Thursday, October 30, 2014

From ‘Fifty Shades’ to ‘After’: Why publishers want fan fiction to go mainstream

by: Jessica Contrera

It starts with a familiar name, but then takes a turn.
Jay Gatsby actually faked his death, and is now reunited with Daisy. “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope is somehow working on Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. And a member of the boy band One Direction is falling in love on a college campus — making roughly 250 million online readers swoon.
These are plot twists found in the universe of fan fiction, where authors borrow from another writer’s world, taking characters, places and even real people and putting them in stories all their own. Despite fan fiction’s reputation among old-school publishers for being nothing more than Harry Potter erotica, the online communities have grown to attract all kinds of stories.
And now, that online popularity is shaking up the divide between fan fiction and traditional book publishing. What used to be a disregarded copyright nightmare is a new, youth-friendly approach for publishers.
“Fan fiction has absolutely become part of the fiber of what we publish,” said Jennifer Bergstrom, vice president and publisher of Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. “This is changing at a time when traditional publishing needs it most.”
Copyright issues can be circumnavigated by changing names and details, polishing up the prose and voila! a book that has a built-in audience is in publishers’ hands. What was once “Twilight” fan fiction is reshaped into the “Gabriel Trilogy” (850,000 copies sold, per the publisher), the “Beautiful Bastard” series (1 million sold) and the infamous “Fifty Shades of Grey” (100 million and counting). And that’s just the start.
On Wednesday, Simon & Schuster took that boy band fan fiction story and published it in ink-on-paper form. The story, called “After,” is a special kind of fan fiction: “real person fiction.” The main characters in “After” are inspired by the five members of One Direction.
Written by 25-year-old Anna Todd, “After” was first published on Wattpad.com, an online writing community where more than 75 million stories live. Copyright concerns are limited because, on that platform, Todd isn’t profiting from her work.
That’s how fan fiction has lived for years: separate from any exchange of cash or contract.
Sites such as Wattpad, Fan­fiction.net and Archive­OfOurOwn.org are overflowing with entries for numerous books, movies, TV shows and plays from Edgar Allan Poe to “The Baby-Sitters Club,” “The Devil Wears Prada” to Peter Rabbit.
The authors of the original works, of course, have mixed reactions. Most notably: J.K. Rowling doesn’t mind if you are creative with her characters, but George R.R. Martin abhors it.
Traditionally, publishers had not been so hot for it, either.
“Fan fiction wasn’t really a word we thought of,” said Shaye Areheart, who formerly oversaw a division at Random House and now runs a publishing course at Columbia University. “It’s very difficult to say how you would get to turn another person’s intellectual property into your own.”
The exception was for authors who had been dead for long enough (70 years, for most) that their work becomes part of the public domain. William Shakespeare and Jane Austen are two of the most common examples.
“The books we love the most are the ones where you close the book and you’re still thinking about those characters,” said Carrie Bebris, author of the “Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries,” in which the main characters of Austen’s beloved “Pride and Prejudice” solve mysteries together. “We want to be drawn into their lives again, because we didn’t get enough the first time.”
That’s what has made fan fiction popular, even among established authors. English crime writer P.D. James’s Austen-inspired­ book “Death Comes to Pemberley” became a BBC TV movie. (PBS is airing the two-part showSunday and Nov. 2). Scottish crime writer Val McDermid’s take on “Northanger Abbey” was published in April.
These books don’t typically market themselves as fan fiction. Instead, they’re “inspired by” or “a retelling.”
“The line is not clear between inspiration and fan fiction,” said Ashleigh Gardner, head of content and publishing at Wattpad, where “After” was written. “It’s very much about how the author self-identifies their work.”
“After” author Todd was insistent that Simon & Schuster stay loyal to her fan fiction base. At first, she tried to keep the names of the One Direction band members as her characters’ names.
“I felt like, ‘Are you sure we have to do this? Can’t we just give Harry Styles all the money?’ ” Todd said in an interview.
But before long, Harry became Hardin. Zayn was Zed, Louis was Logan, Niall was Nate and Liam was Landon, and they were just college friends, not bandmates. The only other copyright-concerned change was the tattoo on the stomach of Harry Styles.
“I don’t know a lot of 20-year-old men who have a butterfly tattoo, so we had to change that,” Todd said. Now it’s a tree. A tree that will appear in a book with 80,000 copies on its first print run and in three sequels to “After” that will publish before March. Paramount Pictures has already bought the rights to the movie.
The best-known fan fiction success story is “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which began life as a “Twilight” fan fiction series called “Master of the Universe.”
“If you take away the wrappings of fandom, you have to make sure the story can stand by itself,” said Cindy Hwang, vice president and executive editor at Berkley Books, a division of Penguin Random House.
Hwang is working with three writers who came from fan fiction. One started in the “Twilight” fandom, one in “Harry Potter” and another in “Batman.” While the “Twilight” author was able to transform his story into a three-part bestseller, the others were writing fan fiction in worlds that Hwang said were “too integral” to the story. In other words, you can change the name of Hogwarts, but everyone will still know it is Hogwarts. Hwang had those authors write original books instead.
The only way for fan fiction writers to publish work that keeps the inspiration in plain view is to gain appropriate permissions. The estate of Agatha Christie, for example, recently gave approval to writer Sophie Hannah to create a mystery novel starring Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot.
In 2013, Amazon made it possible to make money writing fan fiction through a portal called Kindle Worlds. But the company has permissions to publish submitted content for only 24 “worlds.” And although that list includes big names such as “Pretty Little Liars” and Kurt Vonnegut, 24 fandoms is an incredibly small number compared with the unlimited creations on most fan fiction sites.
Supporters are hoping that the “After” success story clears the way for more than just fan fiction romance writers.
“We’ve been talking about what comes next incessantly” said Bergstrom at Simon & Schuster. “I feel like horror will be it, maybe urban legends. Really any genre could be what comes next.”
And if those fan fiction spinoffs sell like “Fifty Shades of Grey” did?
“Then,” Bergstrom said, “long may they live.”

