DPLA AND THE PUNK ROCK
To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be who you are. It’s freedom. – Patti Smith
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am more of a hippie than a punk rocker, but despite being a decade or so apart, the movements share very common motivational roots. Both the Punk and Hippie Movements were born from the angst of youth asking society and its leadership to prioritize the alleviation of poverty, the promotion of egalitarianism, and humanitarianism. The original Punk (and Hippie) ethos also had a healthy dose of anti-corporate greed, social rights, free-thought, and nonconformity.
Libraries had been punk rock for decades before the Grateful Dead played the San Francisco Acid Tests or the Sex Pistols stormed London in the 1970s. Libraries have remained committed to these principles as other institutions have given up.
Our consumer society has become quite adept at absorbing any potentially radical blow (punk rock and hippie-ness included) and then selling it back to us partially tamed (think: Ramones T-shirts 50% off at Target), so the “brand” of punk rock has changed through the years. But the growing momentum of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) publishing was born in the Punk Movement and has done nothing but gain momentum since then. In 2019, DIY is the fastest growing, most interesting, and most meaningful part of the modern media landscape.
When the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) launched in 2013, it felt like a DIY library moment of the best kind. Executive Director Dan Cohen said in his open letter on the day of launch:
“I see the building of a new library as one of the greatest examples of what humans can do together to extend the light against the darkness. In due time, we will let that light shine through.”
The funders of DPLA and subsequent national eBook projects like SimplyE, (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Arcadia Fund the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities) deserve great credit for setting libraries on a path of self-sufficiency and pursuit of their own vision of the future. And over the past few years, DPLA has done the enormously hard work of creating a platform and an agenda that has community at its core. In the process, they have built an irreplaceable network of partners committed to the preservation of knowledge and the equitable distribution of information.
As we enter 2019, DPLA is ready to tackle the new challenges libraries face in providing fair and equal access to digital collections and eBooks. And the timing for a new vision is perfect. As library leadership begins the conversation about the next phase of the DPLA vision, there are green fields of opportunity to pursue:
1. Independently published books and unlimited use eBooks
2. A Brand New World of Book Discovery
3. Open Access and The New Landscape of Higher Education
For this blog post, I will deal with some context and background around #1. I will discuss #2 and #3 in blog posts to come. I welcome comments and conversation on this important topic.
Independently Published Books and Unlimited Use eBooks
The era of library eBook lending is much closer to its end than its beginning. Of course, libraries will continue to loan eBooks in the short term, and I suppose if a winner need be declared of the library “eBook lending era” of the past two decades, it would certainly be OverDrive. But who cares about winners and losers? eBook lending always created an awkward artificial constraint on the distribution of information, ensuring it would only last as long as commercial pressures made it the only viable option.
A new phase of library eBooks is just starting, and it can go any direction libraries choose. These new and emerging opportunities are less profitable, more risky, and harder for entrenched market leaders to pursue aggressively—creating even more opportunity for an organization like DPLA to lead the way.
I am not alone in this belief that the traditional approach to library eBook lending is looking into the rear view mirror of history and that a larger eBook vision is waiting to be achieved by libraries. The new vision will not include restricting eBook access to one user at a time, nor will it include financially punitive approaches like pay-per-download. Organizations like Minitex, Califa, and RAILS are giving us a glimpse of this future today with perpetually owned, fixed-price, geolocated collections of unlimited use eBooks licensed from forward-thinking independent publishers (I will write more about this in my next blog post, but these libraries are showing the vision of Readers First is working in an amazingly effective way).
As libraries embark on implementing this grand vision, they should be taking note of Amazon’s successes in this space. Amazon understands that authors are better partners in driving innovation than large publishers. As WIRED magazine has pointed out in its article The Kindle Changed the Book Business. Can It Change Books?
“Amazon has more or less vertically integrated the entire book industry within its walls, building a complete reading universe of its own making. Lots of authors now write books especially for Amazon, which readers find on Kindle Unlimited and Prime Reading … Amazon has tools that help you write your book, format the manuscript, design the cover, file the right metadata, publish to the right places, and get paid the right amount. Want to make a comic book, a kids’ book, or a textbook instead? Amazon can help there too.”
