ebooks, then and now

In doing some blog maintenance today, I found this draft from a year or so ago that for some reason I never published. While things have gotten somewhat better on the ebook front — more publishers are willing to sell to us, albeit often at extortionist prices and conditions — and certainly the process of downloading an ebook is miles better than it was when we first started offering them. But ebooks in libraries are far from the frictionless experience Amazon offers and will be forever, probably, and so the post still seems sadly relevant to me.

I tell them that it will get better. I apologize for not being able to deliver awesome service this way, the same way we can in other ways.

Rochelle Hartmann, Tinfoil + Raccoon, December 2010

Rochelle wrote those words about the situation with ebooks in public libraries a year and a half ago, which is approximately a decade in library tech time. Back then, perhaps we did think it would get better. Or perhaps Rochelle was putting on a brave face for the patrons, trying to be positive in the way we’re told we should if we are leaders.

Of course, it hasn’t gotten better. Not really.

Oh sure, you can read many (although not all) Overdrive ebooks on Kindles now (supposing that you are okay with being routed through Amazon — with all the attendant privacy problems that creates — in order to do so). There are many thousands more ebooks in the Wisconsin ebook catalog (11,911 in Adobe ePub format when I just checked; about 2900 ebooks are currently available to check out).

But if you work in a public library that contracts with Overdrive, you know that it will likely be a cold day in hell before we can “deliver awesome service this way, the same way we can in other ways.” Most of the Big Six publishers won’t sell their books to us as ebooks at all, or they’ll only do so for limited numbers of checkouts, or they’ll only do so at greatly inflated prices. None of them will let us loan their books unless we load them down with unwieldy digital rights/restrictions management software. Device makers won’t free up proprietary formats.

You thus find yourself more often than not saying to a patron, “Well, yes, that device might work with our ebooks, and there might be some ebooks available for you to check out.” But mostly you spend a lot of time attempting to explain the publishing industry to them, and file formats, and software requirements. Essentially, there’s a pretty good chance that if a patron asks about ebooks, what you’re going to have to tell them is no.

No, you can’t get ebooks from the library even though you have a card here, because you don’t actually live in our city limits.

No, you can’t get that ebook from the library on your Kindle because it’s not available in Kindle format.

No, you won’t be able to get that book from the library till probably next year some time, after it moves to the publisher’s backlist.

No, you can’t get that as an ebook through the library at all, because that publisher won’t sell to us. Yes, I know it says right there on Amazon that it’s available, but we can’t actually buy it and loan it to people.

It’s depressing. It’s discouraging. It’s not why I became a librarian, and I doubt it’s why any of you became librarians, either.

Sarah Houghton is breaking up with ebooks. Some of us never wanted to date ebooks in the first place. But breaking up with them now isn’t as easy dumping a bad boyfriend. For most of us, it’s going to be more like a long, drawn out divorce, the kind with property disputes and bankruptcy filings and custody battles.


open access rocks; Lambert Academic Publishing does not

Last April, after discovering that I could, I decided to add my MFA thesis to Iowa Research Online, the institutional repository at the University of Iowa, where I got my degree. For good measure, I slapped a Creative Commons license on it (and was told that I was the first person ever to request one at Iowa). I did all this not so much because I think you should read my thesis as because I believe in open access and I want to support it however I can. Iowa instituted its open access policy (since amended with various opt-outs) requiring the electronic deposit of theses and dissertations after I left, and I’ve written before about why I felt most of the outrage about it was hypocritical at best. The people who don’t want to make their theses open access are often the very same people who get snitty about why can’t they just make a bunch of copies of a New Yorker essay for their class. I rest my case.

Since I added it to the IR, it’s been downloaded 38 times, which is rather more than the one time the physical thesis has been checked out, so if my goal were to increase my readership, it’s certainly the way to go.