from: Washington Post

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

San Antonio airport installs digital library kiosks for travelers

by: Mike W. Thomas

The San Antonio International Airport has unveiled two Digital Library kiosks that will allow travelers to check out digital media to take on trips.

The kiosks were funded by the Friends of the San Antonio Public Library at a cost of $26,000.

The kiosks will allow library patrons to browse the library's digital media content which can then be checked out and downloaded onto a mobile device for a limited time. Materials can be checked out for three weeks at a time before expiring.

In addition to allowing travelers to check out online materials, the kiosks will serve as a rapid recharging station for mobile devices.

The San Antonio Public Library is also debuting a new feature that will allow out-of-town travelers to get a temporary library card that they can use during their visit. The cards are good for 24 hours and have a limit of three items that can be checked out for seven days.


The San Antonio Public Library has 26 locations throughout the city as well as a Library portal at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, and an extensive collection of e-books and online resources. For more information visit mysapl.org or call 210-207-2500.

from: San Antonio Business Journal

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

David Balzer: how “curationism” influences our reading identities

David Balzer examines how the art world’s obsession with “curationism” came to influence our personal reading identities
by: David Balzer
The widely loathed, widely used contemporary action word “curate” can be traced back to performance. The adjective “curated” (as in “curated playlist”) is more than a hundred years old, used in the late 19th century in conjunction with the librarian-like practices of early museum curators. Still, it suggests an emerging fascination with modes, powers, and cultures of display.
The verb “to curate” – especially its passive construction “curated by” – emerged in the 1980s and ’90s; its origins are in experimental theatre and performance art. In the art world of the 1990s, the conceptual curator went mainstream. Curators were recruited by cash-strapped museums and tourist-courting biennials because of their ability to perform – essentially, to compel and attract audiences. Under the curator’s direction, institutions aimed for new relevance and popularity through, among other things, contrived radicalism, including controversial exhibitions and “relational aesthetics” – performance and installation art often requiring audience engagement. Into the 2000s, institutions renovated, using “starchitects” to attract patrons. Biennials gained the glamour and trendsetting power of major fashion shows. Such institutional performances were often consciously sexy, demanding the attention of media, donors, and collectors.
The publishing industry’s path runs parallel to the art world. In the 1990s, chain stores privileged bestsellers and magazines. Smaller, independent bookstores – once jumbled, labyrinthine spaces akin to pre-modern museums – fought back. McNally Robinson in Winnipeg, for instance, with its flagship Osborne Village location, offered what we would now refer to as a curated or “experiential” space. (The store founders’ daughter, Sarah McNally, who owns New York’s McNally Jackson Books, frequently refers to herself as a curator.) Updating 19th-century European salons and the café culture of the 1950s and 1960s, indie bookstores like McNally Robinson hosted readings, slams, and discussions. Non-book merchandise such as postcards appeared, touted as armour in this emerging culture war. The Largely Literary t-shirt collection bearing caricatures of famous highbrow authors was, at least in my 1990s high school, on-point indie attire.
Then, the inevitable corporate counterattack. Oprah Winfrey began her book club in 1996, the same year Heather Reisman founded Indigo Books & Music. In the early days of Amazon and well before it purchased the social network Goodreads, pop-lit culture succumbed to arbiter figures, parallels to star curators of the art world like Klaus Biesenbach and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. By the early 2000s, Oprah’s Book Club was mass-market curation, a powerful performance of cultural enlightenment and humanism. It dependably made or remade bestsellers, from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible to John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
