In September, I shared the news that Macmillan Publishers was planning to impose a restriction that would block people from borrowing new Macmillan e-books from libraries. This new policy took effect November 1. It is designed to do one thing: make Macmillan more money by creating barriers for people to use library resources.

Man and instructor using an e-reader for digital content
Like others who lead public library systems across the United States, I am deeply worried that other publishers will follow suit, undermining the ability of libraries to provide resources in the ways people want to use them. We want Macmillan to end this policy.

Nearly 16,000 fellow Oregonians agree and showed their support by signing the American Library Association’s #eBooksForAll petition. Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury has also spoken out against the new restrictions.

Beginning today, Multnomah County Library (MCL) will no longer purchase new Macmillan e-books.

This is not a decision we take lightly. It means that the library has chosen to side against one specific company, something I would prefer to avoid. Our decision also means that some library patrons won’t be able to access popular authors in their preferred format and I regret that fact.

The alternative is to be the proverbial frog in a pot of water that keeps getting warmer. Libraries and taxpayers have shouldered the burdens of licensing instead of owning content, paying many times the retail price of e-books, and time-limited licenses that expire and require continual repurchasing of materials we’ve already bought.

When you can only buy something from one source and the terms of that purchase become this unreasonable, it’s time to say “no more.” In 2019, MCL has purchased nearly $120,000 in e-books from Macmillan.

We will continue to buy Macmillan titles in print and audiobook formats. We will retain the Macmillan e-books the library has already purchased. We will continue to offer the same top notch customer service. We will help readers discover new authors and alternate formats. We will continue our advocacy for e-books for all.

Thank you for your support and patronage of your public library.

 

Director's pen signature image

 

 

 

 

Vailey Oehlke
Director of Libraries
Multnomah County Library
Former president, Public Library Association

 

Which e-books are affected?
All e-book titles published by Macmillan or by any of the publishers that Macmillan owns. These titles will still appear in our catalog in other formats, but will not be available in e-book format.

What will happen to Macmillan e-books that Multnomah County Library already has in the catalog?
Macmillan e-books already in our collection will remain. You can continue to place hold requests and check them out as usual.
 
If you have a Macmillan e-book checked out right now, it will not be affected.
 
Does this purchase suspension include Macmillan books in all formats?
No. This decision only affects Macmillan e-books. We will continue to purchase print and audiobook versions of Macmillan titles.
 
If I submit a purchase request for a new Macmillan e-book, will it automatically be rejected?
Yes. We will not be purchasing any Macmillan e-books. Library staff will process and consider purchase suggestions for all other Macmillan formats as usual.
 
I don’t know much about Macmillan. What books do they publish?
Macmillan is one of the “Big Five” book publishers in the world, along with Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. They publish a wide variety of fiction, nonfiction, and other genres from hundreds of different authors.
 
One popular author they represent is Nora Roberts, whose popular fiction series, Chronicles of The One, consistently makes bestseller lists across the country. The upcoming third installment of the series, The Rise of Magicks, releases Tuesday, Nov 26.
 
Multnomah County Library will buy copies in all formats of The Rise of Magicks except the e-book version. We have also assembled a list of other titles that readers of the Chronicles of One fans might enjoy.
 
How long will this suspension last?
We don’t have an end date right now. Should Macmillan cancel its embargo, we will immediately lift the suspension.
 
I want Macmillan to stop their embargo, or at least offer better terms to libraries. What can I do?
You can let Macmillan know how you feel by signing the #ebooksForAll petition at www.ebooksforall.org, by emailing Macmillan directly at press.inquiries@macmillan.com or by using the #ebooksForAll hashtag to spread the word on social media and lead other readers to the petition.
 
How many of the books the library buys come from Macmillan?
There are 7,147 Macmillan e-book titles in our collection currently out of 109,984 e-books (6.5% of our collection). They account for 8.2% of e-book checkouts (vs. 37% for Penguin Random House, which is the biggest by a wide margin)
 
Why don’t you at least take the single e-book Macmillan is offering so I have some chance of getting it from the library?
We believe everyone deserves equal access to books and information. In our view, Macmillan’s policy means that only those who can and will pay for access deserve it. That’s why we believe this is the next step we must take.
 