As I learned the other day, though, it’s also clearly the way to go if you want to get academic spam. Like many people out there (just look at the comment thread on that post, or heck, just Google Lambert Academic Publishing), I, too, was targeted by an academic vanity press with pretensions of scholarly greatness. I reproduce the full email below:

Dear Laura Crossett,

While researching dissertations and theses listed on the University of Iowa’s electronic library for publication, I became aware of the paper you submitted as part of your postgraduate degree, entitled “Encounters with dead white men and other excursions”.

LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing is an academic publisher, which specializes since 2002 in the publication of high quality monographs, master theses, diploma theses, dissertations and postdoctoral theses from renowned institutions worldwide.

I am therefore inquiring whether you would be keen on publishing your academic work with us.
In other words, we would make your work available in printed form and market it on a global scale through well-known distributors at no cost to you.

I would appreciate if you could confirm your interest with a reply email and we will send a detailed brochure to you.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.

With regards,

David Daniels
Acquisition Editor

LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing is a trademark of:
OmniScriptum GmbH & Co. KG

Heinrich-Böcking-Str. 6-8,
66121, Saarbrücken, Germany

d.daniels(at)lap-publishing.com / www.lap-publishing.com

Handelsregister Amtsgericht Saarbrücken HRA 10356 Identification Number (Verkehrsnummer): 13955 Partner with unlimited liability: VDM Management GmbH Handelsregister Amtsgericht Saarbrücken HRB 18918 Managing director: Thorsten Ohm (CEO)

I was tipped off by the mere phrase “academic work.” One can only assume they did not read my thesis very closely, since, although it was submitted as part of an academic degree, it is a creative work, not an academic one. I am also not interested in publishing it: I already have published it. You can download it for free or borrow it through interlibrary loan. If you want to support my work as a writer, you can buy my book. I would suggest, if you are the recipient of a similar email, that you delete it, ignore it — or, better yet — put it out there for all the world to see. We escape scams through constant vigilance. Together, we can do it better.

an open letter to the Edwin Mellen Press

I should have written this a long time ago. My delay comes not from hesitation or indecision but from illness, and for that, I apologize. My thoughts may be late in coming, but they are no less sincere.

I am a librarian. My father, John M. Crossett, was a Classics professor. He was also, albeit not until after he died, an Edwin Mellen Press author. The Press published the Festschrift his former students and colleagues compiled in his honor and later the translation and commentary of Longinus’s On the Sublime that he did with James A. Arieti. Although I have been in touch with many of the people involved in both publications, the words and opinions here are my own.

Dale Askey is also a librarian. Several years ago, he published a blog post critical of the quality of the scholarship and books put out by Edwin Mellen Press. The blog post has since been removed, but Edwin Mellen Press sued both Askey and his current employer. Mellen has now dropped at least one of those lawsuits, citing, among other things, “social media pressure,” and, among others, that it is “a small company” and “must choose its resources on its business and its authors.”

I signed a petition asking Mellen to drop the lawsuit.

I know, at least by name and reputation, many of the people involved in the social media pressure, although I also know there are many more.

Librarians, like many professionals, are often quick to spring to the defense of one of their own, and we have done so in this case — the case of a man in trouble for having an opinion.

My father was a man of many opinions. Many of those opinions made him unpopular in the times and places that he taught. But his ideas — in the form of those who did admire him — found a home at Edwin Mellen, and I am grateful to the Press for that. My copy of Hamartia, inscribed by its editors to me, is one of my most cherished possessions.

There are few things my father and I would have agreed on (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, gay marriage, abortion, and the Western canon spring immediately to mind as points of divergence). But I believe that he would agree with me on this one thing: a lawsuit is no way to respond to criticism. The proper response in a scholarly community to a disagreement is not to sue to but to argue. Make your case. Support your argument with examples from the text, from critics, from experts, from data.

John Milton, one of my father’s favorites, one of mine, and, I daresay, one of yours wrote

For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlesse warinesse be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life.