Literary prizes gained in importance, becoming lucrative, the jurying of books perceived to grant busy readers safeguard in a market that, while shrinking, had more books than ever before. (Times have changed: in a 1994 interview with Peter Gzowski, Alice Munro related visiting a Nanaimo bookseller after her debut collection Dance of the Happy Shades won the 1968 Governor General’s Literary Award. When she asked the bookseller if he stocked the book, he gave an affronted “no.”) With CBC’s Canada Reads and BBC’s The Big Read (founded in 2001 and 2003, respectively), a reality-television model emerged, with panelists and/or the public picking what they liked. The worth of a book, its potential as a bestseller, became a popularity contest, a veritable spectator sport.
Of course, now, the curator is all of us: self-conscious and desperate for an audience. Real-life ways of establishing consumer identity, including the home display of books, LPs, CDs, and DVDs, have fallen out of fashion. Independent brick-and-mortar book, video, and music stores continue to close. The internet flattened being; media mergers flattened content. In partial response to niche marketing, we began branding personae online, first via blogging, then via social media. This culture (or cult), which I call “curationism,” is predicated on anxiety and paranoia – a needy performance of singularity and power against the dominance of culture-business colonizers like Amazon.
One of curationism’s many paradoxes is its illusion of choice. A popularity contest contradicts the traditional understanding of curating as fine-tuned selection and arbitration. Making a purchase based on an email suggesting other products you might like means (basic) algorithmic software has done the choosing for you. Goodreads relies on Facebook-like programming, leading you toward certain users, products, and experiences. Readers on Pinterest pin photos of book jackets posted by marketing teams at big publishing houses. As curators, we are also inevitably curated.
Independent digital efforts are similarly ironic. The Bookshelfies Tumblr shows everyday book lovers in front of their carefully arranged shelves, which, like all selfies, look sort of the same. Instagram abounds with performative gestures toward reading, in particular book cover fetishism, in which the trendiest titles are placed next to each other in perfectly arranged decors, shot through the same gauzy-retro filters. The #FridayReads hashtag allows readers to share their favourites, but, like much on Twitter, can be redundant and lemming-like.
Today, reading is a subcultural identity. People list it as an interest on dating profiles as if it were akin to LARPing or needlepoint – as if any and all readerswould automatically have something in common with each other. “Seeing someone read a book you love is seeing a book recommend a person” was a widely shared statement on social media this summer. I found it weird and perverse.
The curationist movement in contemporary reading means well. It is a protest against a recession-era capitalism that ignores the complexities of cultural engagement. But it has also become its own product, a mimicry of the genuine readerly identity to which it so hungrily aspires.

David Balzer is the author of Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else, published by Coach House Books.

from: Quill & Quire

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sensing subversion, China throws the book at kids' libraries

President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign is beginning to encompass all forms of thought and expression, even moderate ones, not approved by the ruling party.

by: Peter Ford

When she got off school last Thursday, Huang Qiufeng, the high spirited 12-year old daughter of migrant workers, dropped by the local library in this scruffy village on the outskirts of Beijing, as she does from time to time.

She found it closed, replaced by a convenience store. The brightly painted letters on the wall spelling out “BOOK” were obscured by shelves full of instant noodles.


“The people here were very nice and I really liked the library,” Qiufeng said. “But now it’s gone.”

And so had ten other children’s libraries across China run by Li Ren, an educational charity. The libraries are among the victims of a sweeping orthodoxy laid down by President Xi Jinping, who continues to consolidate his power. While crackdowns on budding expression here come and go, the new variant is spreading its net more widely, ensnaring even prominent moderate voices.