Additionally, your chances of getting access to that single copy in the first two months are slim. We have hundreds of patrons who place holds on the most popular new e-books. Everyone can hold or check out an e-book for up to 24 days, which is nearly a month. By the time you move to the top of the queue, odds are, it will have been several months already.
 
We understand that this is frustrating. We know this decision won’t please everyone, but we firmly believe that this suspension is the best way we can support e-book readers and ensure that libraries have equal access to digital materials.

What other publishers does Macmillan own?

Adult / Young Adult

  • Farrar, Straus & Giroux
  • North Point Press
  • Hill and Wang
  • Faber and Faber Inc.
  • First Second
  • Henry Holt
  • Metropolitan Books
  • Times Books
  • Holt Paperbacks
  • Picador
  • St Martin’s Press
  • Griffin
  • Minotaur
  • All Points Books
  • Castle Point Books
  • St. Martin’s Press Paperbacks
  • Let’s Go
  • Thomas Dunne Books
  • Truman Talley Books
  • Tor/Forge
  • Flatiron Books
  • Macmillan Collector’s Library
  • Celadon Books
  • Graywolf Press

Children’s

  • Farrar, Straus & Giroux for Young Readers
  • Feiwel & Friends
  • Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
  • Imprint
  • Kingfisher
  • Odd Dot
  • Priddy Books
  • Roaring Brook Press
  • Square Fish
  • Tor Children’s

Vailey Oehlke image

Dear library patrons and community members,

Multnomah County Library (MCL) works hard to serve you. We are committed to meeting the changing needs of our community by providing free and open access to the resources, programs, technology and spaces that people want and need. But we are facing a daunting new challenge: large publishers are imposing new restrictions that limit libraries’ ability to offer users new digital content.

Beginning November 1, 2019, Macmillan publishers, one of the country’s “big five” publishers, is imposing an eight-week embargo on new e-books. This embargo means that for the first eight weeks after a book is released, libraries will only be able to purchase a single copy of new Macmillan e-books. This restriction applies whether a library serves a community of a thousand people or a million people.

The impact of this embargo and the other severe restrictions being placed by publishers on public libraries across the country will hurt readers near and far. Multnomah County Library is the sixth top-circulating library in the country for digital content. Under these new restrictions, the wait for many Macmillan e-book titles will skyrocket to four months or more.

What’s more, libraries are forced to license this content and cannot own it. A licensing model increases costs and limits how many times patrons can check out a book before the library must re-license. Many people also aren’t aware that e-book costs to libraries are often FOUR TIMES the price of a retail copy. With these limitations in place, we estimate that MCL will soon spend at least 25 percent of its e-book budget ($307,000) on re-licensing items already in the collection. These excessive costs will prevent the library from buying a broader range of titles or buying more copies of popular titles in order to reduce wait times.

On top of this, Amazon—which owns audio and e-platforms Audible and Kindle—is an unapologetic charging bull within the publishing industry, as it exclusively signs digital and audio rights for authors like Dean Koontz and Mindy Kaling and refuses to license those titles to libraries.

Macmillan has said that libraries undercut publishers’ profits by allowing readers free access to materials that they would otherwise purchase. Macmillan is presenting this as a zero-sum game—that every circulation of a library book is a lost sale for the publisher and author. That reductivist argument is disingenuous and capricious, and it shuts out those with the fewest resources. Not everyone can afford to use Amazon as an alternative to their public library.

The result of these unfair practices by publishers puts not only libraries and readers in a challenging position, but also authors, who should not be forced to choose between making a living and supporting the mission of a library to make information free and open to all. Public libraries provide free marketing and massive exposure to authors and publishers at more than 16,500 locations in communities across the United States and online. In fact, there are more public libraries in the United States than there are McDonald’s or Starbucks locations.

Multnomah County Library has a long history of supporting authors. Every day, patrons come into our libraries or browse the online catalog to find new titles to enjoy. We offer readers advisory services like My Librarian where library staff help readers find new books and authors. At 19 libraries, MCL hosts storytimes, author readings and other programs that expose people to books, resources and authors that they may not have discovered otherwise. Our Library Writers Project offers an opportunity for local authors to have their work added to the library’s e-book collection. As an integral part of the literacy ecosystem, public libraries encourage reading from the earliest ages, and support it over a lifetime by introducing people to content as their interests, needs and technologies change.