Mellen has made a promise to keep all its books in print, and it has done so, thus preserving some life-blood that is quite precious to me, but I am just me. The quality of Mellen’s books as a whole, their place in libraries, and their contributions to scholarly discourse I leave for others to judge — I am a public librarian, not an academic. But as I judge books by their contents, I judge men and women by their characters. Dale Askey had the courage to voice an opinion. Edwin Mellen Press, on the other hand — you had the cowardice to try to shut that down. You believe Dale Askey tried to kill a good book, but he did not. He burned nothing; he destroyed nothing. You, on the other hand, are attempting to kill off the voice of a man. No one who claims to work in the tradition Milton defended, no one who “remains resolute that all have the right to free speech,” has any right to shut down a disagreement with a lawsuit — not, at least, if they wish to be found to be of good character.

patron schools reference librarian

Today a patron asked for “the phone numbers for some periodicals.”

I Googled (because hey, that’s how I find phone numbers) and discovered that both the titles I’d been given were for catalogs. I wanted to make sure that’s what she wanted so I asked a few questions. “Is this a magazine or a newspaper? It looks as though Newport News is actually a catalog.”

“Is that what you call it?” the patron said. “Catalog, magazine — they’re all the same. Essence is like a catalog anyway.”

Catalog, magazine — they’re all the same. This is the point where I think of my academic librarian friends beating their heads against the wall trying to figure out how to explain the difference between a magazine and an academic journal (not to mention the difference between a journal and a peer-reviewed journal), and also the point where I start to despair for the American public. Really? Catalogs and magazines are just the same thing? Gah!

Then I started to think about it. Lucky, after all, is from what I understand basically a magazine about shopping for stuff. Many magazines have more advertisements than they do articles. Then I was reading this little bit of the preview of The Science of Yoga on Amazon:

The colorful pages of the magazine offer a vivid example of how companies target the demographic. Hundreds of ads promote skin-care products, sandals, jewelry, natural soaps, special vitamins and enzymes, alternative cures and therapies, smiling gurus, and ecofriendly cars. Each issue features an index to advertisers.

Sometimes the patron actually may know more than we do.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t still try to differentiate between different kinds of information. But we live in a world where those lines are very blurry, a world where almost everything is for sale, a world where we are all a target market.



When I was sixteen years old and a sophomore in high school, I desperately wanted a copy of the new They Might Be Giants album, Apollo 18. My difficulty was that I did not have any money for buying new CDs or tapes, and the album wouldn’t be showing up in the used bins at the Record Collector for a few more years. (It was around this time that the music industry was making its first attempts to control the brave new digital world. They had launched a campaign wherein various recording artists attempted to tell you not to buy used CDs because it took money away from musicians. Sound familiar? The Record Collector had a big cardboard cutout of Garth Brooks telling us kids not to buy used CDs standing in its doorway. They were into irony in marketing.)

This was back in the dark ages, when we did file sharing via cassette tape. I knew of one person who owned the album. He was in a couple of classes with me, and I had a huge crush on him, so I was always looking for excuses to talk to him. Asking a guy you had a crush on to dub an album for you was a little risky. Asking people other than your best friends to dub albums for you was generally kind of pushy. The ideal thing to have happen was to say, “Oh, man, I’ve been wanting to hear that” and have someone offer to dub it for you. I had tried this tactic without success, probably because this was not a reciprocal crush. But I really wanted the album (and I really wanted an excuse to talk to the guy), so I asked. And he did, grudgingly, make me a dub on the tape I gave him. My recollection was that it came back to me without a track listing, though (see again the grudging part), and so I had to go to the record store and write down all the tracks in my notebook while trying to avoid the gaze of the clerk, who generally didn’t non-customers taking up space in the narrow aisles.

I still have almost all of my cassette tapes. Some were gifts or were purchased new; many were purchased used, and many are dubs or mixes. Some of the mixes are dubs of mixes, in fact, or mixes made up of what we would apologetically say to one another were dubs of dubs. “Sorry about the volume on that one song. It’s a dub of a dub.” Or sometimes even a dub of a dub of a dub. You lost sound quality, but you got music, and it was music that I cared about.

