Jo Budler: LJ’s 2013 Librarian of the Year
It was a seismic move in the struggle to create a workable ebook access model for the users of America’s libraries. It was engineered by Joanne (Jo) Budler, the Kansas State Librarian, when she realized that an initial proposal in 2010 to renew the Kansas State Library (KSL) contract with OverDrive would increase administrative costs by some 700 percent over the next few years, as the state ebook deal was being restructured. Despite the risk of disrupting and even losing access to ebooks for the users of Kansas libraries, Budler rejected more than one proposal from OverDrive for a new contract until a year ago when she won the right to transfer titles from OverDrive to a new platform. The dispute set off a long (and public) national examination of library service agreements.
Budler worked closely with Kansas Deputy Attorney General Jeff Chanay, whose expertise helped KSL struggle through the complex copyright and ownership issues built into the original state ebook platform contract.
Budler’s ongoing efforts in the ebook battles and her work as chair of the Ebook Task Force of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), in addition to her significant local contributions in the state of Kansas, made clear a picture of Budler as an extremely effective library leader and LJ Editors’ choice for Librarian of the Year 2013.
Seeking a new model
“It was a new process to us and that made it take a little longer as we learned. But when you have to do something, you do it,” says Budler.
“The Kansas librarians really supported our work on the ebook question. They didn’t like the fact that we had to stop providing service to our customers. The numbers are not high, but the people who use the ebook service use it a lot. We communicated very clearly with the librarians and their patrons,” Budler says.
“We had a support line here. People would call in and complain,” Budler continues. “When we explained it to them, they all agreed that we should give up our contract and not pay the enormous increases in fees.”
Overcoming their concerns, the librarians of Kansas supported Budler as she sought and found new suppliers to provide ebook access for the people of Kansas. They realized the issues inherent in sourcing ebooks from a single supplier.
Diligently and with an eye toward the long-term, Budler initiated an effort that would move the nation’s libraries toward a broader conversation and new models for ebook access. KSL now works with several ebook suppliers, including 3M, Freading, Baker & Taylor, and Bilbary.
“We haven’t settled on any one model for ebooks. We know now that we don’t want to be locked into just one vendor.”
“The secret of negotiation is to look for a gain-gain for everybody, to not being so rigid, and to not beating up anybody. The vendors are really doing a service for us,” Budler told a well-attended COSLA session entitled “Do I Own These Ebooks or Not?” last January.
A key issue had been what would happen to the ebooks the library had licensed were the library to cancel its contract with a given vendor? Budler fought to be able to transfer the titles that the library had paid to license to another platform (3M’s) rather than lose access to the titles (and also waste the state’s financial investment in the content). Capitalizing on Budler’s effort in a way that resulted in a large benefit to all libraries, 3M made it a part of its standard contract that libraries could move their titles to another platform.
And Budler’s advocacy was an inspiring example of a librarian standing up for the rights of her instituion while clearly raising the awareness of many librarians about the need to think carefully about any contracts they sign for ebooks.
In October, frustrated by the lack of response from its letters to publishers asking to allow transfer of ebook content to a new vendor, KSL turned to social networking, a Facebook page, to broadcast its complaints against the unfair restrictions the Big Six publishers are placing on ebooks in libraries and the titles affected. The six large publishing firms—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Penguin Group, though the latter two recently announced a merger, pending regulatory approval—publish most American best sellers.
A press release highlighting KSL’s effort to show that librarians and library users alike are aware of the gaps on their digital shelves—and of the publishers responsible—was featured in a story in the Wichita Eagle and other newspapers.
“Writing to publishers and complaining to each other about the publisher/library ebook conflict wasn’t enough,” Budler said in a statement to the paper. “We needed a social media platform of our own to come together with the public and really take a look at the content not available.”
KSL wanted to make publishers more accountable for unfair ebook lending practices and build an audience that includes library users (who are also avid ebook buyers) large enough to make an impact on the ebook lending landscape. The community page has a long way to go before it has this kind of broad impact, but between KSL’s efforts and other similar social media efforts like it, vastly more readers are becoming aware of the root causes of their frustrations, helping to focus their attention and comments.
KSL was particularly concerned, for example, about popular new books, The Casual Vacancy, by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, and Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise—both buoyed by demand surrounding recent current events, yet both currently unavailable to libraries. KSL also listed a number of ebooks, that while available, were priced as high as $85, manyfold what a consumer would likely pay.
Meanwhile, Budler has also led KSL this year into a pioneering partnership spearheaded by the large Califa library network in California, adding financial support to a deal with the Smashwords self-publishing platform to give libraries unprecedented access to self-published titles and works by local authors.
The Califa project is modeled after the Douglas County model in which libraries truly own their ebooks and house them on library servers.
Most agree that though the struggle is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, Budler and KSL have moved American libraries toward greater clarity about the issues surrounding ebook licensing and toward a more robust—if currently volatile—ebook marketplace for libraries.
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