These harsh and unfair restrictions on public libraries are a troubling trend that we must stop. Please join me, readers and libraries across the country in opposing Macmillan’s new e-book embargo.

Sign the petition at ebooksforall.org to tell Macmillan that access to e-books should not be delayed or denied.

Thank you for supporting your public library.

Director's pen signature image

 

 

 

 

 

Vailey Oehlke
Director of Libraries
Multnomah County Library
Former president, Public Library Association

 

 

We know that for most human beings, perception is reality. For most of their existence, libraries have relied on a simple equation: If books = important; and library = books; then libraries = important. But similar to the Toys“R”Us brand, the “books are us” brand is losing its perceived value and relevance. Among other forces, both libraries and Toys“R”Us have been deeply impacted by rapidly evolving and increasingly broadly valued technology. A recent report provides some insight.

The report, From Awareness to Funding: Voter Perceptions and Support of Public Libraries in 2018 (FATF), an update to a report from 2008, was produced by OCLC Research, in partnership with the American Library Association (ALA) and its Public Library Association (PLA) division. The report’s findings are both affirming and cause for concern. They call for urgent action.

Think about our world 10 short years ago. The iPhone and the App Store, Kindle, and Netflix all launched around then–right around the time the original From Awareness to Funding report was released.

About 10 years ago:

  • Google did about 365 billion searches; in 2016 Google did over 2 trillion searches
  • 24% of the US population was using social media; in 2017 81% was using it
  • 11% of Americans were using smartphones; in 2017 81% were using them

According to the recently released 2018 Tech Trends report by Amy Webb and The Future Today Institute, the next decade will bring continuing and unprecedented change, including a “new era of computing and connected devices which we will wear and will command using our voices, gestures and touch….[which] will forever change how we experience the physical world.” (p.8). It’s hard to believe that within the span of 20 years the smartphone as we know it will have come and gone. To state the obvious, the world and the communities in which our libraries exist are dramatically different than they were the year FATF was first released. And these changes are impacting the perception people have of public libraries--their value and relevance.

Given all this, it is no wonder that, according to the updated report, the perception that “the public library has done a good job of keeping up with changing technology” dropped from 60% in 2008 to 48% in 2018. And in spite of, or perhaps because of, this it is imperative that libraries continue to prioritize their role in digital equity. Where else can those among us with the fewest resources and opportunities find free, quality access to and assistance in effectively using the technology increasingly imperative for thriving in our world?

Technology’s relentless evolution isn’t the only trend to which we must constantly adapt. The demographic shifts we see demand investment to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity and access. A widening opportunity gap presents critical challenges for people who are new to this country and others who might be left in the margins. According to Pew, “by 2055, the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority. Much of this change has been (and will be) driven by immigration.” It is heartening, then, to learn that in the 2018 report there was a 10% increase in the number of participants who acknowledge that the library “provides classes, programs, and materials for immigrants and non-English speakers.”

Of concern, there was a 20 point drop in the number of respondents who are likely to see the library as a resource for children (71% in 2008; 51% in 2018). Support for early literacy and school success have long been a cornerstone of the library’s value. No doubt, technology is a factor in this shift. Not only do most folks now turn to Google and the internet for their basic information needs (including homework), but more and more people, especially youth, seem to prefer digital entertainment (YouTube, Spotify, Snapchat) over reading. According to Flurry Analytics, the average U.S. consumer spends over five hours a day on a smartphone and, from 2016 to 2017, media consumption on mobile devices jumped 43%. According to a 2015 Common Sense Media report, US teens “use an average of nine hours of entertainment media per day” and tweens “use an average of six hours a day, not including time spent using media for school or homework.”

Other findings that were hard to read, but vitally important, include a decline in respondents’ enthusiasm about library staff. There were notable drops from the 2008 findings in “having the right staff to meet the needs of the community” as well as the perceptions that staff are friendly and approachable, true advocates for lifelong learning, knowledgeable about my community, understand the community’s needs and how to address them through the public library, and have excellent computer skills. All of this likely contributed to a decline in the library’s perceived value and relevance to the community. In 2008 73% of respondents agreed that “having an excellent public library is a source of pride.” In 2018 that percentage dropped to 53%. Additionally, in 2008 71% agreed that “if the library were to shut down, something essential would be lost.” In 2018, only 55% of respondents felt this way.