I also recorded things off the radio and, very rarely, from the library, although in the latter case I only ever recorded individual songs, not whole albums. I had some weird ethics in my head whereby recording a single song from an LP (the library still had LPs) was okay, but recording a whole album was theft. I am aware that the music industry and the legal system do not view things in quite that light.

I still listen to those tapes, and to the LPs I got from various family members when they decided to upgrade to CD at various times in the 1990s. I have some tapes I got from my friend’s roommate who had met some guy and was moving to Boston and shedding various possessions before the trip. (She’d also had a huge party and had lots of leftover alcohol which she encouraged us to drink — free music and free beer!) I also have a lot of music, in various formats, that I’ve purchased in the years since. This is how I get most of my music nowadays, actually: I buy it.

But I also still share stuff with my friends. Nowadays we do that by downloading and uploading files — sometimes just songs, sometimes mixes, once in a great while whole albums. I’ve never gotten into filesharing with strangers, or using Napster or any of its successors, or torrenting, largely for the same ethical reasons I once had for not copying whole albums from the library. It has less to do with legality and more to do with what seems right to me, and that interests me.

I grew up in a time when it was kind of hard to get copies of music. You had to have friends, or talk to guys you had crushes on. You had to have some kind of relationship built up with a person before you could request a dub. Usually you then provided a tape for them. A good friend might lend you the album and have you make the dub yourself. Making dubs was a somewhat time-consuming process. You wanted to make sure the album would fit nicely on the tape. Once I knew something about sound levels, I wanted to make sure those were good (oh, the tapes I made before then! I cringe!).

And I think it’s those memories — of sitting on the floor of my bedroom waiting to hit the record/play buttons on my boombox, of unwrapping the cellophane from a new package of cassettes, of debating what kind to buy and hoarding the precious Maxell points (I saved enough to get the poster), of talking to friends, of talking to boys — that inform the way I share things now.

Lewis Hyde’s classic book The Gift (with the wonderful original subtitle “Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property”) talks about how art and creativity are part of a gift economy, not a market one, and I agree with him. The consumption of art and creativity works similarly, I believe, at least among friends, on what I might call a sharing economy.

Ever since I read that the real purpose of DRM, in the minds of publishers, is to prevent not piracy (you can afford to let geeks game your system) but casual sharing, I’ve been sort of worried and horrified. Other people have code proposals and policy proposals and manifestos and plans. I don’t have any of those things. I have, I suppose, a cultural proposal. Libraries can’t, of course, encourage people to go out and copy our stuff, nor should we. We walk a delicate line between the gift economy we want to exist in and the market economy we have to negotiate. But I want to believe that the gift economy is where our true heart lies.

I won’t be able to leave my dubs of dubs of dubs to the library when I die. But I want to leave their spirit.

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.

on ways of paying for content

A long time ago, in 1999 or 2000, I wrote a story for a local alternative weekly paper about online literary magazines. I’d link to it, but the paper folded some years back, and its website folded even before the print version did.

It’s hard to remember now, but back then, there was not much stuff on the web. I had a list of links on my website, and it was a short list. You’d click and click, and sometimes you wouldn’t really get anywhere. I was always looking for new things to read online, because I was working as an office temp, and I was a very bad office temp, and one thing I found were a lot of literary magazines, or bits of magazines, and I got to wondering about them.

Literary magazines sell for maybe $8-$12 (or so I recollect — it’s been awhile since I bought one). They are not and never have been money-making ventures. Few pay their writers in anything more than copies, and most are supported by academic institutions. But they are places that you read and submit to if you aspire to be a writer of a certain sort. (I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that Dan Brown did not get his start by submitting stories to The Georgia Review.) Anyway. I was interested in how these online ventures operated, and so I interviewed some of them, wondering if any had found a better way to make money online.

The answer, briefly, was no.

