Libraries

We Wanted Our Patrons Back — Public Libraries Scrap Late Fines

3 December 2019

From National Public Radio:

For nearly a decade, Diana Ramirez hadn’t been able to take a book home from the San Diego Public Library. Her borrowing privileges were suspended, she was told, because of a mere $10 in late fees, an amount that had grown to $30 over the years.

Ramirez, who is now 23 and stays in Tijuana with her mother, attends an alternative education program in San Diego that helps students earn high school diplomas. To her, the debt she owed to the library system was an onerous sum. Even worse, it removed a critical resource from her life.

“I felt disappointed in myself because I wasn’t able to check out books,” Ramirez said. “I wasn’t able to use the computers for doing my homework or filling out job applications. I didn’t own a computer, so the library was my only option to access a computer.”

In April, Ramirez finally caught a break. The San Diego Public Library wiped out all outstanding late fines for patrons, a move that followed the library system’s decision to end its overdue fines. Ramirez was among the more than 130,000 beneficiaries of the policy shift, cardholders whose library accounts were newly cleared of debt.

. . . .

The changes were enacted after a city study revealed that nearly half of the library’s patrons whose accounts were blocked as a result of late fees lived in two of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. “I never realized it impacted them to that extent,” said Misty Jones, the city’s library director.

. . . .

“Library users with limited income tend to stay away from libraries because they may be afraid of incurring debt,” said Ramiro Salazar, president of the [American Library Association’s] public library division. “It stands to reason these same users will also stay away if they have already incurred a fine simply because they don’t have the money to pay the fine.”

Lifting fines has had a surprising dual effect: More patrons are returning to the library, with their late materials in hand. Chicago saw a 240% increase in return of materials within three weeks of implementing its fine-free policy last month. The library system also had 400 more card renewals compared with that time last year.

. . . .

According to Chicago Public Library’s internal analysis, some 30% of people living on the South Side of Chicago couldn’t check out materials because they had reached the $10 fine limit for overdue materials. That ratio, however, dropped roughly 15% among cardholders on the more affluent North Side. Nearly a quarter of blocked accounts belonged to children under 14.

Having library fines stand in the way of people searching for jobs and social services “just seemed counterintuitive to us,” Telli said.

. . . .

Mitchell acknowledged that some people are not able to easily return books on time, but fears libraries will be shortchanged.

“The library deserves as much money as it can muster,” he said.

Some libraries have taken that philosophy to extremes. In November, a woman in southern Michigan faced criminal charges and possible jail time for not returning two books to the Charlotte Community Library.

After a national outcry, prosecutors dropped the charges. While library advocates say there is a real difference between fine forgiveness and failing to return a book, the case underlines the tensions libraries face between balancing patron accommodation and the need for deterrence.

And add this complicating factor to the equation: The fact that many libraries can’t afford to collect most of the fines they’re owed.

. . . .

Some libraries have successfully lured back patrons by offering fine-forgiveness days. During a 2017 amnesty campaign in San Francisco, the public library recovered nearly 700,000 of its items over six weeks and restored the accounts of more than 5,000 patrons. The recouped materials included a long-lost copy of F. Hopkins Smith’s Forty Minutes Late — which, despite its title, was a century overdue.

Link to the rest at NPR

PG acknowledges that he posted about an article on the same topic that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, but thought this was an important and interesting trend.

Better World Libraries

3 December 2019

From Library Journal:

The Internet Archive (IA) on November 6 announced that its longtime not-for-profit partner, Better World Libraries, had acquired Better World Books, a mission-driven for-profit bookseller that has donated almost $29 million and more than 26.5 million books to global literacy programs during the past two decades. Better World Books’ Library Discards and Donations program, launched in 2004, has also been a major contributor to the company’s efforts to redistribute or recycle an additional 326 million books.

. . . .

“One of the biggest challenges facing libraries today is responsibly removing materials from their shelves so they can bring in more desirable materials or repurpose space to fit community needs,” Jim Michalko, Better World Books board member and former president of The Research Libraries Group, explained in the announcement. “Now, libraries can provide books to Better World Books knowing that a digital copy will be created and preserved if one doesn’t yet exist.”

