As I was telling one of my correspondents yesterday, it feels like a weird coincidence somehow that the AALL Vendor Colloquium, The Harvard/Berkman Center Digital Library Project planning meeting, and the Harper Collins Boycott debate all happened at the same time. Each one is touching on just a segment of the larger issue, to wit, dependence of libraries on vendors in the digital age. And each one shows that we’re not entirely sure what to do next.
Right now the main reaction I’m seeing to these events is anger. Anger at professional associations. Anger at vendors. Anger at each other.
Anger is easy. The human brain is a marvel of evolution, but it maintains characteristics of that creature that first crawled out of the primordial goo. After all this time and change, humans still only have three main reactions to stimuli – the Three Fs: Flee, Fight or…..Ffffffornicate. (You thought I was going to say the other F word, didn’t you???Well, after my post on #hcod earlier this week, I have a lot of new eyes on this blog and I don’t want to scare people off just yet.) Everything that humans feel and do is just a nuanced version of these.
Anger and outrage (and most publicity and protest movements, really) owe more to the Flee feeling than Fight one. It manifests itself as outrage. Or pearl clutching. Or disgust. Or annoyance. Or impatience. Anger diffuses fear and makes one feel as if they’ve accomplished something, even if what they’ve done is no more productive than hiding one’s head in the sand.
I find it maddening. Perhaps ironically for a blogger, I’m tired of listening to people talk about things without any follow through or change. It’s why I ignore most library blogs and discussions and try to concentrate my energies on my day job and other things where I can actually make concrete changes. I’m reminded of Howard Beale’s famous speech in Network
I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
That makes for a great scene in a movie, but nothing changed as a result of this. Actually, if memory serves correctly, the speaker was eventually killed. Not because of his radical ideas, but because his schtick got old and his ratings dropped.
I’m worried that the #hcod, #AALLVC and #ebookrights momentum will be lost to words and no action will ever result. Publishers will still only offer untenable licensing rights for libraries. Professional organizations will still do things the old ways and not embrace transparency initiatives. Demands for rights will be ignored.
(Someone yesterday said that “we don’t need an eBook Bill of Rights. We need a Declaration of Independence.” The history geek in me must note that the Declaration of Independence was only written and signed a year after the actual American Revolutionary War started and was only effective because it had an army (with an assist from allies such as the French) that actually did the fighting and won the war.)
Change will only occur through the fight response. Fighting doesn’t necessarily have to be violent, but does require engaging The Other. That’s hard. Which is why very few people actually choose to take that step.
And here’s where I get stuck and where I have been stuck. I don’t know what form that engagement should take. As I said, I don’t think an economic boycott will work. And I’m not sure that boycotts really are engagement. They may just another form of fleeing. (And as one of my social media shy correspondents shared with me, Harper Collins may choose to play legal hard ball over it and prevent it from starting before it even happens. I’m not saying that HC has a good merit claim..I’m just saying that most people are adverse to being served with legal papers.) I think rallying and educating our patrons and other allies (such as authors) to our cause is a good idea, but libraries are defenders and servants of the defenseless, so our patron allies may have less of a voice than even us. But again, that’s not really engaging the people we need to be engaging – the vendors.
I asked this question not that long ago and got very little response. If you’ve been able to ignore everything up until a few weeks ago, then surely this can be your wake up call. We need a plan B. Something to do after the outrage ends or to do in lieu of outrage.