Ebook Services Are Bringing Unhinged Conspiracy Books into Public Libraries

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From Vice:

For years, the digital media service Hoopla has given library patrons access to ebooks, movies, and audiobooks through bulk subscriptions sold to public libraries. But more recently, librarians have started calling for transparency into the company’s practices after realizing its digital ebook collection contains countless low-quality titles promoting far-right conspiracy theories, COVID disinformation, LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, and Holocaust denial.

In February, a group of librarians in Massachusetts identified a number of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic books on Hoopla, including titles like “Debating The Holocaust” and “A New Nobility of Blood and Soil”—the latter referring to the infamous Nazi slogan for nationalist racial purity. After public outcry from library and information professionals, Hoopla removed a handful of titles from its digital collection.

In an email obtained by the Library Freedom Project last month, Hoopla CEO Jeff Jankowski explained that the titles came from the company’s network of more than 18,000 publishers: “[The titles] were added within the most recent twelve months and, unfortunately, they made it through our protocols that include both human and system-driven reviews and screening.”

However, quick Hoopla keyword searches for ebooks about “homosexuality” and “abortion” turn up dozens of top results that contain largely self-published religious texts categorized as “nonfiction,” including several titles like “Can Homosexuality Be Healed” which promote conversion therapy and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. This prompted a group of librarians to start asking how these titles are appearing in public library catalogs and why they are ranked so high.

“If [ebooks containing disinformation] were on the tenth page of results it wouldn’t be as noticeable, but they’re on the first page of results,” Jennie Rose Halperin, the executive director of Library Futures, told Motherboard. “What this says to me is that vendors don’t think people who are accessing resources through public libraries deserve quality, verifiable information.”

Hoopla serves more than 3,000 library systems and is in more than 8,500 public libraries across the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Hoopla allows library users to check out ebooks from their personal devices. All anyone needs to explore Hoopla’s ebook catalog is a registered public library card. Hoopla is one of a few major ebook vendors libraries use to ensure library-goers have access to digital content. But unlike other services like Overdrive, which lets librarians order individual ebooks, Hoopla only sells ebook subscriptions, meaning that libraries have little choice over what titles they’re getting from the service.

Unlike print books that libraries can buy directly from publishers, publishers only sell lending rights to ebooks using third-party vendors like Hoopla. Ebook use has been on the rise for the past decade, and vendors like Overdrive and Hoopla have claimed dramatic increases in ebook checkouts during the pandemic when many libraries were unable to operate at a full in-person capacity. Since March 2020, demand for ebook titles from lending services like Hoopla soared.

Sarah Lamdan, a law professor at the City University of New York School of Law data analytics companies in publishing says many libraries choose to subscribe to bundles because it’s cheaper for libraries that are already strapped for cash.

“We lease these streams of content like on Netflix or Spotify,” Lamdan told Motherboard. “It’s more expensive to be deliberate and choose titles a la carte than it is to buy one of these bundles, and [libraries] are not given a lot of choice about it. Although libraries are super trusted and seen as so important to society, they’re not properly funded.”

“It’s just another way that the outsourcing of traditional information roles is really poisoning the well of fact and truth and reliable information sources,” Lamdan added.

Librarians also say that ebook subscription prices are unsustainable as they typically cost three times as much as a customer’s ebook purchase through Kindle. This is emblematic of at least a decade of tension in the digital library market in which librarians have little power to negotiate with publishers and vendors over prices that continue to climb. Libraries are also operating in a time loop where they have to keep purchasing licenses from the Big-Five publishers (Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Randomhouse and Simon & Schuster) through what’s called “metered access.” Typically ebook subscription licenses expire after a two-year term or after 26 circulations per purchase. Except the price keeps climbing.

Link to the rest at Vice

13 thoughts on “Ebook Services Are Bringing Unhinged Conspiracy Books into Public Libraries”

  1. Given a lot of the other nonsense I’ve seen in the nonfiction section of the library, particularly astrology, I find this hysteria misplaced.