. . . .

“What we’re trying to do is weave books into the Internet itself, starting with Wikipedia,” Kahle said. “The idea is to turn all of [Wikipedia.org’s] footnotes into live links, so that anyone who wants to go deeper from a Wikipedia article, can click on a footnote and open a book, right on the right page.”

IA has an ongoing relationship with Wikipedia. Notably, IABot crawls Wikipedia pages searching for broken links and repairs those links by finding an archived version of the original webpage using IA’s Wayback Machine. To date, the bot has repaired more than ten million links.

“Now, we have a robot going through [Wikipedia] and augmenting book citations with links to books in the Internet Archive,” Kahle said. “That, we think, is a big deal for usability. And it helps battle misinformation by taking the best, vetted information that we have and making that accessible to Wikipedia writers and also readers. The next puzzle beyond that is ‘how do you go and scale that up?’ We now have over 120,000 Wikipedia citations pointing to over 40,000 books, but we want to get to millions of links going to millions of books. The way we’re going to get there is by working really closely with Better World Books.”

IA has already digitized over four million books, most of which are public domain titles published before 1923, Kahle said. Its leadership aims to digitize four million more during the next four years—primarily 20th-century content obtained through the new Better World Books pipeline, as well as direct donations from libraries and other sources.

. . . .

Links to reliable sources will help “fulfill the promise of the internet as a library that people can depend on for reference work,” Kahle said. In this case, digitized books will be used “less for beach reading, more for jumping in and out of books—fact checking.”

Link to the rest at Library Journal and thanks to Marv for the tip.

No Time for Sargent

9 November 2019

From Scrivener’s Error:

It’s not often that one can legitimately call an “official” major corporation CEO communication “inherently deceptive and based on fantasy or science fiction only.” OK, it’s not routine that one can do so — not even in the entertainment industry — thanks to SEC disclosure rules. But there’s a recent opportunity; and I have both personal knowledge and verifiable data to do it.

In this instance, for public consumption I’m relying upon (hack! phhhhht!) PW‘s account of Macmillan “CEO” John Sargent’s presentation to state librarians on discriminatory e-book distribution. So, why do I think Sargent was being deceptive? In no particular order:

  • Anecdotally (apparently according to Sargent himself!), eight percent of science fiction and fantasy fans who couldn’t get an e-book promptly from the library would instead go out and buy it. So it really is based on fantasy and science fiction! One wonders what kind of anecdotal “evidence” this is — whether it’s based on a random sample of fannish statements of intent, actual general sales figures (but see below), comparative library purchase figures and circulation statistics (but see below), or as is most likely self-selected fannish responses based on a self-selected subset of fen.
  • Well, how about reproducibility? A nonscientific, nonreplicable sampling indicates an increase of between 12 and 15% in publicly stated “user views” of library-embargoed Tor titles over the past year at relatively safe pirate venues… and a disproportionate (compared to other similar imprints, and even generally) increase in the number of pirate handles associated with library-embargoed Tor titles over the past year. This has been a distinctly, but due to the poor quality of the dataset not statistically validatable, greater increase for library-embargoed Tor books than for other similar and dissimilar imprints. The conclusion one can draw is that an unknown but probably substantial proportion of the vaunted 8% were interested in acquiring the Tor titles, not necessarily buying them. And demonstrated with their actions (not unverifiable, anecdotal statements of intent) that that is precisely what they would do.

. . . .

As a follow-on to the preceding point, carefully consider the assertion (quoting the PW piece’s summary of another summary) that

[Sargent] likened the e-book marketplace to that for major motion pictures in that new releases have the greatest value in their first few weeks and their initial release should allow for the greatest return on both creative and business investment. The availability of e-books through libraries, which may be perceived as being free, is, in Macmillan’s opinion, the major driver in the consumer decline.

which rather self-refutes the argument. Bluntly, if this were actually a valid consideration, the combination of revenues from DVD sales and post-release streaming/broadcast/etc. would not frequently exceed the initial release revenue… when one allows for the avoided costs in that back end (such as “distribution fees”). It also implicitly assumes that every Macmillan title is a superhero blockbuster. It ignores cult films. Or “indie productions” over at, say, Picador (“Fox Searchlight”).

