HCOD & the Future of Libraries

About 10 days ago the library world had a bit of a blow-up with the announcement that Harper Collins was going to limit the number of circulations (to 26) for ebook titles a library purchases as a part of their OverDrive collection. The Twitter hashtag for conversations related to the topic quickly became #hcod (for Harper Collins Overdrive).

Ever since the news of HCOD broke, I’ve been thinking about it. Thinking about it partly in terms of whether or not the Harper Collins move was good or bad, but really I’ve been asking myself what does the HCOD announcement say about the big picture future of libraries, teens, and service to the age group? I’d say that’s the most important question here. While it’s important to know about the change in policies related to Harper Collins, Even more important is going beyond one publisher and one vendor and getting right to the heart of the matter, what is the future of libraries within a digital content world?

It’s clear that publishing is in a time of flux. And, no surprise to readers of this blog, libraries are also in a state of flux. Publishers are trying to figure out how to live in the world of econtent. Libraries are trying to make smart decisions related to how to provide high-quality service to customers when those customers might be entirely virtual. How is collection development – selection and weeding – accomplished for teens in an econtent world? How is readers’ advisory provided to teen virtual users? What does browsing and scanning look like in a teen ecollection? And on, and on, and on.

There are also the questions related to library service when coming into the library to browse and check-out materials is not the goal of teen users. For example, teens that use the library’s computers to collaborate with someone else on a Google Doc, use the libraries computers to make an Xtranormal video for English class, or even take part in a speed dating event. Now is the time to move forward and accept that we are in a transition period with libraries moving from services that are primarily physical collection based to services that function outside of, beyond, and perhaps instead of a physical collection.

The HCOD event is a strong signal that libraries have to be proactive about their place in the e-based world and not end up being only reactive when a publisher comes out with a new policy related to access to content. Librarians can’t let others, publishers, vendors, community members, etc. decide what the library should be. That’s for librarians to do, but if librarians don’t, someone else certainly will.

Key in econtent decision making is the need to keep teens in mind and not solely react and move forward based on traditional concepts and behaviors. I do worry that some of the reaction to the HCOD event has lost sight of the user. I also worry that the HCOD event gives librarians the opportunity to say, “See, we can’t integrate ebooks/econtent into our collections yet, it’s not settled enough.” That’s not going to cut it, if librarians wait they may find themselves out of the game.

It’s hard to think in a big picture way, particularly when it’s not clear what tomorrow will bring, especially when it comes to technology. But, what if you started to brainstorm some crazy ideas about what service might be like in the future and how it might benefit teens? For example:

  • What if every ebook title that a library purchased from a vendor could go out simultaneously for a certain number of times? (Say 26) That would mean that teens would rarely be left waiting for a title, particularly if say three copies of a popular title were purchased. Three titles, 26 people reading it at a time, that’s 78 readers all at once. Not bad, right?
  • What if librarians looked at ways to connect materials to teens beyond the traditional borrowing and lending framework of the library? I’ve written on this blog before about libraries needing to think about themselves as connectors to “stuff” and people as opposed to simply focusing on being providers of materials. Perhaps this is an opportunity to think more about that. What if librarians focused on connecting teens to lots of outside sources – like elending services – for accessing materials at no-cost to them- and spent a lot of time on the work of finding the best way to connect? What would our service for teens look like then? How would it change and perhaps improve?
  • What if much of a public library teen librarian’s time was spent not on the collection building and connecting to the collection but on virtual and physical outreach that highlights to teens what a library is beyond materials? This outreach might be focus on getting word-of-mouth going on teen Facebook pages about programs and services the library provides. Or, it might be putting up QR codes in the local pizza place that link to videos of teens doing really interesting activities in the libraries. Or it could be something else entirely.

Honestly, those ideas aren’t so wild and crazy, but the point is, what if all librarians serving teens started to really look at what a library might be for teens if we did live in the kind of library world that the HCOD announcement suggests. It’s a world in which collections are not purchased and distributed in the way that we currently use, think, model, or teach in library school. It’s a world in which much of the content a library provides is leased instead of owned. It could be a library world that is completely different, and librarians have to figure out what that looks like, before someone else figures it out and forces their ideas on libraries.

If you want to learn more about HCOD there are many excellent resources on the topic. Check out these two:

I’d like to leave you with this quote from the March 5 New York Times from an article about the cultural legacy of Chicago’s mayor Richard M. Daley:

“‘Libraries are still about serving people, but book circulation is not the primary goal. The trick is enlarging the transactions, especially electronic ones, and measuring the number of people coming in the door, not just books going out the door.’ said Lew Feldstein, co-author with Robert Putnam of Better Together….”

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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