In recent weeks and months, scholars have seen their books banned after they voiced sympathy for pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong; artists with independent ideas have been silenced; lawyers representing political prisoners have been locked up; and human rights campaigners and civil society activists have been detained by the hundreds.

“Nobody knows any more where the red lines are, what could bring you trouble,” says Li Fangping, one of a remaining handful of high profile human rights lawyers not detained. “They are applied completely selectively.”

The result, says the head of one foreign non-governmental organization that is finding local partners increasingly skittish about working with him, “is that everyone lives in fear, not knowing what is acceptable and what is not.”

He Feihui, the young man who ran Li Ren’s libraries, certainly never expected to fall afoul of authorities. But he thinks he knows why they caught the government’s attention: “We emphasize individual values in our educational concept,” he explains. The name Li Ren signifies and means "becoming a person."

And the way Li Ren volunteers encouraged kids to do voluntary work, to engage in teamwork and elect their team leaders, fostered a civic consciousness and spirit that the party currently deems subversive.

Ideological sphere

The party’s Central Committee said as much 18 months ago in a “Communique on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere.” It warned that “advocates of civil society want to squeeze the party out of leadership…to the point that their advocacy is becoming a serious form of political opposition.”

Party cadres were also warned of other perils such as constitutional democracy, “universal values” like democracy and human rights, neoliberal economic theory and Western ideas of press freedom. The communiqué, known as Document No. 9, is not public; Gao Yu, a veteran Chinese journalist, has been detained and faces trial on charges of leaking state secrets after she allegedly passed the document to an overseas website.

The unusually harsh wave of repression that President Xi’s government has unleashed would appear to be a direct application of Document No. 9's guidelines.

Some 300 human rights defenders and citizens’ rights activists have been detained in the past six months, according to human rights lawyer Teng Biao, currently on a fellowship at Harvard University in Boston. Some were moderates who always tried to work within the system and advocate dialog with the government.

Last month, Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, a prominent moderate, was jailed for life. Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang has been in detention since June on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” Xu Zhiyong, who led a grassroots anti-corruption campaign, was jailed for four years last March.

Moderates pay the price

Less well known, but equally committed to working within the law according to his friends and family, are figures like Chang Boyang, a public interest lawyer who has taken many anti-discrimination cases on behalf of hepatitis sufferers.

Mr. Chang's case is instructive: He was detained last May in his hometown of Zhengzhou after unsuccessfully seeking a meeting with three of his clients at a local police station, where they were being held because they had attended a private memorial ceremony for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

“I can’t believe they arrested my father,” says his daughter, Chang Ruoyu. “He is a very mild person…who concentrates on the law. He is not a radical and he has friends in the government. He has always been very low key. It’s crazy.”

“Chang’s fate shows that even a moderate ally, if he is not controlled by the party, is not allowed,” says William Nee, a researcher for human rights watchdog Amnesty International in Hong Kong.

“The leaders seem determined not to let any sort of intellectual opposition arise,” says Sidney Rittenberg, the first American to join the Chinese Communist Party, who maintains close ties with many influential political figures here. “They are attempting to silence voices that might become focal points for dissent.”

That, he argues, is because China’s leaders have studied the collapse of the Soviet Union in great detail. They have concluded that the Soviet empire began to rot after Moscow permitted seemingly anodyne discussion groups, such as Li Ren organized for high school students, or poetry readings such as the gathering that Chinese police raided outside Beijing two weeks ago, arresting 10 artists.

“They believe that independent minded politically active intellectuals who are not entirely with the program could be the beginning of a substantial threat,” Mr. Rittenberg suggests. “The policy is to nip anything in the bud before it becomes a force.”

'Stability maintenance'

Under China’s last president, Hu Jintao, the government stressed “stability maintenance” in its efforts to keep civil society on a leash. Since taking office two years ago, Mr. Xi has adopted a policy of “civil society elimination,” argues lawyer Teng.

“The government sees civil society as a threat to its power, and thinks that if they don’t control its growth …it will become a powerful force for political change,” Teng adds. “That’s why they fear they have to arrest more and more people to keep the political system safe.”