More subtly, it ignores the more-valid comparison. Library sales — thanks to the discriminatory terms offered to libraries — are a helluva lot closer to “iMax 3D” with a $25 ticket than to no sale at all, as implied both in the PW piece’s summary and the continuing rhetoric coming out of Macmillan. There is one, and only one, market segment in which “discounting” of library sales as “insignificant” has any validity at all, and it’s not category trade fiction: It’s textbooks (at least in the 1990s version of the market, and those who came up selling textbooks in the 1990s are now in charge of overall sales and marketing at more than one Big Five publisher).

. . . .

Bluntly, this is so delusional that I can’t really say it’s a “lie.” Lying requires actual knowledge that what one is saying is untruthful and deceptive. I’m not certain that mere ignorance and/or self-deception, even when willful, qualifies, so I’m explicitly not calling Mr Sargent a liar. Fraud goes just a bit farther, in that it also requires intent that the listener reasonably rely on those statements, so I’m explicitly not calling Mr Sargent a con artist, either. I am, however, explicitly calling him out for putting forth bullshit.

Link to the rest at Scrivener’s Error

And these people style themselves as curators of our culture.

Plus, a reminder that traditionally-published authors basically have no say in what these curators do with their books.

Congress Looking into Anticompetitive Behavior in the Digital Library Market

31 October 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

The American Library Association (ALA) has delivered a written report to the House Judiciary Committee telling lawmakers that “unfair behavior by digital market actors,” including Amazon and some major publishers, is “doing concrete harm to libraries.”

The report, delivered last week to a House antitrust subcommittee investigating competition in the digital market, comes as lawmakers are taking note of the growing backlash to Big Five publisher Macmillan’s decision to impose a two-month embargo on new release e-books in public libraries.

. . . .

Under Macmillan’s new policy, which is scheduled to go into effect on November 1, public libraries are allowed to license a singe discounted, perpetual access e-book for the first eight weeks after a book’s publication. After eight weeks, libraries can purchase multiple two-year licenses at the regular price (roughly $60 for new works). Librarians, however, say that not being allowed to license multiple copies upon publication unfairly punishes digital readers, and will only serve to frustrate users and will hurt the ability of the library to serve their community, especially if other publishers follow suit.

“Libraries are prepared to pay a fair price for fair services; in fact, over the past ten years, libraries have spent over $40 billion acquiring content,” the ALA report reads. “But abuse of their market position by dominant actors in digital markets is impeding essential library activities that are necessary to ensure that all Americans have access to information, both today and for posterity. If these abuses go unchecked, America’s competitiveness and our cultural heritage as a nation are at risk.”

. . . .

“The worst obstacle for libraries are marketplace bans: refusal to sell services at any price,” ALA officials notes, pointing to Amazon Publishing. “The e-book titles from Amazon Publishing are not available to libraries for lending at any price or any terms. By contrast, consumers may purchase all of these titles directly from Amazon. This is a particularly pernicious new form of the digital divide; Amazon Publishing books are available only to people who can afford to buy them, without the library alternative previously available to generations of Americans.”

. . . .

A “related problem,” ALA asserts—though it is surely the primary problem libraries face on a day-to-day basis—is the increasingly restrictive, and costly market for e-books from the major publishers.

. . . .

The inquiry comes after the House Judiciary Committee launched its investigation into competition in the digital market on June 3, 2019, with Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) citing “growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Congress Looking into Anticompetitive Behavior in the Digital Library Market

24 October 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

The American Library Association (ALA) has delivered a written report to the House Judiciary Committee telling lawmakers that “unfair behavior by digital market actors,” including Amazon and some major publishers, is “doing concrete harm to libraries.”

