Public Library Association President Clara N. Bohrer responds to national CD settlement, distribution to public libraries
Chicago -- In theory there is much to like about the 2002 settlement of a lawsuit filed by New York and Florida against three of the United States' largest music retailers. The settlement provided $67.4 million in consumer refunds and roughly 7 million free music CDs valued at $75.7 million to America's public libraries and schools.
Naming libraries as the distribution point for compensating American consumers recognizes libraries' unique role as community centers and places of free and equitable access to information and resources. At a time when libraries in more than 41 states have been hard hit with budget cuts, the infusion of additional music resources for library patrons has been welcomed by many libraries.
Other libraries, however, now are struggling with a deluge of thousands of CDs and finding only a handful that fit their local collection needs.
Had the federal court in Maine consulted librarians before this decision was reached, it may have avoided this dilemma. For example, unexpected costs are one reason some libraries are not welcoming these CDs. There is no funding available to help with the cataloging and circulation costs libraries will incur in making these available to the public. Most importantly, libraries have no say in the music they receive and whether or not the CDs received fit selection development criteria carefully crafted by professional librarians with respect to local community interests and standards.
Unfortunately, although this settlement surely had the best of intentions, this agreement and its implementation disregard the thoughtful processes in place at libraries nationwide to screen and provide the books, CDs, DVDs and other materials wanted and needed in local communities. One library reports that almost half of the CDs it received were remainders - which would require the library to repackage (at their own expense) before they could display and circulate. The three largest genres of music received were Christmas, Latin and classical. Of the 1,325 CDs received, only about 280 fit that library's selection criteria and, therefore, could be added to the library's collection.
Conforming to their communities' needs in their selection process means libraries cannot always accept even locally donated materials. Libraries receiving hundreds of copies of Whitney Houston singing our national anthem or Gregorian chants does not serve the public good or fulfill the spirit of the settlement. Neither does the settlement in all instances help libraries assist the communities they serve.
Even so, the settlement requires music companies to provide CDs representative of those that have been selling over the past year. While library staff nationwide will work to catalog and circulate the CDs received that meet the needs of their local residents, we call on the music industry to send the educational CDs and best-selling music - not remainders that cannot be displayed in libraries - that our millions of library users want to find in their libraries.
AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION
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