Gavia Libraria

The hero librarian’s response to HBR agitation

After four years during which no one but librarians noticed that Harvard Business Review, aided and abetted by EBSCO, was extorting extra money from libraries for classroom use, someone not a librarian at last noticed. Better late than never, the Loon must suppose; but prompt attention and protest might have kept the extortion from becoming established at all.

The Loon responded poorly on Twitter, and is sorry for it; she does know better, but sometimes forgets. (She is particularly prone to annoyance when four-year-old phenomena are brought to her attention as though she knew nothing of them; she experiences this as an accusation of not having kept current. This is unfair, of course; no one has entrée to the contents of the Loon’s brain, and a very good thing, too.)

At one library, this has led to a hero-or-villain moment. Similar questions are, in the Loon’s estimation, quite likely to spring up at other libraries, whether over HBR, ACS, NPG, AAAS, or whatever other three- or four-letter publisher acronym commits the next outrage.

What is the appropriate response of the library hoping for heroism?

Following SUNY-Potsdam’s example, the Loon would validate the complainant’s frustration and ask to attend a meeting of the department at which this matter will be on the agenda. (If more than one department is involved, a meeting of cross-department leadership would certainly serve a similar purpose.) If no such meeting is forthcoming—and it is certainly on the complainant, not the library, to arrange one—the matter ends there, perhaps with a cordial invitation to the (now-chastened, one might guess) complainant to participate in Open Access Week festivities.

Should the meeting and its agenda be arranged, the Loon would present the facts (including that the offending contract provisions were take-it-or-leave-it non-negotiable, as HBR/EBSCO’s have always been) and ask for a departmental vote—duly recorded in the minutes!—of support for the library in cancelling the offending contract.

Meeting or no, won vote or lost, the library that follows this course has established:

  • that it is transparent in its dealings
  • that it is aware of and decries gross abuse by publishers
  • that it negotiates as strongly as it can with those publishers, but needs faculty support to refuse contracts for materials ordinarily considered important

This seems a good situation to build from. Other thoughts, commenters?

4 thoughts on “The hero librarian’s response to HBR agitation

  1. Joshua Gans

    I wish I had known about it earlier. Indeed, I only became aware that it was an ongoing issue from a Google search today. That actually helped me in deciding to raise the issue so strongly. But in my defence I did so promptly after our Dean alerted us to the issue.

    In any case, there may be responses now. HBS faculty will be shamed into doing something. It turns out that the whole clause may be illegal in some countries. So we will see.

    If we can get the Financial Times to drop HBR, that will help resolve this issue.

    1. Library Loon Post author

      Yes, quite. Thank you very much for your efforts, and your suggested counterattack is entirely sensible.

  2. John Russell

    In my experience, business faculty have been aware of this problem for quite some time. However, as long as they are able to get the content through different means, the license is a nuisance to them rather than a crisis. I wonder how many faculty are actually paying extra for classroom use; I’m not aware of any of my business librarian colleagues putting up such funds (as your first paragraph asserts). My sense is that violation of the HBR terms is far more prevalent than compliance, but I have no data on that.

    1. Library Loon Post author

      Faculty are not paying extra for classroom use, no; but some libraries are, because otherwise links from course-management systems break and angry faculty beat at the library’s door.