The report, delivered last week to a House antitrust subcommittee investigating competition in the digital market, comes as lawmakers are taking note of the growing backlash to Big Five publisher Macmillan’s decision to impose a two-month embargo on new release e-books in public libraries.

. . . .

The ALA comments break down what it sees as potentially “anticompetitive” behavior in the digital realm into two sectors—public and school libraries, and academic and research libraries. And no surprise, the two issues topping the list of ALA’s concerns: Amazon’s exclusive digital content, which is not available to libraries; and restrictions by the major publishers in the library e-book market.

“The worst obstacle for libraries are marketplace bans: refusal to sell services at any price,” ALA officials notes, pointing to Amazon Publishing. “The e-book titles from Amazon Publishing are not available to libraries for lending at any price or any terms. By contrast, consumers may purchase all of these titles directly from Amazon. This is a particularly pernicious new form of the digital divide; Amazon Publishing books are available only to people who can afford to buy them, without the library alternative previously available to generations of Americans.”

. . . .

A “related problem,” ALA asserts—though it is surely the primary problem libraries face on a day-to-day basis—is the increasingly restrictive, and costly market for e-books from the major publishers. This includes the “delayed release” of e-books to the library market, the ALA report states, pointing to Macmillan’s two-month embargo on new release e-book titles, scheduled to take effect on November 1, and “abusive” pricing for library e-books, where titles can often run more than four times the consumer price for two year licenses.

“Denying or delaying new content to libraries certainly is a market failure,” ALA states. “It also prevents libraries from accomplishing their democratizing mission of providing equal access to information to American citizens.”

. . . .

The inquiry comes after the House Judiciary Committee launched its investigation into competition in the digital market on June 3, 2019, with Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) citing “growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Major Public Library System Will Boycott Macmillan E-books

23 October 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

With Macmillan’s controversial embargo on new release library e-books set to begin in just two weeks, PW has learned that the King County (WA) Library System has decided it will no longer purchase embargoed e-book titles from the publisher.

“Despite months of discussion and advocacy, Macmillan continues its position to embargo multiple copies of e-books,” writes King County Library executive director Lisa Rosenblum, in a note sent to fellow library directors (and shared with PW). ”Therefore, effective November 1st, KCLS will no longer purchase e-books from Macmillan. Instead we will divert our e-book funds to those publishers who are willing to sell to us.”

The King County Library System, headquartered in Issaquah, Washington, is one of the nation’s busiest and best library systems, circulating more than 21 million items every year. It has earned a coveted five star rating from Library Journal. And for five years running, King County has been the top digital-circulating public library system in the country, logging more than 4.8 million checkouts of e-books and digital audio in 2018.

In her note, Rosenblum acknowledged differing opinions among public library staff around the country on whether to boycott Macmillan e-books, and said King County’s decision was ultimately driven by two reasons: one “pragmatic” and the other “principled.”

As for the pragmatic side, Rosenblum explained that King County has pledged to readers to limit the wait time for any title to around 3 months. “Not allowing us to purchase multiple copies of an e-book for two months artificially lengthens the queue, triggering more of the same title to be purchased than would have occurred if we had been allowed to buy for the first two months,” she explains. “With an ever-increasing demand to buy a wide variety of digital titles, we do not think this is the best use of public funds.”

. . . .

The “principled” argument, Rosenblum says, is to send a message to other publishers that public libraries cannot accept limits on basic access. To do so, she writes, would “profoundly” change the public library.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has posted about this stupid plan by Macmillan before here and here.

Suffice to say, this is harmful to libraries and those who use them and unlikely to generate significantly more revenue for Macmillan.

As far as Macmillan’s justification – that library patrons will buy more Macmillan books if they can’t borrow them, PG expects this is likely the case in the short run. However, as library patrons continue to discover new authors they love through the books they borrow, and buy books from those authors, and tell all their friends how great those authors books are, Macmillan is short-changing its owners and its authors by effectively giving up on a major (and free) source of additional sales.