A few places were trying to charge a small amount of money for stories. A few others gave everything away. Most were somewhere in between, and the same is true of most of those that survive today.

I was reminded of all this while reading in the New York Times about media outlets considering (yet again) charging for content online. Aside from wondering how Rupert Murdoch gets anyone to take the words “quality journalism” seriously when they come from his mouth, I found myself wondering again what kind of effect such paywalls would have. And I also found myself thinking, you know, having a paywall on a given site actually doesn’t always mean that you can’t get the content for free. Actually, if you have a library card (as we are always telling people), you can get all this and more via databases for free! The difference, of course, is that you have to do a lot more clicking. And you can’t make a direct link to an article, or if you can, you can’t be sure that someone else will be able to get to that article, because their library may have a different deal with EBSCO, or they may get that source through ProQuest, or whatever.

I’m not sure how this would work, but it seems to me a pity that libraries can’t redirect the thousands and thousands of dollars they pay database vendors to the journals and newspapers and magazines that supply those vendors in the first place, and then offer a sort of universal subscription to anyone with a library card. I don’t have any figures on this, of course, so I have no way of knowing if it would even help shore up magazines and newspapers — but anything, I figure, has got to be better than what we have now.

it’s always a little more complicated than you think

Yesterday I was scrolling through some shared items in Google Reader when I stumbled on a post from BoingBoing about the Salvation Army requiring proof of US citizenship before they gave children gifts. I tend to get a little irate about anti-immigrant policies, and so, casting aside all my good librarian skills, I immediately forwarded the piece — without even reading it fully — on to my mother and my friend.

Now as it so happens, yesterday my mother and my friend both beat me at the information literacy game. My mother clicked through to the actual post and saw the update from Cory Doctorow, wherein a Salvation Army PR person explains that they don’t require proof of immigration status; they just ask for things like birth certificates and Social Security numbers to make sure that people aren’t double-dipping. My friend, who is a Lutheran pastor, clicked through and saw the update and wrote to me a little more about her own experiences with the practice:

when I provide Salvation Army services I’m required to take their social security number. It’s one of the hardest parts of my job with them. People, as you might understand, get really upset saying that just because they are poor etc, they shouldn’t have to give their ss number to me. However, as it is is a unique number to each individual it’s a very convenient number for the Army to use.

As a national charity that is more reputable than the Red Cross they need to be able to track the needs of the people. One such example might be an influx of foot traffic from the South to the North as people seek jobs, or an increase in women and children seeking emergency housing due to abuse as unemployment rises. That said, there are ways around all of these stipulations and the article doesn’t do the Army justice about this. I have a woman right now who isn’t able to provide a social security number for her son because the card is with his father, but I’m still going to fill out a voucher for him to get a new winter coat, and some clothes due to their emergency relocation.

If you read through the comment thread on the original post, you see a little of the same thing happening. There are a lot of knee-jerk reactions like mine to start out with. Then there are some people who come in with defenses and explanations. Then there are counter examples, some with citations. And of course there are some more snarky comments (I mean, it is BoingBoing, after all). But the end result of reading through all of these things is, I think, that one feels more confused than convinced — and I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That confusion forces you to think about things like poverty and homelessness and charity in a practical way. It’s easy enough to say, “no one should be homeless.” It’s much harder when you have to run an actual shelter, and then suddenly you have a fire marshal to deal with, and zoning regulations, and the needs of a variety of people to keep in mind, and suddenly you do have to institute rules and turn some people away, and that’s terrible, but it’s also reality. If you have too many people in your shelter, the fire marshal will shut you down and you won’t be able to provide shelter to anyone. Librarians reading this blog are, I suspect, all too aware of the difficulties.

But I’m getting away from my topic. This morning I was reminded of this whole little saga by a couple of threads in the LSW Room on FriendFeed which further the eternal question of how we teach people to interrogate information, to ask whether it is credible or useful or even accurate. And the answer, it seems to me, is always that it is much more complicated than you think.

