Exciting new access model for library’s print NYT subscription (April 1, 2011)

On Monday, The New York Times introduced digital subscriptions in the United States and the rest of the world. We at the library have been so impressed by the possibilities inherent in this model that we have decided to extend it to our print subscription to the Times.

Meet Arthur. Arthur, the library’s newest employee, will sit in the current periodicals area of the library (outside of Library 102) and monitor usage of our print copies of the Times.

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The Times (Arthur will inquire, and under the library’s honor code, you are required to answer truthfully), you will continue to have full and free access to the news, information, opinion and other features in the library’s copy of the newspaper.

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access to 20 articles each month. (Arthur will keep track with a little clipboard.) If you exceed that limit, Arthur will snatch the paper away from you and instruct you to move along. For the rest of the month, Arthur will shoo you from the area if you attempt to pick up the library’s copy of the NYT.

Alternatively, you may elect to become a Times home delivery subscriber on the spot; Arthur would be happy to set this up for you (current, valid credit card required).

Here is how it will work:
• The Times is offering several subscription packages, so you can choose a plan that is right for you based on how much of the paper you typically read.
• Again, all New York Times home delivery subscribers will continue to have free access to the library’s copy of the NYT.
• Readers who come to Times articles through copies of the Times left around public places on campus, like the Dining Hall or Sunny’s desk, will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit.  This allows new and casual readers to continue to discover NYT content in the print edition. Users who pick up a copy of the Times in the bookstore and examine it with no intention of buying will have a daily limit on Times articles.

As you have seen during this recent period of extraordinary global news, The Times is uniquely positioned to keep you informed. The launching of the library’s limited-access print subscription model will help ensure that the New York Times can continue to provide you with the high-quality journalism and substantive analysis that you have come to expect from them.

In other news, we intend to start discarding print library books published by HarperCollins once they have circulated 26 times.

The library hopes that you are enjoying this balmy, sunny, flower-filled April 1 on campus, wishes you a *very* happy Mud Season, and –in all seriousness, for a moment — invites you to share with us any questions or thoughts you might have regarding the economics of access to information in the 21st century.

Sincerely,
Emily Alling
Library Director

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Boycott? Bad idea.

The library world is up in arms, and rightfully so, following HarperCollins’ announcement that their ebooks will, in effect, self-destruct after 26 circulations. This, despite the fact that their ebooks are already circulated according to an arguably anachronistic print model: one user at a time, fixed duration loan period (usually 2 weeks). HC’s announcement is bad for readers, bad for libraries, and deserves our refusal even as we work to come up with something more satisfactory for all involved.

Many in the profession are calling for a boycott of HarperCollins, urging libraries to forego purchasing titles published by them and/or stop reviewing their books, using them in story times, etc.

This strikes me as dangerous from a freedom to read perspective. I don’t disagree with the notion that libraries have to make tough decisions when developing their collections. We can’t and don’t buy everything. Collection development policies regularly describe guidelines whereby classes of materials are or are not collected by libraries.

In this case, by boycotting HarperCollins across the board, we are choosing not to collect content that our communities want and need. For the most part, content published by HC isn’t available via other publishers. By refusing to buy from the publisher, we prevent the content from reaching the hands of our patrons.

For most libraries, print books from HC absolutely fall within our collection guidelines.

Our library doesn’t buy 78 RPM records. We no longer collect microfilm. But, given a work of interest to a patron, we will make every attempt to obtain it via a format that is available, usable, and affordable. HC print titles continue to fit those three criteria. To pretend otherwise feels disingenuous.

I join Cory Doctorow in encouraging libraries not to spend money on materials protected by DRM. We can do this, and still obtain content in non-DRM formats, like print and CDs. We can justify our refusal to purchase DRM material because it does not fit a library lending model, is a bad return on investment, and presents privacy and usability hurdles that we and our patrons may not be ready to accept.

But boycotting the entire output of a specific publisher is an assault on intellectual freedom and the freedom to read. We buy and obtain content from all kinds of publishers whose practices and policies are far from friendly to libraries. Today, our collections would be meager indeed if we only bought and licensed materials from sources we considered library-friendly. I hope very much that this will change in the years to come. Libraries are taking a lead role in initiating conversations on campuses and in the publishing industry regarding open access, fair use, and developing new models for a new publishing paradigm.

One recent blog post offers librarians a menu of choices for protesting (=boycotting) HC “at your own comfort level.” To me, there’s nothing comfortable about any of this. I remain uncomfortable with the notion of proscribing content based on our objections to policies regarding a subset of a publisher’s output. I am extremely uncomfortable with HarperCollins’ new policy, as I am in general with anachronistic ebook lending policies and the horrific usability issues surrounding ebooks. Discomfort all around. We’ve got work to do. Really: what is supposed to be more comfortable than curling up with a good book?

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