Coming: More ideas on mitigating Rockford’s e-book mess and other cities’

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Update: The follow-up was Should OverDrive sell itself to America’s public libraries?

imageI’m not done yet. Rockford, Illinois, is a depressing but oh-so-useful example of America’s e-book crisis—and of the risk that it could pit the well-off and the cash-strapped against each other. Later today or tomorrow I’ll offer detailed ideas far beyond yesterday’s.

On a related topic, arrogant and ill-informed public officials, I’ll now quote Andrew Strong, author of a letter to the Rockford Register Star, as well as a manger of youth services for the Rockford public library system from 1996 to 2004: "It seems as though the board adopted a budget with a questionable allocation for digital materials based on biased assumptions.

“Since when does the library conduct the visioning process in closed session? What is the agenda behind the agenda? Does anyone remember the ham-handed proposal to fire all librarian assistants during the reduction in hours? Doesn’t the vision of closing the branches and reducing the main library to the size of a postage stamp seem just as inconsiderate and unimaginative?"

Yes, citizens do care about government decisions, especially those made behind the public’s back, and there will be hell to pay if policymakers ignore even well-informed voices from the grassroots.

The shortcomings of the Harvard-based Digital Public Library of America—which in effect serves unofficially as Washington’s e-library think-tank, complete with the participation of top officials from federal agencies—are different and not as severe as the Rockford library board’s. The DPLA’s top leaders are smarter and more diligent. Just the same, a parallel exists: too much focus on the needs of the elite and not enough time spent on those of others, especially families barely able to scrape by. This is tough love. I’m still fervently rooting for the DPLA to succeed. I want public libraries to benefit from the insights and wisdom of academics and share some board members with an academic system. The DPLA is worth helping if for no other reason than because top policymakers are behind it and good people are involved.

But one of the best strategies might be for the DPLA to let public libraries pursue a partial solution now, rather far removed from the ones currently imagined in Cambridge and Washington. I’ll explain in the forthcoming essay.

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