Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Corrections: boycott or not?

As you know, last month OverDrive announced an upcoming system-wide circulation cap on certain eBooks, as I posted in New OverDrive DRM terms: "This message will self-destruct". The resulting anger and confusion in libraryland was widespread and strong enough to get mentioned even in non-library discussions. Along with many more comprehensive or more strident posts by others, this obscure little blog was cited around the blogosphere and later, in both national and local media.

While blogs predominantly did alright by me, both NYTimes and the Columbus Dispatch succeeded in misquoting me, the former using my brother's name and promoting me/him to "librarian", the latter attributing text from Boycott HarperCollins as though I advocate the boycott or run that site. That latter mistake is pretty serious. It makes me sound like I was much more radical than I really was, pushing a strong policy position when really I was just looking at the document and what we've already given up with DRM eBooks. (Neither publication linked the blog, of course.)

For the sake of clarity: I have not advocated a boycott and I don't have anything to do with that site, though they apparently read this blog, too. As far as I'm concerned, libraries themselves need to decide what items to purchase, when, how many, from whom, in what forms and under what terms. Libraries know their patrons' needs and their collections best, and their own long-term objectives.

I recommend libraries thoroughly consider the strategic implications of all content purchases up front though, especially where licensing and DRM are concerned. A paucity of attention and a rush to be sexy/relevant/cool has allowed the library community to become unintentionally divided in trying to support different devices, formats, vendors, software, indeed entire content ecosystems that are in opposition to each other, have different sets of content available, different terms, different futures, etc.

As things currently stand, purchasing a certain eBook means choosing sides in device, software, data format and even circulation policy wars. You should know whose side you're going to end up on, and whose side(s) you'll end up de facto against. They might not be the ones you intended.

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