The topic of my last column was “Time to vote for better eBook access.”
I wish I had better news to tell you about eBook publisher giant Macmillan’s embargo on libraries. But this nation’s library leaders are still working to provide you with better eBook access and it is our hope to persuade Macmillan that libraries and publishers have been and should be on the same side when it comes to access.
As you might remember, this column was based on a number of news reports including an article from the online publication Slate, “Why Angry Librarians Are Going to War With Publishers Over E-Books: Inside an Appropriately Quiet Revolt” in its Sept. 11 edition. (https://slate.com/business/2019/
In the meantime, another series of news reports tell the shocking story of how a library’s routine procurement of the digital edition of the New York Times was thwarted. One such account, “Dissing access to the New York Times, Citrus County commissioners embarrass Florida” comes from the Tampa Bay Times (https://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/2019/11/08/dissing-access-
We live in very interesting times on a great number of fronts, and access to legitimate news sources is essential in our democracy with libraries at the forefront. I’m fond of quoting Lady Bird Johnson’s assertion that “perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.”
These days more of you are likely to come in for digital materials including eBooks and news resources. When our efforts to provide you with these resources is thwarted, what does that say about our democracy?
As part of these very interesting times we approach the bearers of news differently. “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” used to be reserved for your uncle’s favorite moose lamp, but these days is how most of us assess real news from fake news through different lenses.
So where do libraries stand on this divide? As close to the middle as humanly possible through a sound Collection Development policy “to provide information, serve leisure needs, contribute to education, encourage the development of reading skills and habits, develop an educated workforce and society, and further democratic traditions.”
This policy (https://www.gilibrary.org/home/showdocument?id14746) contains a number of criteria for collection development, the first of which are needs and interests of the library’s users and anticipated users; value of the material for information, recreation, or education; contemporary significance or permanent value; accuracy and authority. The overarching principle of our policy is embodied in what is called the Library Bill of Rights (https://www.gilibrary.org/home/showdocument?id8563), and the section most relevant to the issue in Citris County, Fla., is:
“Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
How that is accomplished is a matter for every individual library to determine with the strength of its board of trustees and staff. Not every news source can be placed on library shelves. Along with The Grand Island Independent, we subscribe to the print editions of several Nebraska newspapers including the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald. Nationally, we are soon picking up the Denver Post (replacing the Kansas City Star due to publisher/vendor restrictions) and we have Barron’s, New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.
To supplement these print offerings, we subscribe to an online service called Newsbank that provides access to almost 5,500 news sources. But for all sorts of publisher/vendor reasons, many authoritative sources are not available through Newsbank. So as we work out access arrangements within budget constraints, not partisan disapproval, let’s continue to vote with libraries to assure access to news information.
Steve Fosselman is the director of the Grand Island Public Library. Email him at SteveF@gilibrary.org.