We have learnt that the UK Government is due to hold “stakeholder” talks on the ebook crisis on 11th July. However, no one at #ebooksos has been invited, and our requests for further information about the meeting have been refused.
We only found out about the meeting as a result of one of our supporters submitting an FOI request asking for information about publishing industry engagement with the Higher Education Minister, Michelle Donelan.

In May 2021, at the request of a policy adviser to the HE Minister, we met with him to lend our expertise to a briefing report he was writing about the ebook crisis. We have since heard nothing further from the department.
When news of the “stakeholder” meeting reached us, we approached the same policy adviser to enquire about the attendees of the meeting and querying the absence of our invite, which we assumed was on oversight. To our dismay, the adviser responded thus,

Thanks to the efforts of you and ebookSOS colleagues, the issues are now well known, which is why the focus now needs to be on solutions. 

The 11 July meeting will be solutions-focused and there will be participants there who are well able to present the issues libraries are experiencing with academic e-books. If you think it would be helpful to have a discussion with the Minister to surface the issues further, I recommend working with UCU to get a meeting set up with her.

We were also advised that if we want to find out who was invited to the meeting we should submit an FOI request after said meeting.

The campaign team and supporters are dismayed and incensed by the response for the following reasons

  • We have no-doubt as to how well-versed the invited participants are regarding the complexity of the problems with ebooks (though we can only guess as we don’t know who they are) but we find it unconscionable that the people who raised the topic to the attention of government ministers are now being frozen out of the conversation. The meeting would not even be happening if not for the hard work we have been doing for the past 2 years.
  • The adviser says the meeting is just about finding solutions. Any legitimate and sincere effort to find a solution to a problem must surely involve consultation with those most disadvantaged and impacted by the matter at hand? To not do so raises questions about the sincerity of the intentions of the government, especially given the refusal to say who is attending.
  • We are extremely perplexed by the suggestion we should use UCU as a conduit to secure a meeting with the HE Minister. Although UCU have lent their support to the campaign, they have not been a key voice in raising it at national level – this has solely been through the tireless work of campaigners. Further, many librarians are not represented by UCU as their union. It is unclear why they would be a reasonable advocate for a meeting, particularly when there is a meeting already scheduled that the team could contribute to and ensure that sector voices are indeed represented.
  • Finally, the patronising and condescending attitude towards #ebooksos is staggering. The optics read “leave the room while the adults talk”

Both Caroline and Yohanna have been authorised by their workplaces to attend the meeting and Head of Libraries at University of Gloucestershire, Dr Sarah Pittaway, contacted the policy adviser directly to confirm her authorisation and expectation for Yohanna to attend. Sarah expressed her bemusement to the policy adviser at the exclusion of #ebooksos from any meeting on the topic, regardless of whether issues led or solutions driven.
Sarah is yet to receive a response but we will persist in securing a seat at the table and, failing this, will seek to make our voices heard by other, louder, means. Have your placards and marching shoes at the ready!

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