Library Futures Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering the digital accessibility of libraries, launched in January 2021. It brings both attention and resources to a wide variety of issues libraries are facing as technology use continues to grow, including how libraries can best handle digital lending and the impact publishers have when modifying ebook agreements with libraries.
The organization also strives to create a community of transformation by bringing together coalition partners—such as SPARC, Authors Alliance, and Readers First—that align with its overall mission. Library Futures Institute’s executive director, Jennie Rose Halperin, combines her experience at Harvard Law School Library with her award-winning civic leadership skills to provide the organization with a clear direction: promoting equity in policy to best allow libraries to achieve success in an ever-changing world.
Six Core Principles Lay a Foundation for Growth
Library Futures Institute has six core principles that are key to each new project: Our World Is Digital; Protect the Right to Lend; Libraries Must Own Content, Not License It; Equitable Access Is the Future of Libraries; Privacy Is Not for Sale; and We Are Stronger Together. Many of these principles are centered on the acquisition and use of digital material. The organization asserts that libraries must make technology a priority; this idea is supplemented by its belief in the inherent right of a library to own and then lend digital material without restriction. In an email interview, Halperin expresses these core principles as follows:
Most libraries have been shut out of conversations about technology and digital delivery, and vendor-based solutions that serve the interests of a small group of publishers prevail, despite the abundance that digital content should offer. Libraries have the legal right to own and lend their digital materials in the same way they would lend print but licensing culture has made significant collections legally purchased or acquired by libraries [inaccessible], unaffordable, and subject to unscrupulous licensing terms.
We are focused on the issue of how libraries acquire, deliver, and preserve materials because we believe that this is a fundamental issue for democratic access to information, and that equitable access cannot be addressed without first addressing digital materials. Digital content can unlock myriad opportunities and has accessibility for everyone, including youth, the poor, rural people, deployed military, and the elderly. Public stewardship of digital content is crucial if we ever want to achieve equity in education and a more democratic society. Most people don’t even know about these issues—a regular library user may not know, for example, that clicking on a book in Hoopla charges their library every single time or that their library is paying up to 10 times the cover price of an eBook for the right to license it for a short period of time.
Library Futures Institute also places a strong emphasis on inclusion, with one of the core principles focusing on giving access to all obtained information to any patron of a library. In addition, the organization encourages the need for privacy of both library patrons and libraries themselves. Halperin says of this principle, “A transition to digital services should not mean that patrons have their information sold to a corporation without the high privacy standards of library institutions and communities. Digital content can be important for youth and other marginalized communities to borrow without stigma, and libraries have an obligation to protect the interests of their patrons and users.”
The last core principle puts a spotlight on how coalition partners work to make proposed changes into reality. These partners often take part in hosting community events; the Mythbusting Controlled Digital Lending webinar, for example, was hosted with partner Internet Archive. Halperin notes that Library Futures Institute is always interested in having more partners: “We’re looking to collaborate with library systems and libraries that have physical collections that they lend, consortia, and public interest groups that specifically work on the legal issues around eresources.”
Ready Resources and Projects on the Horizon
When it comes to resources, Library Futures Institute has hit the ground running. The blog it has on its website is full of information (see “Equitable Access Is the Future for All of Us”). Discussions about changes the organization wants to see have already begun on its YouTube channel (check out the “The End of Library Ownership?”). It even has shareables that highlight digital usage statistics. These can be used for social media and as posters.
Along with its already-useful website, the organization has even bigger plans in the works. Halperin explains that Library Futures Institute plans on training library workers by continuing online events as well as by creating an “‘access to knowledge’ class or seminar for library workers to learn about how they can support their communities and develop skills as leaders to build a more equitable knowledge landscape.” It also wants to offer small grants at some point in the future, but for now, Halperin says that “book talks, conference presentations, and a new campaign” are happening soon.
When discussing Library Futures Institute’s next steps, Halperin says, “Short term, we will launch a fair pricing campaign very soon to draw legislative attention to unfair licensing costs and the need for libraries to own their materials. There is already legislative action in Maryland, and we hope that more states can follow suit.”
In the long term, the organization is “hoping to use a multi-pronged approach to community, education, legislation, and innovative support to actually change the paradigm around library copyright and equitable access to knowledge,” Halperin says. “That will entail building out our core programs, but also working in community with our coalition partners and the wider library community to build organized support and solidarity for another way forward.”
If you want to stay up-to-date on what Library Futures Institute is working on next, you can follow the organization on Twitter or join its email list. Its webpage of programs also shares what it is working on.
Halperin ended the interview with a clear message: “In order to be part of the solution, we are working in the public interest legislatively, through community, and through education. … We are building out a curriculum for library workers to feel more empowered to speak out and influence issues of equitable access in their institutions. We are building a coalition of people who want to make a change in their communities.”