January 30, 2013
The reason why publishers won't ever supply ebooks to public libraries
The reason why publishers won't supply ebooks to public libraries is because libraries insist on having marc records and their own catalogues
I am in correspondence with colleagues in the United States about why libraries seem to be in mortal dispute with publishers about ebooks there
The answer - to me - is clear . While to every member of the public it would be obvious that they would cooperate and promote the work of authors and their titles - the reality is that they behave as if they came from different planets in opposition to each other
The symptom of their mutual lunacy is that they operate different cataloguing systems- which means that they have to intermediaries who interpret for them - and those intermediaries survive because of the differences and have no desire to resolve them
And - in the end- that is why publishers won't supply libraries with ebooks
It is the same in the UK
And it will destroy the public library service in both countries in the next decade
Posted by Perkins at January 30, 2013 8:17 PM
A little simplistic, perhaps, but a tenable argument nonetheless, and one that is supported by my personal experience with public library ebooks, in that I find the vendor's Overdrive app to be a superior discovery tool to the library's own catalogue (MARC records and all). Another barrier I see is libraries' insistence on interlibrary loan of ebooks - what does that even mean in a digital environment?
Posted by: Skeptical Librarian at January 31, 2013 7:26 PM
University libraries don't seem to be having this hassle. Academic publishers have ebook pricing models, with students accessing directly from the publisher's site (after some form of authentication). The titles are indexed in the university's catalogue.
Is there something I'm not getting?
Posted by: Curious at January 31, 2013 10:33 PM
That sounds nutty. Could it really be as simple as figuring out how to get ebooks into our catalog on our own? I am curious, where did you get your information from? I would like to read more about this.
Posted by: Susan Asplund at February 1, 2013 7:44 PM
Despite watching John Dolan and Alan Gibbons gamely defend libraries against the onslaught of ebooks, ereaders and downloads (let us not forget Amazon, which is now become virtually a quaint and traditional part of life) by stressing childrens' ongoing interest in reading, there is still little doubt left in my mind that libraries are continuing to hurtle headlong into the abyss, partly (as Tim says) because they have different backroom/cataloguing systems, partly because they're becoming volunteer-driven and partly because they're just plain being left behind because of the ossified attitudes of library management, CILIP (who desperately need an injection of some form of corporate Viagra) and the utterly pathetic SCL.
So when wee Jimmy from Maryhill or elsewhere goes into his library and asks for a book via inter-library loan, I fear that either the system will not deliver it at all because it's too complicated for the volunteer properly to understand, or by the time it's delivered, wee Jimmy has already bought or downloaded his book from Amazon.
The public is far more impatient, demanding and web-savvy than it was; and any organisation (like HMV, who thought online sales were a temporary fad) that ignores this does so at its peril!
And perhaps a confession or three! I haven't used libraries much for years. It's far easier and quicker for me to buy cheaply and easily from Amazon, Waterstones or my local Oxfam bookshop. I don't pretend to have much knowledge about ebook lending/publishing, but as an author (yay!) I don't particularly see why I should allow my hard-earned work to be given away for free to an organisation (libraries) which cannot even put its own house in order. And the last time I did go into a library was on a specific errand - to find book groups in Glasgow for my publisher, NOT writers groups. I specifically said that to the library assistant on duty. That I was asking about book groups not writers groups. She looked straight back at me and asked if I meant writers groups...
Not exactly a great example of customer service.
Like HMV, if libraries don't keep ahead of the game, they will become outmoded and fail. Darwin's laws may not be nice, but they're at least honest, and when I see (and continue to see) a library service staffed by volunteers (or the thick, paid assistant described above), with overcomplicated cataloguing systems leading to slow or unresponsive service, and no real voice or vigor of its own, then I remain sceptical.
The picture, I would say in fairness, is not altogether black. There are positive things happening out there, which keep Alan Gibbons (and hopefully myself) in a job.
But remember, remember, the children you just lauded on the BBC... They're more and more computer-literate at a younger and younger age. They have their iPads, their Apps and their Tablets, and they will not wait for you!
Posted by: James Christie at February 9, 2013 10:05 AM
Ummm. So I'm just a random bibliophile. I'm failing to grasp what you're saying here. Except that publishers have their own cataloging system.
Why would they care if others catalog their stuff differently?
Who are these 'intermediaries'?
Why would this destroy the public library system(s)?
Posted by: anonymouse hero at February 19, 2013 5:49 PM
To 'anonymous hero'
There is a national cataloguing operation into which all publishers supply information about their titles. It is then reviewed, edited and amplified, or even corrected by expert bibliographers and then it is used by all retailers, reviewers and various national databases. In the UK it is operated by Nielsen and in the US the main source is operated by Bowker. Most of the bibliographers are professional librarians
For the purposes of most consumer books and public libraries the information it contains is perfectly adequate to do the job. For academic and professional libraries there is a need for more detailed analysis
Books are classified in 'BIC standard categories' which have been created with the cooperation of librarians
Nowadays it is communicated in Onix files which are used by all the distribution systems in the book industry
There is no need for any public library to revise these databases or create catalogue material of their own - let alone for 200 authorities to create their own bibliographic data - nor is there any need for them to reclassify material.
If all public libraries would accept standard classifications and use onix feeds; and if all public libraries would use identical 'processing' of books - rather than operating 200 different processing 'specifications' then there would actually be need for library suppliers or bibliographers.
Pulbishers' own distribution systems could create library ready books, if they were the same for every authority
We would save the vast cost of many warehouses and distribution networks and all the systems that operate within them
We would also save all the bibliographic costs and most of the processing costs that still go on library service back offices
In fact it would only be one further small leap to realise that most of the horrendous cost of 'inter-library loans' could be eliminated if libraries simply bought a new copy of any book that was ordered - in 95% of the cases that would work perfectly well and much more cheaply than what happens now
Part of what has destroyed the public library service is the barrier that lies between publishers and libraries - and the cost that is incurred in the the immensity of those walls that lie between them .. and these are because the operating systems of librariies and those of the rest of the book industry are so different
Librarians have been taught to believe that they can specify processes and systems to suit themselves without ever realising the immense cost of what they ask for . One only has to visit the processing line at Askews to watch how every single book has to be processed differently to the one before it and differently to the one after it - to realise how totally ludicrous the supply chain for public libraries is,
Posted by: perkins at February 24, 2013 4:26 PM