begin prompting users for subscription or login information? How will we keep track of public use? What will be our response to the angry patron demanding access? It is unclear what will be the best response. Perhaps deleting cookies will reset the usage clock. Perhaps switching to a different browser will work, or moving to a different computer. Or do we tell patrons to buy their own subscription? All of those seem rather impractical in a library.
Yet librarians, it seems, are not very concerned. We typically have other online access to NYT through database aggregations. I would bet, however, that a large majority of NYT use on library computers happens through nytimes.com. We also have print subscriptions, which would entitle us to one online user per print subscription–we could just run around and log on each library user with our one password whenever the paywall kicked in. (Violation of TOS?)
Perhaps more than 20 NYT uses in a month on a particular computer will be rare, but I doubt it. It may be that NYT will quickly come up with a practical and affordable institutional solution. I doubt that too. Better start thinking about this.