Ethics in Librarianship- the Right to Disclosure?

I have been intrigued this week by Mary and Liz’s post about our in class discussion over the inflated cost of Ebooks. The theme seems to be whether the Public needs to be aware of how much the supposed “free” books of the lending library cost and when one copy is drastically different than the first.

This of course at first seems like a ridiculous idea, as have we not made a profession out of taking things of great value and lending them to the masses? Is it not our job, as shrewd customers ourselves, to pressure, to hassle, to bargain? Have we become so ineffective we can’t even control the industry we have literally kept alive for years? At first I took the traditional stance of buy-it-all-until-the-money-stop flow. In the words of library etiquette:

On February 2, acquisitions librarians will emerge from their offices with a printout of the library’s budget. If they see their shadows, there will be six more weeks of book ordering. If they don’t, new book orders will go into a queue for the next budget cycle.

This was sort of the way I saw acquisitions: give the patrons what they want until there’s no money left. But I’ve been persuaded otherwise, at least in part. The situation behind the curtain has gotten too ridiculous. The rules no longer make sense. So perhaps it is time to tell the Public, at least in part, the cost of e-books. Perhaps this conversation will lead to a greater overall dialogue about the many antiquated process still being practiced by librarians in terms of acquisitions, such as the lack of disclosure over how public funds are spent, pricing information and perhaps even deeper vendor sharing.

To be “open” (both meanings intended) is better than to be “free”.

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About Ilana the Librarian

I am an aspiring librarian at the University of Michigan.
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3 Responses to Ethics in Librarianship- the Right to Disclosure?

  1. I don’t have much to add, especially since I don’t think I have a very clear understanding of how acquisitions departments function except in academic libraries, but I’ll definitely second your final statement.

  2. adamsliz says:

    I think Esti has a really interesting point about acquisitions departments: they are all different. A special library will differ from an academic one, and a public library will differ from both of those. Perhaps being “open” also differs within those contexts. With the current Elsevier debate in academics, maybe those academic librarians have opportunities to discuss eBook costs in very open ways; their audiences will be more receptive. And in a business library (I know that’s what you’re going into, Ilana), maybe the users will better understand the complications of the market and the publishing industry at large. Of course, these are just assumptions, but I think it points to something interesting: how can public libraries, who arguably serve the broadest audiences, be as “open.” Can they be? I’m not sure I have the answer, or that special and academic libraries can even be as open as they like. It’s definitely something to consider further…

  3. The last library I worked for had an acquisitions department that functioned similar to the “buy what patrons want until the money runs out.” If patrons are used to this type of service and suddenly it stops because books are no longer affordable then it is probably time to inform patrons about publisher/library relations.

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