The ability to judge information depends on a lot of things. It depends on avoiding knee-jerk responses, and it depends on having a set of criteria you can use, and it even depends on having some previous knowledge.  I can’t teach all of that to a class of fifth graders in a one-shot session. I doubt you can teach all that to a class of college students over the course of a semester. Oh, you can help them find criteria, and you can help them gain a bit more of a knowledge base, and you can probably help them get better at this whole information literacy game. But as with many things, the only way you actually get better at this game is by playing it and playing a lot of it. I, for one, have a good deal left to learn.

google, the new yorker, and the economics of access

This will undoubtedly be making the rounds, if it hasn’t already, but The New Yorker has an article on Google Book Search that’s currently available online.

(The New Yorker, it is worth noting, is not committed to making its information universally accessible and useful, at least not unless you buy the Complete New Yorker DVDs. The magazine does not maintain an index of its articles on its website, and its indexing elsewhere has historically been somewhat sporadic. You can read more on the magazine’s indexing, or lack thereof, in the latest Ask the Librarians column at Emdashes, which is, to the best of my knowledge, a labor of love by a writer and New Yorker fan. I should note that, despite my snarky tone, I also am a fan of the magazine–I just wish they’d publish their past tables of contents online so I could remember what the hell issue I read, say, Calvin Trillin’s recently turned into a book piece about Alice. But of course then I’d have less reason to purchase the DVDs.)

local news

People often think that since I moved to a town of 351 people, I’ve kind of dropped out of modern civilization. I’m writing this post from my home, where I have DSL, courtesy of our excellent local phone company, TCT West, and the library has a T1 line and four public access computers, so that’s not quite true. In some ways, actually, I feel like the opposite is true.

Take local news, for example. When I lived in suburban Chicago, there was one twice weekly newspaper that covered sixteen suburbs with a total population of over 126,000 people and was part of a chain that provided similar newspapers for about sixty of Chicago’s suburbs. Good luck getting any news about your library’s summer reading program reported.

Here in Meeteetse, we get five newspapers at the library. We have the Billings Gazette and the Casper Star-Tribune for regional and state news. But we also get local newspapers from around our region. Cody, population 8835, has a twice weekly paper, the Cody Enterprise. Powell, population 5373, has the twice weekly Powell Tribune. And Worland, population 5250, puts out the Northern Wyoming Daily News five days a week (it is too bad they no longer call it the Worland Grit, but you can’t have everything). All these papers rely to some extent on wire stories, but they all also have local staff who attend city council meetings and county commissioners’ meetings, who take pictures at high school ball games, and who write impassioned editorials about the delisting of wolves and grizzlies from the Endangered Species list; the Cap Tax II initiative that, if passed, will fund a new library in Cody, a new pool in Powell, and a refurbished pool here in Meeteetse; and the state legislature’s recent failure to pass a bill banning open containers in cars (currently you can drink all you want in a vehicle as long as you’re not the driver). And just this past week, the Cody Enterprise reported that the state of Wyoming will soon have its first tourism podcast, developed and produced right here in Park County.

When I hear people say that newspapers are dead, I always wonder where they live. It’s true that the media conglomeration that has bled the fm dial of local djs and diverse music has also gobbled up local newspapers, so that in many parts of the country, your “local news” is a canned Gannett product with about as much news value as the back of a cereal box. That’s been true of most of the places I lived (with the exception of Indianapolis, where the newspapers were locally owned, but owned by Dan Quayle’s family, which sometimes made them of dubious news value when we lived there, from 1988-1990).

Does your library have microfilm of old newspapers? If so, dip into it sometime. You might be surprised at what you find. Earlier this week I took several boxes of microfilm of the Cody Enterprise down to our local museum, since sadly, we don’t have a microfilm reader at the library. Even more sadly, the museum doesn’t have one either, so now we’re both trying to track one down. In the meantime, though, I’ll relish all the current local news that we’re lucky enough to have here on the edge of the wilderness.