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?