Nor Is This All

On Friday, November 8, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission held its second Learning Engagement Opportunities, or LEO, Day, a day of in-service training and staff development for all TSLAC staff in our three locations. As with other libraries, LEO gives TSLAC staff an opportunity to come together in a day of learning, networking, and team-building.

The keynote speaker for this year’s LEO was Dr. David B. Gracy II. Dr. Gracy is one of the most famous archivists in the U.S. He is the former State Archivist of Texas and the former Director of the Archival and Records Enterprise Program at the University of Texas School of Information. He is the former President of the Society of American Archivists and the Academy of Certified Archivists.

The title of Dr. Gracy’s talk was “Nor Is This All,” which derives from comments by Cadwell Raines who was the director of the library and archives functions of Texas for eleven years from 1891-1895 and 1899-1906. Raines wrote of the state library of his day that “By its relation to the state government, the agency is the office of record for everything issued by the several departments; not only the printed books, pamphlets, maps, etc., but also the manuscript records of historical value after they are no longer necessary to the current duties of said departments.” Then Raines added the words, “Nor is this all.”

Dr. Gracy uses these words of Raines to frame the importance of the library and archives to society. “How important is having an agency of government with this mission?” asks Dr. Gracy? “In my view—essential. It couples the two information functions that form the bedrock of democracy and are the foundation upon which civilization in the age of literacy rests. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Dr. Gracy then went on to decry the erosion of archival collections and to obscure the transparency of public access to government information. “Essential to democratic government is transparency—the ability for citizens to monitor the actions taken in their behalf by government leaders. Transparency is vital to trust in government.”

Dr. Gracy went on:

“What other reason than obscuring transparency and compromising trust in government would there be for a legislative enactment excluding legislative records from being treated as all other agency records under the state records act. . .

“Archives are information as accurate, factual, truthful in historical context as we Americans, we Texans, we human beings have.”

Dr. Gracy ends with stirring praise for the work of the staff of TSLAC, and by extension, all archivists and librarians:

“In the end, your job is you—your pride in your profession, in your performance of your job, in your service to all comers.  That you have this pride is a given.  Without it, you wouldn’t be in this line of work.  You wouldn’t be here.  And no malignant action or initiative from outside can ever take it from you.”

Nor is this all: Dr. Gracy suggests that the scope of what may complete the public’s right to know will sometimes—perhaps always—extend beyond what is found in the public archives of the state.

We were grateful to Dr. Gracy for his remarks that served to remind our staff of the important service this agency has been providing for the state since its founding 110 years ago and, in fact, back to the first days of statehood. That service has been to preserve, protect, and make available to the public the archival record of the state of Texas, work that our staff has done and will continue to do with dedication and professionalism.

Dr. Gracy’s entire speech to the staff of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission can be read here.

In other news

Last week the Texas State Library and Archives Commission began transferring to the Legislative Reference Library all legislative records of the state of Texas. These records include all bill files, committee minutes, photographs, audio files, and other documents extending from the first legislature to present, as well as the records of all members of the legislature and the Lieutenant Governor. The full transfer of these materials is expected to take until the early spring, at which time the archival record of the legislative branch of Texas will be housed at the Legislative Reference Library, which now has custody of those materials per the terms of HB 4181 as passed in the last legislative session.




Meeting with Mr. Sargent

I am in Hartford, Connecticut, for the annual fall meeting of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, or COSLA, the state librarians of the 50 states and several territories.

This morning, a group of ten state librarians and the Executive Director of COSLA met with Mr. John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan Publishing Company. The meeting came at an interesting moment: this week marked the beginning of Macmillan’s controversial new pricing/availability policy for library e-book purchase. Under the policy, each library (regardless of population size) can purchase one copy of every new e-book and that copy will be perpetual use and is sold at the consumer price for the book. However, after that copy, Macmillan will not sell any further copies to the library for an eight-week period. After that, the library will pay the library cost, which is much higher than the retail cost of the item. This policy has provoked a huge negative reaction–including calls for boycotts–among libraries across the U.S. The American Library Association, COSLA, and many others have urged Macmillan to reconsider this action.

I was one of the ten who met today with Mr. Sargent and the meeting lasted over two and a half hours. He explained that the Macmillan policy arose from his belief that the amount that librarians are spending on e-books is ever escalating as they try to keep up with demand for front-list (bestseller) titles, allowing no funds to purchase mid-list titles. Meanwhile, the circulation of library e-books is rising exponentially, and, in Mr. Sargent’s view, causing a corresponding decrease in revenues for authors and publishers. He posited that not only is the policy good for small libraries that typically would purchase only one copy of an e-book, it would potentially help all libraries along with authors and publishers. Without any other model, he says, the publishers would have no choice but to continue to raise prices to libraries, causing more pressure on library budgets.

We appreciate Mr. Sargent’s time and his thoughts, but the state librarians did not buy his argument. While it is undeniable that the cost of e-books is untenable, that use is tending to increase, and that library budgets are pushed to the max, we expressed skepticism that a reader who cannot borrow a copy of a library e-book will purchase the item. We also doubted the assumption of an inverse correlation between library circulation and publisher revenue. We questioned the data upon which Macmillan’s decisions have been based. And we noted that many libraries are going to discontinue purchasing materials from Macmillan, though Mr. Sargent seems confident that the impact of the boycotts will be offset by greater revenues to authors and publishers. He commented that he had heard from few authors with concerns about the new policy.

Libraries have several options for how to respond to the embargo. They can, of course, continue to do business with Macmillan, buy the initial item, then buy further copies once the embargo is lifted. Or, they can opt not to purchase Macmillan titles.

While TSLAC does not have an official position or recommendation to libraries about how they should respond, libraries may want to consider that other publishers are watching the results of Macmillan’s action. If those publishers see that in fact, the embargo is successful, there is little library reaction, and if author and publisher revenues increase, then other publishers will likely follow Macmillan’s lead. That would mean that black-out periods on new materials could be imposed by other publishers, greatly impacting libraries’ ability to provide new and popular e-books to the public and, ultimately, making libraries much less relevant to their users and communities.

Certainly library patrons want to read the New York Times bestsellers. But there are many thousands of books published in all genres every year, especially in this exciting new era of small publishing and self-publishing. Libraries could consider the Macmillan embargo as an opportunity to explore ways to encourage readers to discover other writers who they may enjoy as much or more than those that publish with Macmillan. TSLAC has begun ordering e-books for Texas libraries. We will be favoring publishers who provide library-friendly terms, including books with perpetual use.

We may have one point of agreement with Macmillan: it might be time to disrupt the model of our book purchasing. We should take this opportunity to flex our book-buying muscle, favor publishers that give us the most favorable terms, and use our considerable expertise in readers advisory service to discover and crowd-source new authors. The alternative could be to find ourselves unable to effectively serve avid readers who have comprised one of our most dedicated customer groups.


ALA Press Release regarding Macmillan price policy:

Open Letter from John Sargent: