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ALA Denounces New Macmillan Library Lending Model, Urges Library Customers to Voice Objections

July 28, 2019

As I have previously mentioned in former articles, I used to serve as a textbook specialist and buyer for a community college. I held this position for nearly seven years and it was at a time when different platforms were slowly starting to emerge as alternatives to the traditional college textbook. When I started the position full-time in August 2006, textbooks were still the primary course materials required for most classes. Occasionally, an instructor would make his or her own individually crafted pamphlets or booklets to be duplicated and sold at the campus store, thereby greatly reducing the students’ cost for classroom purchases. The idea of an e-book or separate components such as access codes and loose-leaf versions of a textbook was just coming into vogue. The sales representatives would often stalk approach me and pitch me these ideas, complete with boxes of donuts or fruit baskets to soften the blows of their proposals. I would listen patiently, but all the while I knew that their cost-effective proposals and alternatives would not go over well with our students. Our students wanted to be able to have a physical textbook to sell back for cash at the end of the semester. They wanted their textbooks to be relevant for at least two years and not constantly changing editions. Loose-leaf versions of textbooks often got crinkled and ripped and many a time pages went missing, thereby deeming them undesirable for buyback. While electronic codes promised availability of an e-book version of the accompanying textbook, as well as access to the instructor’s quizzes and other assignments, these electronic codes were one-time use only. If a student ripped the tab off the electronic code to reveal it and then decided that he or she wished to drop the course, there was no way for the campus store to offer a refund on that item. (Or at least a full refund was not feasible.) When you plunk down over $200 for a textbook bundle, that is a big insult and waste of money.

It has been over six years since I left the textbook industry and I can see how publishers, like libraries, have had to evolve in order to remain relevant in an environment where technology is constantly changing the format of the once-prominent physical textbook. Last week, on July 25th, Macmillan Publishers announced its new library e-book lending model. According to Macmillan, “under the new model, a library may purchase one copy upon release of a new title in e-book format, after which the publisher will impose an eight-week embargo on additional copies of that title sold to libraries.”

“Macmillan’s new policy is unacceptable. ALA urges Macmillan to cancel the embargo.”  — Wanda Brown, ALA President

As an interlibrary loan librarian working to secure journal articles for students, faculty, staff, and administrators and who pushes the OER agenda, the word “embargo,” by default, makes me cringe. While personally, this decision does not affect my academic library (as we do not purchase e-books which are used for courses), I can imagine that this has a frustrating effect on many academic and public libraries. The heat on our libraries first got cranked back in July of 2018, when Macmillan Publishers, without notice, “issued a four-month embargo applying solely to titles from the company’s Tor imprint.” Now, this eight-week embargo on all of Macmillan’s titles really puts libraries at the forefront of having to explain this to students and patrons. We will be labeled as “the bad guys” before the publishers in that we are “perceived as being unresponsive to community needs,” according to newly minted ALA president, Wanda Brown. (Flashback from my days in the campus store! We were always “the bad guys!”)

Wanda Brown has called for libraries to voice their discontent with this new model by directing expressing their disapproval to Macmillan Publishers. “Macmillan Publishers’ new model for library e-book lending will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information for all. Limiting access to new titles for libraries means limiting access for patrons most dependent on libraries. Macmillan’s new policy is unacceptable,”  Brown notes. “ALA urges Macmillan to cancel the embargo.”

While Brown promises that the ALA will spend a significant amount of time trying to rectify this troubling situation, in the meantime, we can all do our part through outreach and protest. Objections can be written to:

Macmillan Publishers

Attn: Mr. John Sargent, CEO

120 Broadway Street

New York, NY 10271

Phone: 646-307-5151


Twitter: @MacmillanUSA

Additionally, Emily Wagner, the Assistant Director of Communications and the Public Policy and Advocacy Office of the ALA, asks that these communications also be sent to the ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office.

I know that the publishing companies are just trying to survive as well and I empathize (to a certain extent) with that. But my relationship with them has always been volatile at best. This is a thorn in our sides as an institute eager to assist our communities of students and patrons. I am sure, however, that it is nothing that a box of donuts and a fruit basket cannot fix!



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