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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Et Tu, Penguin?

I'm sure you've all heard about the Penguin ebook thing. Yeahhh. It's been bugging me for the past couple of days, so instead of a posting funny library story, I'm going to say a few frustrated words about the whole mess from my perspective as a children's librarian.

A great post by Librarian by Day reminded me of something I heard at a wedding last year. During the reception, I met a woman whose sister used to work for one of the "Big Six" publishing houses. (I can't remember which one, and I don't remember her exact title, but she was pretty high up there.) When I told the woman that I was a librarian, her eyes lit up and she said that her sister had a motto: "Get the librarians on your side."

It stuck with me. And if you think about it, it just makes sense. Librarians exist, in part, to push books to a wider audience. Children's librarians especially focus on getting kids excited about reading so that they become life-long readers. Librarians don't do this job for any kind of profit (except, you know, a salary). There's no commission earned when kids read more books. We don't get special prizes for doing storytime. We do it because we love books and reading and we want kids to grow up loving books and reading. Call me a sap, but it's really that simple.

We also do it because we recognize how libraries fit in to the greater picture of kids' lives. We know that libraries fill a gap that might be left open because of ecnonomic  hardships or educational deficiencies. Literacy is quickly getting edged out as a priority in this country, and that is wrong. We in the book business should be making it EASIER for people to read books, not more difficult.

Libraries strive to make it easier. That's why this whole Penguin kerfuffle makes me (and many other librarians, by the looks of Twitter and other library-related blogs) confused and sad, especially coming on the heels of the Harper Collins controversy. We WANT kids, teens, and adults to read books and buy books and borrow them from the library. Reading is the one of the only things I can think of that is both intensely personal and ideal for sharing. It seems counterintuative to prevent the sharing of books by focusing solely on potential sales.

As of today, Penguin has restored Kindle lending, but it still isn't allowing the lending of new titles. I sense that this is only the beginning of problems that libraries will face as we move forward into the digital age. My advice to all publishers? Make this your motto: get the librarians on your side. Not only will your books be read, but you will be contributing to the advancement of literacy for new generations of readers. Isn't that what publishing is supposed to be all about in the first place? 


  1. AMEN!! I wish more publishers would "get" this.

  2. I love the "Get the librarians on your side". Truer words never spoken. Or typed.

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  4. I really enjoyed this blog. We need to make ebook lending easy for users, but worthwhile for publishers. I'm building a DRM-free ebook lending social network that would accomplish this. I have a brief explanation of how it works at ourbookshelf.com

    Whenever I read something like this I get reminded how much we need better ways to lend ebooks.

  5. This is so true! As a future librarian I really want to get kids to start reading books and keep reading them!


  6. Why can't publishers put together a special license for libraries? Not everyone can afford a Kindle or similar device. Not everyone wants one. The worship of profit will not end well.

  7. While I do agree with everything you've said, keep in mind what made Penguin so upset was that the Kindle lending was taking the patrons to the Amazon website, away from the library's website. So if Penguin wins this fight, patrons will be staying on your website instead of being directed to one of your competitors (and as Amazon keeps fighting these fights about loaning books, they certainly are directly competing with libraries now, not just with bookstores.)From what I understand, it seems like Penguin is on the side of the libraries.