Interview with Jennie Rose Halperin of Library Futures 

Knowledge Rights 21 has interviewed Jennie Rose Halperin on the Library Futures organisation, eLending for libraries, their model legislation on eBooks, and advocacy in general within this field. Read the interview below: 

1) You’ve been leading Library Futures for over a year now – can you briefly summarise what you’re about and what you’ve achieved? 

“Indeed, we’ve been working on this project now for almost two years! Library Futures is the think tank for the future of libraries. We have done an enormous amount of work to highlight and engage with emerging issues within libraries and technology, and in particular on how libraries can and should work in a digital environment. 

We approach and tackle issues nimbly, uniquely, and in a positive and community-centred manner. Because we’re small and innovative, we’re able to do things in a way that lets us respond more easily to needs and emerging issues. We’re sitting at the front end of the issue curve when it comes to public information access, and we can get things moving and build new communities and connections. 

 I see us as being complementary to the roles of library associations and organizations at the state, national and global levels – we work well with organizations like ALA, ACRL and others. In the end, it’s going to take a diverse set of stakeholders to find solutions and to look forward to a more positive digital future for libraries.” 

2) Talking specifically about eBooks, how sustainable is the current situation for eLending by libraries? Are there variations between library types? 

“I don’t see ebook lending as sustainable at all – there are some serious issues that we can also see in the EU and global context, around availability and licensing for one. 

Licensing is a disaster for the public and consumers, but an even greater disaster for the public interest. We’re making payments per loan to content publishers and vendors who are just using libraries as a dumping ground for bad ideas. And so now we’re seeing an organized movement to change this. 

It’s important that we work together and understand that this issue is not about one individual country or library, but rather about global information access and remedying some of the huge access issues; misinformation is running rampant on the internet, and libraries should be at the vanguard of supporting accurate information online. Instead, they are prevented from doing so because of the lack of availability of digital content. 

This is a relevant topic for all library types. With Controlled Digital Lending, people often talk about its relevance for academic libraries, but I don’t think that’s the sole case – it can work well for public libraries also.  

Indeed, too often, we see issues in isolation – i.e., eBooks are seen as separate from research, from open, funded public infrastructure. Across the issue set, there is the need for a more sustainable information ecosystem.  

For me as a librarian, one of the broader tenets of librarianship that matters is that we are all trying to purchase, to acquire good information for our communities. 

And so, one of the things we want to underline is that, across the choices that libraries are making to support Controlled Digital Lending, and through our advocacy work, it should all be about supporting the goals of librarianship and free and equitable access for those who need it most.  

And I do want to underline the importance of advocacy here, as I’d love to see more librarians from all library types value and support advocacy work, and to see institutions favour and reward that work. There is a clear need, and if the people who are most impacted aren’t doing it who will?”  

3) What is the value-add of legislation guaranteeing the possibility to eLend? 

“Getting eLending legislation is the first bulwark in a series of actions here, as part of a broader agenda on library policy, technology, and the public interest. For example, we have a digital ownership paper coming out, plus one on an ideal copyright regime for libraries. We’re excited to share these and other upcoming materials with our community! 

On the specific eLending legislation point, it became pretty clear a year ago that the Maryland legislation was going to face issues in the courts, and so Library Futures stepped in to support in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

Knowing that there was the risk of pre-emption (i.e., it being argued that federal law prevents this), Kyle Courtney and our community took the point of view that this needed to be a contractual approach, understanding how contracts can restrict libraries’ ability to do their jobs. We need to frame the discussion in terms of the rights of libraries as buyers – or consumers – being unfairly restricted, which they are, so we are taking a leaf out of the book of consumer organisations, and promoting bills written in this way. 

This seems to be a much more winning strategy. I believe it’s possible to get the Massachusetts bill through and to get other states to pick this up, putting it on the agenda as a means of supporting communities’, taxpayers’, and readers’ rights.  

Of course, we know that legislation on the federal level can really transform an industry, and in the end, with enough state legislation – as is also happening, for example, with the Right to Repair and Net Neutrality movements – that this becomes more and more possible.” 

4) How does Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) fit in with this? 

“To be clear, CDL does not replace licensed eBooks. If you can licence something, CDL may not be the correct choice. Indeed, licensed eBooks can bring added value compared to those available under CDL, offering more features  

Of course, we want to make sure that all libraries can make use of CDL, and believe this should be the case already, given that format-shifting has long been permitted. We want to make CDL boring! It should not be as controversial as it is or become a lightning rod. 