It would be natural for librarians to respond to all of this with defensiveness and/or despondence. And while that’s certainly understandable, neither response is constructive. I would encourage us to assign a sense of urgency to these results. We’ve known for years that the ways in which the world is changing will impact how we do what we do. These sorts of findings provide us direction in charting our future. I think we can all agree that libraries are in an increasingly unique position to improve the lives of those we serve and build stronger, more resilient communities. How we do that may be different than it was decades ago, but it is no less important. In fact, our communities need us now more than ever. Fortunately, the percentage of respondents that agreed their local library is “a place for people in the community to gather and socialize” increased from 35% in 2008 to 44% in 2018 and more people believed that to be an important role for the library–a fact that sets us up nicely for serving as conveners and facilitators of the important conversations and connections our communities need.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “libraries are essential to a functioning democracy.” In his new book, The People vs. Democracy, Yasha Mounk writes that “over two-thirds of older Americans believe that it is extremely important to live in a democracy; among millenials, less than one-third do.” If all of that is true, then we have an obligation to ensure that America’s public libraries are strong, relevant and responsive. And we need to do the work to ensure that our communities believe they are. It’s up to us.

So how about a new equation? If libraries = democracy; and democracy = important; then libraries = important. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work!
 

Ursual Le Guin photo
When I learned of Ursula Le Guin’s passing, my world stopped spinning for a time. I reflected on her influence with a mixture of gratitude, admiration and awe. Ursula’s contributions to libraries, reading, literacy and to our community are immeasurable. She was tenacious, principled and gracious beyond words.

I first read The Left Hand of Darkness as a graduate student in library school, enthusiastically exploring my early feminist righteousness. Ursula Le Guin was a beacon to me then. I would have never imagined that, decades later, I would pass a lovely Portland winter’s afternoon in her home sipping tea, chatting about her life, career, ebooks, politics and her love of Multnomah County Library.

And, oh how Ursula put her library love into action! She was a deep and genuine friend to Multnomah County Library. She offered a list of her favorite works. She was a singular voice in support of issues that matter. She served on the Multnomah County Library Advisory Board in the 1990s, and she shaped how our library addressed issues that are important today. She leaves an impressive body of work, and she remains one of our library’s most popular authors.

For decades, Ursula Le Guin offered Multnomah County Library her unwavering support. She spoke, wrote and acted in support of library funding at every turn. She celebrated our milestones (even writing a poem celebrating Central Library’s reopening in 1997). She took on pivotal issues and daunting opponents: advocating for the rights of authors and artists; affordable library access to ebooks; and the importance of a person’s fundamental and constitutionally protected right to read, think, and pursue knowledge without scrutiny or constraint.

In her 1997 remarks about Central Library, she said, “A library is a focal point, a sacred place to a community; and its sacredness is its accessibility, its publicness. It’s everybody’s place.”

Of the many wonderful memories I have as director of Multnomah County Library, that gray afternoon with Ursula Le Guin is one of my most treasured. I will be forever grateful to have encountered her. May we honor her legacy by embodying who she was and what she stood for, in our own lives and communities.

- Vailey

Last month the library introduced a set of updated rules for public feedback. We heard and read hundreds of your comments, questions and suggestions. This was valuable input, and we revised the library rules that take effect November 1 as a result.

While most of these rules have been in place for years, people took this chance to reflect on how they think of and use their library. Our community’s feedback centered on access: for children and families exploring a new world of reading and learning and for those with the fewest resources and the most challenging circumstances.

Based on this feedback, we removed the proposed limit on beverage sizes, changed policies around restroom use, clarified wording regarding service animals and improved language to better support the library’s commitment to inclusion.

Each day, 19 Multnomah County libraries are open to serve everyone with a focus on exceptional customer service. We work hard to create a welcoming environment. The library’s rules serve as a foundation for maintaining this environment. We will continue our work, listening and learning how we can improve library service.

On behalf of the more than 600 people who work for the library, I thank you for your engagement, for your support and for your patronage of Multnomah County Library.

Vailey
 

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