February 22, 2012

Are librarians rethinking their anger at HarperCollins?


From the Damndest Things category: According to Michael Kelley latest column for Library Journal‘s “Digital Shift,”

One year ago, when HarperCollins Publishers implemented its 26-loan cap for library ebook lending, the new policy brought down upon the publishing house all the thunder that the library world could conjure — from petitions to boycotts.

But over the past year, as the library market has been further roiled, as other companies, such as Penguin Group, essentially stepped back from the market altogether, HarperCollins has remained not only committed to its model but also to the market. And for this, it is receiving from some librarians, if not praise, at least a sober reappraisal — even from some of those who are holding firm to their boycott.

It actually seems like a more radical turnaround than that suggests — as we noted in a MobyLives post a year ago, librarians accused HarperCollins of treating them like “benign pirates” with the 26-circ limit, and, as we noted in another report, the American Library Association came down on them hard, too.

Now, according to the Library Journal report,

“We have had no problems to date – smooth sailing,” said Robin Nesbitt, the technical services director for [Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio].  “I’m not sure we’ve even hit the cap – so for all of the hand wringing out there, we have been just fine,” she said.

The Municipal Library Consortium of St. Louis County (MLC), which consists of nine independent community libraries in Missouri, has now changed its mind about the boycott it approved last year.

“A couple of months ago we started purchasing from them again,” said Tom Cooper, the consortium’s president and the director of the Webster Groves Public Library. “The reality on the ground is that it’s more generous than what we are getting from other publishers,” he said.

Of course, there’s another side to this. Library Journal’s anonymously written ”Annoyed Librarian” column provides it:

The lesson this teaches publishers is that they can do anything they like and librarians will line up like sheep. HarperCollins is probably considering right now whether to lower that lending cap to 20, or 15. After all, what are libraries going to do, boycott them? [Gales of laughter from HarperCollins executives.]

Still, Kelley cites several librarians who disagree … could it be that the Penguin deal, or the fact that Hachette and Simon & Schuster still won’t  sell ebooks to libraries, is making librarians re-think their own position on ebook deals with the big houses?

It would be interesting to hear what other librarians think.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.