That policy might work in the short term, predicts Teng, because the repression has “a chilling effect” on lawyers wondering whether to take a sensitive political case, or on environmental activists thinking of organizing a seminar on dam building, or on the volunteers who ran the Li Ren library here in Picun, who were too afraid to talk to a foreign journalist.


But “it is very difficult to control all the political process and the whole ideological agenda,” says Mr. Nee. “I am not sure it is possible, and that is one reason for this continuous crackdown. There really is no end in sight.” 

from: Christian Science Monitor

Friday, October 24, 2014

Homeless Outreach in Volumes: Books by Bike for ‘Outside’ People in Oregon

by: Kirk Johnson

PORTLAND, Ore. - A homeless man named Daniel was engrossed in a Barbara Kingsolver novel when his backpack was stolen recently, and Laura Moulton was determined to set things to right.

Ms. Moulton, 44, an artist, writer and adjunct professor of creative nonfiction, did not know Daniel's last name, his exact age, or really even how to find him - they had met only once. But she knew the novel, "Prodigal Summer," and that was a start. So, armed with a new copy of the book, off she went.

Such is the life of a street librarian.

This city has a deeply dyed liberal impulse beating in its veins around social and environmental causes, and a literary culture that has flourished like the blackberry thickets that mark misty Northwest woods. It has also one of the most bike-friendly, if not bike-crazed, urban spaces in the nation, as measured by commuters and bike lanes. All three of those forces are combined in Street Books, a nonprofit book service delivered by pedal-power for "people living outside," as Ms. Moulton, the founder describes the mission.

"Is Daniel around?" she asked a patron, Laura King, having just trundled up on the Street Books three-wheeler on a recent afternoon for a stop near the Willamette River northeast of downtown.

Ms. King, 41, a reader of inspirational biographies and essays, had stepped over from an area of tarps and tents, and was peering into the big wooden book cabinet mounted on the trike's front end. She shook her head.

"I have a book for him, which I'd be happy to leave with you," Ms. Moulton said.

Ms. King shrugged and said, "If something happens, and I don't see him before I see you, I'll give it back."

Ms. Moulton's reply, extending her hand with the book she had bought that morning, was pure librarian: "You ought to read it in the meantime," she said.

A concrete reality anchors Street Books to the real world: Portlanders are readers. The Multnomah County Library has the third-highest circulation among public libraries in the nation, after New York's and King County's in Seattle, according to the American Library Association's public library division. The ranking is all the more impressive for Multnomah's size, having only a little more than half of King County's population, and a quarter of New York's.

A second reality is that like so many other institutions in the digital age, libraries are redefining themselves, scrambling to stay relevant and find the toehold that keeps them linked to a city's life.

Multnomah's library, for example, helped by a grant from the foundation created by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, started a project this spring called My Librarian, which enlists library staff members as online book-list mavens who share their reding passions with library patrons by email or video chat.

Enthusiastic financial support also helps. Local voters, three elections in a row, have bolstered public library funding here in Portland. For her project, Ms. Moulton sought $4,000 from Kickstarter backers in 2011 and raised $5345. She also got a $1,000 grant this summer from the Awesome Foundation, a group that disperses funds "for the arts and sciences and the advancement of awesomeness in the universe."

"It's the beautiful messiness of human interaction," said Alison Kastner, a reader services librarian at the Multnomah library, describing the core idea of My Librarian, and the distinction between it and the coolly logical computer algorithms that comb a shoppers' tastes at sites like Amazon.

The Street Books project is nothing if not messy. The librarians - the three salaried employees, including Ms. Moulton, are paid $60 a week for a three-hour shift - fill their carts based on their tastes and their patrons' tastes. Diana Rempe, 48, a community psychologist who recently completed her Ph.D. and pedals the bike one afternoon a week, stops at a day-labor assembly site on the city's east side, where many Mexican and Latin American mean gather, waiting to be hired. So she loads up on books in Spanish. (Her proudest book coup, she said was getting a hard-to-find book on chess moves in Spanish for two Cuban players.)

"It's not just a little novelty - 'Oh, that's so Portland and cute,'" Ms. Rempe said. Takign books to the streets, she said, sends the message that poor and marginalized people are not so different from the "us" that defines the educated, literate mainstream of the city, whether in its hipsters, computer geeks or bankers.

"It transcends the bookish culture of Portland, though I think it's perfect for the bookish culture of Portland," she aid.

And maybe, to judge by people like Juliet Taliaferro, the effort also breeds new librarians.

