Jenny Levine has got herself a job helping move ALA into the 21st Century. Congrats to everyone.
Jenny posts a follow-up to her earlier post about organization membership and guest speakers and conference registration fees and the weird relationship between them. A few of us were trying to do some damage control on the Council list where it became clear that people were misunderstanding the issues, either accidentally or because of a radically different worldview than some of the rest of us. I’ve been asking friends of mine in other professional organizations and it’s become clear to me that some organizations have similar policies, many do not, and most people who don’t have just a flat-out “it’s an honor to be invited to speak and you should expect nothing in return.” seem to be surprised that exceptions weren’t made for Michael and Jenny not because of who they are but just because of their extentuating circumstances [not attenting the conference, paying all expenses in Michael's case, etc.] and peoples’ ability to be flexible about things like this. update: Meridith makes a very compelling “librarians should not be martyrs” point with plenty of stats to back up her vision of a more just professional association.
Jenny gives great presentations, is not full of herself, and knows what she’s talking about. She’s well prepared, gracious and charming. When she gets pissed off about something, I generally give her the benefit of the doubt that her rancor is completely justified and probably even understated compared to whatever offense she or her patrons have endured. This is just a long-winded way of saying that her objections to crazy ALA policies seem right on target to me. Keep in mind that when it comes to the topics she works on — blogging, digital rights management, gaming, audio content in libraries — she’s not just an expert she is one of the authorities and I’m frankly a little suprised even that she has to deal with this sort of thing. Maybe it’s the sort of thing we can sort out on Council… my Council position that I am not re-upping for, for somewhat similar reasons.
I will never accept another invitation to speak at an ALA-related conference until they reverse this ludicrous policy of CHARGING THEIR SPEAKERS TO SPEAK. It’s insane, absurd, surreal, and unethical. You don’t have a conference without your speakers. I understand they can’t reimburse speakers for travel expenses, but the very least they can do is comp their speakers’ conference registration fees. And the whole conference, too, not just a day. You either value your own professionals or you don’t, and the current policy tells me you don’t.
I talked to Jenny a bit at ALA about Digital Rights Management and the ListenIllinois project. I was concerned, as she was, about the interoperability of the ebooks that the program provides, and the fact that their books won’t play on iPods, among other platforms and hardware device options. Luckily for ListenIllinois patrons, Jenny was in a prime position to do something about it. Her solution, though admittedly imperfect, is a glorious example of a librarian seeing a problem or an inequality of access, deciding that it needs to be fixed and setting policy to address that inequality: libraries that join the ListenIllinois contract now need to purchase at least one MP3 player to circulate audiobooks to patrons. I applaud her decision, her plan, and her dedication to explaining it and trying to err on the side of inclusivity and access instead of shrugging and saying “well, what can you do?”
It’s a proven fact that libraries help bridge the digital divide, and now we need to step up and help bridge what is a growing digital audiobook divide. It’s simply unethical to say you’re not going to circulate players because it would be too much of a hassle for your staff. This is the future format of audiobooks, and we need to make them available to everyone, especially because there are some titles that are available exclusively in this format. There are so many reasons to circulate your own players right now that it’s almost a crime not to. If you look at it from a PR standpoint, do you really want to be the one standing up in front of the microphone explaining why you couldn’t spend $70 on one measly player for those patrons that don’t have one of their own?