  2. I think the easy answer is to ignore the problem, and people will lose interest in artificial confrontations over opinions.

    Oh, isn’t that what got us here? I don’t know. Maybe just better education to equip people with the knowledge to understand rhetoric, probabilities etc would be enough to allow rational discussion.

    • Better education, yes. But that would require, among other things, teaching civics (rights vs responsibilities), federalism (not everything needs to be a national crisis), and tolerance (there is more than one way to live pracefully), and above all. yes, critical analysis.

      But tbat kind of level-headed, rational thinking is anathema to the opportunists looking to agitate and prosper (financially as well as ideologically) out of driving the masses into a frenzy. What is the payoff for them of a stable peaceful society? And above all, who bells the cat?

      Neither side wants a stable balance, both want to institutionalize their world views And both expect the other side to roll over and play dead, “because we said so.” Absolutists vs absolutists. “Pox ‘pon both their houses.”

      Outside, the old Breton Woods order burns; inside, conflict and turmoil as the last gasp of gerontocracy fails. Asimov termed it a Seldon Crisis. Or, we can just remember the 1930’s. Either way, big changes are incoming. Hopefully we’ll survive.

      That is TBD.
      Maybe a Carrington Event will settle eveything.

      • Sometimes, ignoring the situation is the wisest choice.
        C.F., Florida vs Disney.

        Their first instinct has proven to have been the safest as playing to the (internal) peanut gallery has cost them their privilege and freedom from regulation. The new law may or not be overturned (given the clear political basis behind it) but Florida is a state where the bulk of the establishment is controlled by the opposition to tbe gerontocracy and run by a governor with ambitions to succede them.

        A business relying on *family* mass entertainment for a major portion of its income *and* special treatment by state government should have known better than to walk into that quagmire.


        • Agree. And applying the principle, we see that if Disney ignored the situation it would have ceded the field to DeSantis.

          One has to pay very close attention to the situation, and then select the best option. Act or refrain.

          Disney’s analysis was very poor. They failed to consider 1) the considerable force the conservatives could muster if they chose, and 2) the willingness of the specific conservatives they were dealing with to use it.

          A wise company would have ceded the field.

          • It wasn’t exactly a field they had to be involved in, much less a hill to die on.

            After all their primary business under the Disney brand is “family friendly” entertainment. They just burned a big chunk of their brand equity. Over sex education for first graders?

            And now…?
            Do they go to war with their host state and keep the catfight atop Florida news all the way to the election and beyond?

            Do they submit and satch their tax exemptions go away? The state just handed the two counties Disney’s empire was carved out of the hot potato of providing the services the House of Mouse was providing. Fire and police are technically manageable, logistically, but Disney also set building codes and other regulations, all aligned with corporate interests. So taxes will come to fund all that (and a bit of the surrounding counties’ needs) and along with that almost certainly audits. If there’s and skeletons going back 60 years…

            Somebody didn’t think things through: this was exactly the time to be a “cold hearted capitalist” not a woke social justice warrior. Or, worse, an object lesson to every other company getting incentives and sweet deals: governments give nothing tbey didn’t first take from others and what they give they can also take.

            Right now Nickelodeon and Warner have to be sharpening their knives.

              • They didn’t need self rule to build their business so leveling the field will help them.
                Maybe tbey’ll file friends of the court briefs in the court battle? 😉

  3. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many libraries offer access to the internet through unmonitored computers in the library itself. Patrons can read anything they want on those computers. They can choose for themselves what they want to read.

    For example, anyone can access a library computer and read things like, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character. It is also easy to find “woman” defined as an adult human female.

    If these computers are not removed immediately, patrons will continue to read things the librarians don’t want them to read.

  4. So it’s OK for librarians to censor if it’s to fight “misinformation”. After all, they know what is quality, verifiable information on such controversial topics such as Covid, abortion, and sexuality.

    I know I’d rather read what Glenn Greenwald has to say – at least he’s consistent and open to other views.

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