Ms. Taliaferro, a high-energy red-haired 37-year-old who arrived in Portland on a bus in 1995 and never left, came by Ms. Moulton's cart this week looking to build a reading list for a friend in the low-income housing project where she lives. She said she hardly ever uses a regular library because of the rules and fines and library cards, and the worries about losing books. Street Books has no return policy at all, except a kind of when-you-are-done-reading, next-time-we-meet handshake agreement.

"You wouldn't be able to get a copy of 'Lord of the Flies' would you?" she said. "I need 'Lord of the Flies'; I need '1984'; and I need 'The Grapes of Wrath,'" she said.

"You're going straight for the summer beach reads," Ms. Moulton said, writing down the titles in her notebook.

"He's never read them, never even heard of them," Ms. Taliaferro said of her friend. So she's fixing that - building a reading list for him based on her own experiences and memories of books that resonated long after the final pages.

"I remember reading them and being changed by each one of them - how can you even know what the world is until you've got those stories in you?" she said.

Correction: October 10, 2014

A summary on the website with an earlier version of this article misstated who was staffing Street Books. They are employees of a nonprofit book service, not a Portland public library.

from: NY Times

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What the 'death of the library' means for the future of books

These are things that cannot be replaced by mere technology — not even a fully-loaded Kindle Fire
by: S.E. Smith

Forbes contributor Tim Worstall wants us to close public libraries and buy everyone an Amazon Kindle with an unlimited subscription. "Why wouldn't we simply junk the physical libraries and purchase an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription for the entire country?" he asks. Worstall points to substantial savings on public funds, arguing that people would have access to a much larger collection of books through a Kindle Unlimited subscription than they could get through any public library and that the government would spend far less on a bulk subscription for all residents than it ever would on funding libraries.

Is he right? Are libraries obsolete? He might be correct — but only if libraries were just about books, which they are not. Libraries are actually an invaluable public and social resource that provide so much more than simple shelves of books (or, for those in rural areas, a Bookmobile like the one this author grew up with). A world without public libraries is a grim one indeed, and the assault on public libraries should be viewed as alarming.

Humans have been curating libraries for as long as they've been creating written materials, whether they be tablets, scrolls, handwritten books, or printed mass-media. They've become archives not just of books on a variety of subjects, but also newspapers, genealogical materials, art, and more. Notably, early libraries were primarily private, with only wealthy individuals maintaining stocks of printed materials due to their expense.

That's what made the Great Library at Alexandria such an impressive, and important, resource. It wasn't just the huge volume of material on site, but the fact that any member of the public could take advantage of its resources (by demonstrating an interest and relevant skills). It hosted scores of scholars at any given time and was a critical location for research and cultural exchange.

It marked a key turning point in the history of libraries, presenting the idea that knowledge could become a public resource, and that a library could turn into a public gathering space. The ideology of the library as a place of free exchange waxed and waned over the centuries, but by the 1800s, the idea that public libraries were an important part of a free society was firmly enshrined, and numerous nations, including the U.S., made public libraries an important part of their culture.

The popular myth about the Library at Alexandria is that it was sacked and burned, but in fact, the truth of it is more complicated. It was in fact subjected to multiple raids and burnings at various points in history, after which its collections were rebuilt time and time again. What ultimately killed the Library was budget cuts.

The American Library Association has identified funding as one of the most pressing concerns for modern libraries, noting that in a nation embroiled in foreign wars and the creation of a massive security state, libraries and other public domestic resources are getting short shrift: "Libraries have seen cuts to the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), and many other programs that benefit libraries have been severely cut or in some cases terminated. We follow these other programs as well, because libraries are just one part of a much bigger picture that includes education, the humanities, the arts, and many other important social functions."

In addition to federal funding cuts, libraries have also faced state funding shortages. Earlier this year, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested slashing library funding in New York. In Vermont, the state government offers no funding assistance to libraries. In Oregon, the Pendleton Library was forced to beg for funds from the public, and it's not the only one; the Sharpsburg Community Library barely managed to meet a fundraising goal, while in Ohio, legislators are fighting to defend libraries.

Libraries are also being hit by privatization, with firms promising to cut costs for library services. Such companies actually tend to cost more for regional libraries, thanks to their incredibly high administrative costs.

Why are libraries so important? If the Kindle can provide immeasurable books at a fraction of the cost, why not simply turn to this option?