Notice there is no mention of getting your book into public libraries included. Amazon believes they have built the largest “library service” in the world, circulating eBooks through Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Online Lending Library (which is free with Amazon Prime). The number of households in the United States with Amazon Prime memberships is expected to break 100 million soon and shows no signs of slowing down after that.
These book services from Amazon make book access for members ubiquitous and remove all barriers to reading. And they are succeeding without “Big 5” publisher participation. Just as they have done in the past, Amazon is changing consumer behavior rapidly and feels no need to consult with any of us on how that happens.
And this is the real big picture issue with which library leaders must grapple as DPLA contemplates the next phase of its development—how to pursue a national digital library strategy that adds value to the world of the mind and the world of the book that cannot be commoditized by Amazon.
Amazon cannot replicate what DPLA and other library systems have created in terms of a network of humans who care about serving patrons, engaging their local community, and sharing information. Amazon cannot marry the physical and digital presence that a library can within their own community (but they are working on it), and they are not invested in the community the way the library is. Community building is what libraries do best and is their secret punk rock weapon. Armed with digital collections that are easy-to-use and include unrestricted access, libraries can be unstoppable but how do we get there? I would recommend taking a lesson from Amazon and going directly to authors, and here is how libraries can do that at scale.
Indie Author Project
Similar to the work DPLA has done around primary source content, our work with the Indie Author Project has networked tens of thousands of independent authors with thousands of librarians across North America. This work to build friendly, community-driven programs for independently published books and the authors who write them, connects the library mission to engage the local community with the higher purpose of finding and sharing great books. From high profile success stories like librarians within the Black Caucus of the ALA fueling L. Penelope’s meteoric rise to publishing stardom, to smaller impacts on the lives of the writers and readers in their own communities, these programs are working.
In 2018, we cooperated with hundreds of librarians across 8 states to identify and make available through libraries the best self-published books with the winners announced last week. In 2019, the Indie Author Project program is expanding to 5 more states and Canada and shows no signs of slowing down.
Similarly, Indie Author Day has continued to grow over the past three years into one of the largest North American wide DIY community events in the world.
It’s not too late for your library to get involved.
Our NaNoWriMo co-sponsored webinar The Indie Author Project and Supporting Your Local Writing Community on Feb 5th will provide you with all the details you need to start this unique program in your own community.
With over 1 million books self-published in the United States last year, the Indie Author Project is giving libraries and librarians a significant role in the new publishing supply chain. Librarians are becoming “acquisition editors” and are providing Readers Advisory on these indie books to their peers across North America. The publishing workflow is leveraging library talent to find and share the best of these self-published books, which are already edited, designed, and ready for readers. This is a truly unique value proposition that enables librarians to use their expertise to benefit both readers and writers in their own communities. On a national scale, and integrated with a primary source publishing strategy, the power of this could be phenomenal.
Indie Author Project as Pilot for DPLA Strategy
Most of the partners we have worked alongside in the multi-year gestation of this national Indie Author Project vision (Minitex, RAILS, CALIFA, MLS, WiLS, NYPL, and many others) are active leaders in forming the new DPLA vision. The leadership of these organizations took a risk on us and has worked very hard beside us to make this happen. It has paid off. The work we have done should be seen as a pilot that DPLA can embrace at a national level and we stand ready to support in any way we are able.
As a self-funded, debt-free, employee-owned, and sustainable company in the library world, we are a unicorn. We can make choices alongside libraries and within the framework of a national digital library and eBook strategy without the normal capitalistic pressures and complexities that cripple the potential of our industry again and again.
The world needs the independent spirit of libraries to lead a local media and the DIY movement. The ability of libraries and librarians to build authentic community lies at the heart of making it happen. We have helped kick start the software, programming support and cultural commitment and have taken the startup knocks to create a viable strategy we can execute and succeed at together.
Read the original post on LinkedIn