News & Noteworthy

Joint Working Group on eBooks and Digital Content in Libraries

John Klima

John Klima, the LITA Representative to the Working Group on eBooks and Digital Content, recently agreed to an interview about the latest update from ALA Midwinter 2020. Watch the blog for more updates from John about the Working Group in the coming months!

What is the mission and purpose of the Working Group on eBooks and Digital Content?

Quoting from the minutes of the ALA Executive Board Fall meeting in October of 2019:

[The purpose of this working group is] to address library concerns with publishers and content providers specifically to develop a variety of digital content license models that will allow libraries to provide content more effectively, allowing options to choose between one-at-a-time, metered, and other options to be made at point of sale; to make all content available in print and for which digital variants have been created to make the digital content equally available to libraries without moratorium or embargo; to explore all fair options for delivering content digitally in libraries; and to urge Congress to explore digital content pricing and licensing models to ensure democratic access to information.

It’s a big charge to be sure.

Can you tell us more about how the group came to be? What are the most important long-term goals for the group?

Again, paraphrasing from the minutes of the ALA Executive Board Fall meeting in October of 2019:

At the 2019 ALA Conference Council iii, the ALA Council approved a resolution calling for establishment of a Joint Working Group on eBook and Digital Content Pricing in Libraries consisting of representatives from ALA, ULC, ASGCLA, COSLA, PLA, LITA, ALCTS, RUSA, SLA and other members to be determined.

There are more than 30 members to the working group with representatives from internal ALA organizations like LITA, PLA, YALSA, ALCTS, RUSA, and more, as well as representatives from outside of ALA including people like Steve Potash from OverDrive, Brian O’Leary from the Book Industry Study Group, and Sandra DeGroote from MLA. That means there’s a lot of smart people together in a room. The group is an attempt to put together representatives of all types of libraries, patrons, and econtent vendors.

In my opinion our main long-term goal is to put together a proposal for fair delivery of content to libraries that incorporates pricing and access that can be used by libraries of all sizes when working with econtent vendors. That isn’t a simple thing, but I’m confident this group will come up with a good proposal.

What is the group working on next?

Right now our co-chairs—Leah Dunn from UNC-Asheville and Kelvin Brown from Broward County Libraries (FL)—are pulling together minutes from our Midwinter meeting which will include a concept for how the group wants to proceed with our charge and what type of deliverables we will provide to ALA at the end of our term. At this time the group is focusing on how to organize itself to best tackle our charge.

Give us an overview of your meeting during ALA Midwinter and the future of this new working group.

Something that I talked about is that since I work in a public library, I don’t necessarily know all the concerns that academic or special libraries face with regards to econtent. This was echoed by people around the table. For many public libraries the Macmillan ebook embargo has a direct impact on providing content to patrons but often academic libraries aren’t customers of Macmillan. For them the conversation needed to be about something other than just one single vendor.

As a group we agreed that we needed to learn what libraries are already doing with regards to econtent that is working for them (and thereby providing a way to share that among all libraries) and elevating the conversation above individual vendors in order to include all types of libraries and all types of patrons/users.

What else should LITA members know about this working group? How can they get involved or help?

I’ll provide an update via the blog each time we meet as a group to provide LITA members with our progress. In the meantime, LITA members can email me with their concerns about ebooks. What is working for them right now? What access do they not want to lose? Are there technological concerns that could be addressed? What types of access do they not have?