Setting aside the fact that the Kindle is laden with problematic Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, which limits individual freedoms, people don't just go to libraries for books, and technology isn't the solution to every problem. The library is a social gathering place, used to conduct classes and provide people with public resources — including computers and wireless networks for those who can't access them at home, and struggle to find their footing in a world dominated by technology.

Librarians also provide highly unique and specialized services, benefiting from years of training to learn to serve patrons. It's not just that a library provides access to books, but that it also offers access to brilliant individuals who provide research assistance, guidance, book recommendations, and tools to help people empower themselves when it comes to researching and locating information. Giving everyone a Kindle doesn't solve that problem.


The library has historically been and is today a resource for low-income people, including members of the homeless community, who can't afford individual access to what libraries have to offer. It's not just tangible things like books, magazines, and research materials such as old newspapers and property records, but the intangible: The experienced librarian, the tax preparer who provides advice, the community lectures. These are things that cannot be replaced by mere technology — not even with Kindle Fire's much-vaunted Mayday Button.

Writing in defense of libraries in 1921, George Bernard Shaw said:
The debt of British literature, and indeed every department of British culture, to the British Museum Library is incalculable. I myself worked in its reading-room daily for about eight years at the beginning of my literary career; and oh (if I may quote Wordsworth) the difference to me! And that difference was a difference to all the readers of my books and of my contributions to journalism, as well as to all the spectators of my plays: say, to be excessively cautious, not less than a million people.

He spoke to the great democratizing influence of libraries. Today, facing a yawning class and culture gap, and a shrinkage of public gathering places and public resources, library patrons need libraries more than ever before — especially since many libraries are embracing the digital revolution and becoming so much more than repositories of dead tree books. Libraries are offering computer classes, access to digital resources, and so much more.

These aren't things that a Kindle can provide, and they aren't things Amazon will ever be able to offer. Rather than giving Amazon even more power over the publishing world, we should be sinking funds into libraries to shore up society and culture — and we should give thanks for all the amazing things libraries have brought us as a public resource with a value that truly can't be estimated.

From our friends at The Daily Dot, by S. E. Smith.

from: The Week

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Hidden Costs of E-books at University Libraries

by: Peter C. Herman

For the past few years, both the California State University and the University of California libraries have been experimenting with packages that replace paper books with e-books. The advantages are obvious. With e-books, you no longer have to schlep to a library to take out a book. You just log on from whatever device connects you to the web, at whatever time and in whatever state of dress, and voila! the book appears on your screen.

But the real attraction is price. Library budgets, along with university budgets, have been slashed, and such companies as Pearson and Elsevier offer e-book packages that make it possible to gain access (I’ll explain the awkward syntax in a moment) to lots of books at what seems like a minimal cost. The savings are multiplied when the package serves the entire system. So instead of each campus buying a paper book, all 23 CSU’s, for instance, share a single e-book. That’s the theory, at least. The reality is very different.

In ancient days of yore, a library bought a book from either the publisher or a vendor, and then did with it whatever it wanted. Patrons could borrow the book, read it at leisure, renew it, or copy excerpts. Libraries shared books they didn’t own through interlibrary loan. But that’s not how e-books operate.

Instead, a library pays to access a data file by one of two routes: “PDA,” or “Patron-Driven Acquisition,” in which a vendor makes available a variety of e-books, and a certain number of “uses” (the definition varies) triggers a purchase, or a subscription to an e-library that does not involve any mechanism for buying the e-book. Both avenues come loaded with all sorts of problems.

First, reading an e-book is a different, and lesser, experience that reading a paper book, just as watching a movie at home differs from watching one in a theatre.

There’s a huge difference between casual and college reading, and recent studies prove beyond doubt that while e-books are perfectly fine for the latest John Grisham or Fifty Shades of Grey, they actively discourage intense reading and deep learning.

For example, a 2007 study concluded that “screen-based reading can dull comprehension because it is more mentally taxing and even physically tiring than reading on paper.” And a 2005 study by a professor at San Jose State University proved that online reading encourages skimming while discouraging in-depth or concentrated reading.

The solution might be to print out the chapters you want to read. But e-book packages intentionally make that as difficult as possible.

