Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Hodge-Potch of a Library Policy

In our New Year Predictions we made reference to the opportunities and dangers that face the digital public library in the UK. We have written previously on the views expressed by the UK Minister, Margaret Hodge who wants to modernise libraries and enable them to compete with Amazon, embrace the online age and even sell books. She wants for them to be more relevant and vital in today’s digital world, to offer a service to match our 24/7 culture and grasp the wide remit of digital opportunities on offer. However, she also wants to do this within the current limited public funding constraints and resource base. Interestingly she fails to state what she would see as a measure of success other than merely increasing the numbers of users using the service or what some may say is bean counting.

So why has library funding been increasingly squeezed at a time she wants to modernise it? How does she expect the existing library resources to adjust to her Brave New World, after all are librarians or information officers to now be known as booksellers? Should a public services become a commercial one with so little consultation? Are those prime real estate locations which libraries currently occupy the real asset to be sold? Why are government only now starting to extend PLR to digital and will the size of the money pot grow or remain as today? Who does she want to embrace; authors, publishers, retailers or the public?

We would love to know where was Margaret Hodge was Google revised its book settlement to include the UK?

The Library is a fundamental public service which is free to access and borrow. Its model is in direct conflict with the commercial online and high street retail one of pay to buy or rent model. The implications and differences go even further back up the supply chain and there are significant implications on commercials, royalties, rights and much more. It’s a pity that Margaret Hodge clearly only sees the counter and number of visitors and fails to understand the business she is supposed to be guardian of.

We would urge every publisher, author, agent, bookseller and librarian to write to her and remind her there is a general election looming this year and its perhaps time to go.

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