As compared with purchasing advertising and giving big discounts to Barnes & Noble (is that still a thing?), whatever dribs and drabs Macmillan fails to garner from regular library patrons who decide they simply must read whatever Macmillan claims is the latest and greatest instead of borrowing a different book are a drop in the bucket compared to the priceless word-of-mouth avid readers provide.

Finally, Feel Free to Return That Library Book You Checked Out in 1981

10 October 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Casey Kidik was in fifth grade when she came across a copy of “Julie of the Wolves.” She had checked it out as a second-grader from the public library in Carver, Mass. By the time she rediscovered the book, the family had moved to Plymouth.

“I found it and then didn’t even want to tell my mom,” recalled Ms. Kidik, 25 years old. She hid the book in her bedroom bookshelf for months before coming clean ahead of a family trip to Carver. Embarrassed, she returned it, and her mom paid the $3.25 fine.

Ms. Kidik felt so guilty she avoided borrowing another book for nearly 20 years. “It’s this weird shame that we have about library late fees,” said Ms. Kidik, now a communications analyst at an asset management firm.

Libraries have come to realize what a lot of guilty readers already know—that late fees prompt some borrowers to keep books rather than face the humiliating tsk-tsk of librarians collecting late fees. That chapter is about over.

This week, Chicago became the largest American metropolis to end charges for overdue books, joining at least 150 library systems in the U.S. and Canada that have ended late-shaming fines, according to the Urban Libraries Council. So far this year, libraries in St. Paul, Minn., Dallas and Oakland, Calif., are among those that have joined the late-fee amnesty movement.

Libraries are fighting for customers to survive in a digital world. One strategy is to remove the twin burdens of fines and guilt.

. . . .

Overdue charges range from around 17 cents a day and up. Libraries often cap fines at $5 to $10, or charge the cost of replacing the item, according to a 2017 study by the Library Journal.

For many borrowers, the money is less onerous than the feelings of disgrace. St. Paul Public Library Director Catherine Penkert said friends used to hang their head in shame and confess “I didn’t even want to tell you, I have fines.”

Sharon Bostick, who recently retired as the dean of libraries at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, knows the feeling. She created the Library Anxiety Scale, a part of her doctoral dissertation.

“All the rules that we have, and the fines and the fees, they’re making libraries really hard to deal with,” she said. “Putting everybody in this spot where they’re going to be fined to death is not helpful.”

Since St. Paul killed overdue fines, some branches have seen a double-digit percentage increase in circulation. Citywide, circulation is up nearly 2%, a surprising plot twist after years of steady declines.

The fear of returning overdue books is part of American culture. In a 1988 episode of “Married with Children,” character Al Bundy faced a $2,163 fine for a copy of the “Little Engine That Could” 31 years overdue. A 1991 episode of “Seinfeld” has Jerry being dogged by a library cop over a book due in 1971.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Who doesn’t read books in America?

4 October 2019

From The Pew Research Center:

Roughly a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 8 to Feb. 7. Who are these non-book readers?

. . . .

[A]dults with a high school diploma or less are far more likely than those with a bachelor’s or advanced degree to report not reading books in any format in the 12 months before the survey (44% vs. 8%). Adults with lower levels of educational attainment are also among the least likely to own smartphones, a device that saw a substantial increase in usage for reading e-books from 2011 to 2016. (College-educated adults are more likely to own these devices and use them to read e-books.)

Adults whose annual household income is $30,000 or less are more likely than those living in households earning $75,000 or more a year to be non-book readers (36% vs. 14%). Hispanic (40%) and black (33%) adults are more likely than whites (22%) to report not having read a book in the past 12 months. But there are differences between Hispanics born inside and outside the United States: 56% of foreign-born Hispanics report not having read a book, compared with 27% of Hispanics born in the U.S.

. . . .

The same demographic traits that characterize non-book readers also often apply to those who have never been to a library. In a 2016 survey, we found that Hispanics, older adults, those living in households earning less than $30,000 and those who have a high school diploma or did not graduate from high school are the most likely to report they have never been to a public library.

Link to the rest at The Pew Research Center

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