Paper books have no limitations since the library owns the book. But as Clifford Lynch recently put it, “nobody buys an e-book: one licenses it under typically very complex terms that constrain what you are allowed to do with it.” For example, at UCSD, Ebrary (now owned by Proquest), limits e-books to one user at a time, allows users to save a maximum of 30 percent of a book, “though some publishers have set more restrictive limits,” and allows you to copy only 15 percent of a book, text only, no illustrations.

At SDSU, Ebrary also limits the number of pages you can download. The amount varies by publisher. One book allows up to 89 pages, but with another, Victoria Kahn’s The Crisis of Political Obligation in England, an especially complex work with very long chapters, you get only 19 pages, and the printout comes defaced with a code plastered across the page.  There’s also a limit to how many pages you can download per session, and the total is not large. I downloaded less than 20 pages before I exceeded my quota.
The 19-page limit of an Ebrary  book.
The 19-page limit of an Ebrary book.
E-books also do not circulate beyond the institution, which effectively kills interlibrary loan. As for one book serving the entire CSU or UC systems, many come with one-user restrictions, which means that only one user at a time in the CSU or the UC can read the book. Of course, Ebrary might say that the publisher imposes these restrictions. And that’s the point: publishers do not impose restrictions on paper books. E-book packages also compromise the stability of the library’s collection since the vendor can remove one at their discretion, without notice. So one day you can access a book, the next day, it has disappeared.

E-books prevent deep reading, their use is highly restricted, and they can vanish without notice, so why are the CSU and the UC libraries experimenting with replacing paper with computer files? Is the e-book phenomenon yet another example of university administrators chasing after the latest e-fad? Like MOOCs (which even Sebastian Thrun of Udacity called “a lousy product”), e-books trade something that works for something that doesn’t, and even worse, threaten to destroy the very notion of a library. What’s the attraction?

The answer is that e-books seem like a cheap way to access hundreds, if not thousands, of expensive books essential for research and teaching. Right now, the subscription packages Proquest and Ebsco offer may sound like they cost a lot (between $500-$800,000 a year), but the price is “extremely low relative to the number of books acquired,” to quote the CSU report on the e-book pilot project.  The average cost per book for Ebrary’s package is between $5 and $9, a spectacular savings given that the average price for a hardcover scholarly book in the humanities is around $100, and many are much more expensive.

Then again, payday loans also seem like a cheap way to deal with, shall we say, a period of financial embarrassment. But the long-term costs of these loans can be ruinous, and the same goes of e-journal article packages. In the beginning they too were priced “extremely low relative to the number” of journals acquired.  But they did not stay “extremely low” for long. Today, the exorbitant amounts such companies as Elsevier and Springer charge eat up a greater and greater percentage of library budgets, and their contracts usually last for three to five years with built-in increases of 6 percent per year, well above inflation.

Lured by the initial low price and the promise of convenience, university libraries are now trapped, since they cannot risk losing access to all the major journals.  As prices rise and budgets either stay the same or drop, a greater and greater percentage goes toward servicing the package journal subscription, less and less toward staffing, hours, and the like.

The same thing will happen with e-book packages. In the past, once the library purchased the book, that was the end of the transaction. The library didn’t have to keep sending the publisher money to keep the book in circulation. No matter what happened, no matter how great the budget cut, the book stayed in the library, because the library owned it.

But that is not the case with an e-book subscription. Right now, prices seem entirely reasonable, but once a library or a library system gets hooked, then they must continually pay the rising subscription fee or else a huge number of books will just disappear. With a traditional book, the costs end once the purchase is complete. But with e-book packages, the costs never end. They just keep rising.

Even worse, by replacing paper books with e-book packages, university libraries will have outsourced the collection of knowledge to multinational, private corporations whose primary goal is not advancing knowledge, but profits. E-book packages are another step in transforming libraries from centers of scholarship, teaching and research into cash cows for Proquest’s bottom line.

Why would libraries even consider such a Faustian deal? Simple: they are trying to make the best of a very bad situation. University budgets have in no way recovered from the financial crash, which reduced funding by two billion dollars. True, some money has been restored, but the CSU’s budget now matches what we had in 2007, and we have to teach 90,000 more students. If e-book packages sound like a poor idea, then the answer is to restore higher education funding to a level where we don’t have to make such terrible decisions.


Peter C. Herman is a professor of English Literature at San Diego State University. He works on Shakespeare, Milton, and the literature of terrorism. 

from: Times of San Diego