Barbara Fister has again written a thoughtful piece about our current ebook situation. Barbara got me thinking (as she always does--otherwise she's publishing something that I had felt but hadn't yet been able to articulate):
I think the time has come for all of us to step back and ask if we're creating healthy conditions for the long-term survival of accessible knowledge or if, by embracing digital deals with strings to satisfy our patrons' immediate but ignorant needs, we're letting our communities down, badly.
Fister also talks about boycotts, our permanent collections, and library neutrality--all things I think about a lot these days.
Whether you agree that boycotts are a worthwhile tactic or not, there is one argument against the HarperCollins boycott that really bothers me: the stance that we, as librarians, don't matter. It might be true, in an age of conglomeritis*, that we do not represent the largest portion of a monolith like NewsCorp's overall income (who own HarperCollins, btw). As Chris Dodge has pointed out, commercial publications are often only a small part of an overall corporate empire which may include “retail stores, film and television production, and professional sports teams” (See: Dodge, Chris. "Alternative to what?" Counterpoise 2.2 (1998): 11-12).
But to say that we professionally that we are ineffectual, even if we're just claiming this about our buying power, is a particularly sad way to argue for always accepting things as they are, instead of the way they should be.
Just look at what Ann Sparanese was able to do for Micheal Moore's book Stupid White Men. Or what a few thousand people were able to do in my second hometown (Madison, Wisconsin). Or what is currently happening all over the globe with folks who have decided to voice what they want, in the face of how things are or how they have been for decades. It's not difficult right now to see how a unified group can make a difference.
This is not the most important political battle taking place in the world today. Whether ebooks are restricted, disappear or record data about what we read is not the most important topic to all people. But we can make a difference, and now is the time to do it. Choose whatever strategy you like, even if it's just talking about our options, or buying print instead. But please don't support the loss of the right to read digitally, and certainly not by claiming that we don't matter.
*I'm borrowing "conglomeritis" here from Celeste West, a library heroine who knew a thing or two about corporate publishing and its hold on libraries.