Through our work, therefore, we’re trying to make sure that rights like CDL are protected, alongside the privacy of users, and with that, the right to format-shift, to have first sale, and for licences not to have language in them that overrides the rights libraries have been granted in the copyright act. These aren’t things we can take for granted – with the availability of eContent, we should have more rights and access, but in fact, we have fewer.” 


5) How has it been possible to get so far? What has the role of library associations and individual librarians been? 

“It’s been possible because there’s a real appetite – this movement needed to happen. There was a gap, we went in and filled it. We try to approach these issues in good faith, and with a real ear to what people are talking about, working on, collaborating on, and to emphasise the need for greater equity and openness within our own work. 

It’s also a lot of work, of course. Fortunately, we have a great community of people – members of our coalition, publishers, and others who have thought through what the role is that they can play. We don’t want to replicate work already being done by others, and indeed, many of the people involved in our work are also engaged in other associations too. Instead, we’d rather approach the issues clearly, openly, and strongly responsive to various communities. We’re also not going to come in and say we can do everything, but rather to listen and support. 

I think we’ll get a lot from taking the same approach to Web3, climate, platformization, and other big global issues. And we’re not precious, either – the more small, scrappy library advocacy initiatives that launch, the better – let a thousand Library Futures bloom!” 

6) There has been strong push-back from publishers, claiming both risks to their incomes and threats to rights. How much is in their arguments? 

“Not much. There’s no evidence that CDL hurts their bottom line, that libraries or digital libraries cut into publisher revenue. Publishers have had record sales over the past few years. Indeed, there’s the evidence that digitisation and making it available helps – library digitization increases sales of physical editions by almost 10%, particularly for less popular or out-of-print works (here’s the study). 

Libraries are bad at talking about their incredible impact on publishing, and how they boost publisher profits – we can do a lot more to promote what we’re doing to support the publishing community. In the end, we all believe in the primacy of creativity and believe that creators should be paid and supported in what they do. 

But we would like to see the power shift from the publisher to the authors – this is a longstanding imbalance that is only getting worse.” 

7) You’ve just come up with model legislation on eBooks – how did you develop this, and what were the toughest questions you needed to address in preparing this? 

“The model legislation came out of sustained work with different advocacy organisations. In our discussions, we had to address the question of what’s the best route to avoid an immediate challenge. In other words, what is the bill that we can write that will be the most comprehensible to legislators, and what is most likely to get passed and resonate? 

We released the model in the summer because most states are out of session and people are setting their agendas, but I believe it’ll be an intensive fall as we see what other states are doing to pick this up and look forward to working with ALA and others to ensure that libraries are able to exercise their rights.” 

8) What are your most immediate priorities going forward? 

“In addition to the advocacy work, we have several different projects going on – we will be launching news soon about our Google News initiative case study with the Albany Public Library and Hearken and have the policy pieces coming out as I mentioned earlier. We have webinars on transformative use and emerging technologies too. There’s lots of fun stuff, I’m really excited.” 

9) Finally, what lessons can you share about how to mobilise library voices and conduct effective advocacy in this space? 

“I’m not going to say that copyright isn’t boring and technical (and we all love it!), but it’s true that there are efforts to scare people off it, to make them think that this stuff is so hard that you need an advanced degree to understand or work with intellectual property. I am not a lawyer – really you just need enthusiasm and a willingness to learn and be open to new ideas. 

So first, I think people should not be afraid. The rejection of the Maryland legislation was unfortunate, but it mobilised a whole new group of advocates. We lost the battle, but we’ll win the war! 

Similarly, on CDL, there are liabilities and concerns, we don’t have to take this as a reason to give up, and there are lots of ways to advocate given that this is such a powerful way of achieving our missions. 

As for our own model, we’re one full-timer, 3-part timers, a board and a great policy community– very scrappy, very grassroots. And of course, funding is always an issue. It’s a labour of love, it’s the passion that drives us, given that what we’re working on is really exciting stuff. If it wasn’t impactful, we wouldn’t be doing it. While there’s no single model for how to build a community around these issues, being present, making noise, and being strategic and collaborative can hopefully change the field for the better!” 

Thanks to Jennie Rose Halperin of Library Futures for this great and informative interview!