hearts and minds and ebooks

Like just about everyone else in libraryland in the past few weeks, I’ve become immersed in the HarperCollins ebook expiration outrage known on the internet as #hcod. (That stands for HarperCollins Overdrive, but of course we in the Library Society of the World like to think that the Cod of Ethics is in there too. The Cod of Ethics disapproves, by the way.) (For those not in the know, HarperCollins announced a couple of weeks ago that starting March 7, all ebooks published by HarperCollins purchased through Overdrive — one of the main vendors of ebooks to libraries — would vanish after the 26th checkout, and libraries would have to repurchase them.)

We’ve had all kinds of reactions here. We’ve had sputtering outrage. We’ve had manifestos. We’ve had videos. We’ve had graphics. We’ve had long posts about the nature of print and digital materials. We’ve had numbers run. We’ve had roundups of posts. We’ve had discussions of the news and the reactions and the posts and discussions of the discussions!

I’ve been reading and following and muttering and despairing along with everyone else. Then Monday my coworker had the brilliant idea that we should display some of our “best loved” books — things that had circulated over 100 times, and we got it all together in the course of the day due to a fortunate set of circumstances involving my office furniture getting partly replaced and a table needing a new home that was perfect for a display and a lot of other details I won’t bore you with.

Then I saw some numbers Jason Griffey posted about book circulation at his library. His conclusion? At his academic library, if they applied the HarperCollins ebook rules to the physical collection, they’d have to replace 126 books.

So that got me curious about our collection. Our display was limited to adult books that had checked out over 100 times (there were 220 of those). But what would it be like if I applied the same parameters Jason used?

Here’s the breakdown:

We have 88,680 circulating books in our collection. 23,083 of them have checked out over 26 times.

So yeah. . . if HarperCollins ebook rules suddenly applied to the physical books in our collection, we’d have to replace over 23,000 books.

We would have to replace over one third of our book collection.

If you break down the numbers further, you find that that would mean over 50% of the children’s collection and about 23% of the adult collection. Anyway you look at it, though, it’s still 23,083 books. And that’s a lot of books, and a lot of money. My fiction budget for the year is about $21,000.  It’s generous, but it would not go far if I had to replace even just the adult fiction books in that list.

Griffey and others have noted that, obviously, these kinds of numbers will vary greatly between libraries and types of libraries. Others have pointed out that arguing with these numbers is not ultimately what this argument is about. And I agree with them, to a certain extent.

We are not going to win this with numbers. Libraries are a part of the book market, but we’re pretty clearly not a big enough part of it to make an economic boycott work — and an economic boycott would have the added problem of potentially keeping things from our patrons, which we are not into.

No, this isn’t an economic argument, or a how many circs has your copy of Catch-22 made it through argument.

It’s a hearts and minds argument.

And I don’t mean the publishing industry’s hearts and minds. While some of the individual people involved must have such things, the gigantic corporations they work for, despite their “corporate personhood,” do not.

I mean the public’s hearts and minds.

This is a battle about winning — and rewinning — the hearts and minds of the public. It’s a battle about reminding them what libraries have always done for them. We not only provide information and entertainment — we also preserve it. We made it available to you free not only of cost but also free of licensing agreements, entanglements with corporations, and invasions of your privacy.

We need to remind our public of how we have done that. We need to tell them about how we are currently trying to do it. And we need them to understand what we need in order to be able to go on doing it in the future.

I don’t know yet all the things we will need, but I know that among us all, we do.

5 thoughts on “hearts and minds and ebooks”

  1. To put your numbers in context, it would be very useful to get two other numbers.
    1. the age of your circ data
    2. the total number of circs/year you do.

    (I’m doing some modeling)

  2. Eric, our circulation data goes back to 1995. I’m working on getting some more numbers for you in terms of circs per year.

  3. Even though my post today was not about your post, I think your post is what made me want to speak up. You are the bomb, and you are right.

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