Silence = Death

One night, you’re walking home alone and you are jumped in an alley and cornered. You can smell the alcohol on the attacker’s breath and see the desperation in his eyes, this isn’t someone you can reason with. Your first instinct should be to avoid conflict, losing a wallet and a couple of credit cards isn’t worth losing your life. Most of us aren’t that stupid. Or stubborn.

But your attacker isn’t rational. He knocks the wallet out of your hand, now is brandishing a knife. He doesn’t just want your wallet, he wants more. As you try to explain that you don’t have anything else, the conversation becomes even uglier– his words less coherent, his gestures more menacing, you’re shoved a couple of times and then finally– the knife comes at you.

You duck. At least I hope like hell you do. And I hope the next thing you do is punch the guy as hard as you fucking can. Ok, maybe you’re not like this usually, but I think there comes a time and a place when you’ve got to straight up defend your own life. Get away from that knife.

I can’t help but feel that if it isn’t time for libraries to duck the knife and start swinging that we are but seconds away.

By now, most people reading this will be aware of the situation that drives me to this conclusion. HarperCollins (note: I’m not providing a link here) has decided to change the terms of their library ebook licensing in such a way that hurts consumer choice, limits access for those without sufficient means, and generally just slaps the face of the people who love to read and want to be their customers. This has me upset enough but there has been tremendous groundswell on the net and people much smarter and more articulate than me have written about it. See: Sarah’s post for one of my favorites. Bobbi does a great job of laying out the full situation and providing links to many other posts as well.

Some folks are echoing Cory Doctorow‘s sentiment, “libraries should just stop buying DRM media for their collections. Period. It’s unsafe at any speed.” And he may be right, but right now we just don’t have the power to make a stand that makes a difference. If we tried to resist individually, we’d be picked off, one at a time. Our patrons would flock to neighboring communities (or away from us completely), and then one by one we’d lose funding. The community isn’t going to understand it’s not librarians who make these decisions. Which leads me to what I see is a much bigger issue.

Overshadowed in all this is another announcement that Overdrive made that disturbs me much more. They say, “Another area of publisher concern that OverDrive is responding to is the size and makeup of large consortia and shared collections.”

Ok, that’s it. Game over. The only possible way that our institutions of public good– our libraries– can afford to bridge the content divide between those who have and those who have not, is by banding together and buying as a group. If the publishers are attacking this model, then they are attacking libraries themselves.

So, I say, let’s duck the knife. I know it’s going to be tough but let’s have some strength of character and start to get serious about preserving ourselves. I say rather than even let this begin, that we flat out refuse to buy electronic content for distribution except as consortia. Don’t let these folks divide and conquer– let’s hold on to our areas of strength and push back.

And let’s drop the barriers to collaboration. Let’s bring our consortia together and insist that we negotiate only as an industry. Perhaps this is the role Library Renewal can play? Will they? If not, who? Who will answer the call? It’s going to take more than just libraries and librarians, but if we don’t have a cohesive banner to rally around– how will they know how to help?