Friday, December 9, 2011

Libraries, Know Thy Boundaries

Surprise, surprise, OverDrive has hit the library airwaves again with the Friday's post from Librarian in Black and Ryan Claringbole from the Chesapeake Public Library (@librarianry on Twitter) regarding a noticeable discrepancy with title availability in OverDrive's Content Reserve (where libraries "purchase" downloadable materials).

Librarian In Black: OverDrive Has Different eBook Catalogs for Different Libraries

(Go read this - it is detailed and important and better than me trying to restate everything she already said so well.)

What it comes down to is that OverDrive is finally starting to obviously enforce some of those geographical restrictions by publishers that were rumored back earlier in the year. Remember this from Steve Potash's memo in regards to the HarperCollins restrictions? (emphasis mine)
In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.). I can assure you OverDrive is not interested in managing or having any say in your library policies and issues. Select publisher terms and conditions require us to work toward their comfort that the library eBook lending is in compliance with publisher requirements on these topics.
(Many thanks to Librarian by Day for having the full announcement on her website.)

Well, this is exactly what has happened in regards to Chesapeake Public Library, and you can bet it will be popping up in future contracts with OverDrive. The issue with geographic limitations is not new, if anyone has been up on the news from Europe from the last couple of years, both from a consumer and a library standpoint. In fact, according to a 2010 article from The Guardian, Potash is quoted as saying (emphasis mine):
Our system has established checks to ensure that libraries are providing ebooks only to those customers in their service area. We have always enforced proper geographic restrictions on the ebooks in our catalogue.
Yet, with as many libraries that have partnered with OverDrive over the last couple of years, surely if this were the case we would have heard about this topic long before now?  How many libraries offer cards to out-of-town or out-of-state patrons? How many systems offer "e-cards" which allow patrons outside their geographic region to access their resources? Are they seeing limits to what they can acquire from OverDrive?

We already know that OverDrive has started reworking contracts to be more restrictive and detailed, as per the Kansas State Library issue. Kansas was lucky, they had a contract that did allow them to move the purchased titles to their new vendor system. The newest contracts state specifically that we license this material, that we don't own it, and I am pretty sure it will not be transferred anywhere beyond OverDrive. Now, it seems likely there will be quite a few libraries that will not even be able to get them in the first place.

Academic libraries have been dealing with these types of restrictions and negotiations for years, and public libraries are finally starting to catch the long tail of dealing with contracts for popular electronic resources. Do we really know (yet) what we are getting ourselves into? Are we really asking the questions we need to ask, reading and understanding the contracts, their benefits and boundaries? OverDrive has already proven that they are not proactive about giving their "partners" the information they need, as most recently noted in the whole Penguin Kindle Book debacle. As Robin (@Tuphlos to Twitter) points out in Collection Reflection, "The problem is we have jumped into this marketplace without knowledge and we keep expecting other companies to take care of us."

We are LIBRARIANS - we are used to finding the answers. So check in with your administration about the services you offer (not just OverDrive). Make sure that if you are exploring acquiring digital content to talk to other libraries and library systems about their experiences. Read the contract before you sign it, and if you have a question about it, do not be afraid to ask it (The Collection Reflection post also notes legal resources for librarians). Ryan was brave enough to put his question out on Twitter; Sarah was engaged enough to expand on it and put it to the masses. We thrive on information, but there is a lot we need to find out before we put the pen to the dotted line. It is not enough to know what we can do with the resources we acquire; we need to know what we cannot do with them too.