Solidarity is powerful. And Libraries don’t have it.

Protesting Scott Walker

By now we’ve had time for the various responses to the Harper Collins proposed licensing changes to sink in. There are many different camps within the library and publisher worlds, some are still in favor of a boycott, whether explicit or implicit.

We can debate whether a boycott would work or not from many different perspectives. Sarah Glassmeyer does a fair job of arguing that it doesn’t make economic sense. Admittedly,  I disagree for two reasons:

1. She doesn’t account for the free advertising that libraries provide publishers as supporters of book culture. I don’t know how or if you could measure that impact, but I’d wager it’s not insignificant enough to be ignored as part of the equation if we really are trying to do the math.

2. If publishers didn’t feel that the library market was not economically significant, then why would they have taken this step? Anyone who doesn’t think that publishers are concerned about the money they stand to lose (or gain) from libraries need only ask um, Harper Collins. That’s why they are making these changes, remember?

But I don’t want to belabor that. As I mentioned in my first post on the issue– my concern isn’t with Harper Collins specifically, it’s with the chipping away of our limited bargaining power as consortia. To me, this is the greater issue– we are already so fractured and I want to see us pull together. I am not in favor of a boycott so much as I am in favor of only bargaining in groups or as an industry as a whole. This is a role I’d like to see Library Renewal take.

So, it’s with great disappointment that I don’t see anyone taking a leadership role in this regard, instead there is too much talk in libraryland on the subject of our reactions. And so we stand divided just as we did before Harper Collins made their move.

First of all, why the concern with “how we look”? Do you really think that makes a difference in negotiations? Because. It. Doesn’t. It’s all about business, baby. People blow up on each other all the time but the mighty dollar marches on. But if we *are* concerned with how we look, then we should show a bit more solidarity with our fellows– whether we agree or not. Because how we look is a an unorganized mob who are just as quick to jump on each other as we are on those who threaten our institutions. I think it makes us look bad when we stand up in a public forum and refer to our colleagues as “hysterical”.

As Kate did a wonderful job of articulating, a call for boycott isn’t necessarily a hysterical reaction at all. It’s one reaction of many. And as someone who wants to see the profession become stronger– to pull together– to be able to negotiate as an industry and not a scattered collection of tiny players– then I don’t want to diss any of my fellows for their response. We can have that conversation another time in another forum.

Solidarity is powerful. Only by supporting each other will we get anywhere. To draw an analogy, don’t you think that most union members think those protesting at the Wisconsin capital were over the top? Would most of them occupy the state house? No…. but they understand the power of standing together and have the thoughtfulness to appreciate their contribution. Everyone has a different contribution to make– some us like stirring up emotion as incitement towards action, some of us are better at a bargaining table, but a healthy group needs to be a big tent that includes acceptance of all types.

So libraryland, here’s what I’d like to see. How about instead of a post shushing your colleagues, why not a statement like this?

“We recognize that there are many responses to the issue of Harper Collins changing their licensing practices and we agree that this issue is urgent and important to libraries everywhere. While we don’t necessarily choose to endorse a boycott at this time, we support our colleagues whose moral compass leads them to this conclusion. As a vital part of a functioning democracy, libraries must continue to have a place at the negotiating table in all matters of content licensing and the public good of equal access to information must be preserved. We hope that as content and copyright realities change for consumers and publishers, that libraries will not be forced to make choices in the future that include limiting of access based on economic realities– whether driven by publisher choice or by lack of sufficient funding for collections”.

There. Now is that really so hard?