Why libraries matter, cont’d: “Permanent, unlimited, free”

Ursula K. Le Guin. in a must-read post, makes the case for why libraries matter in the digital age:

Libraries are essential because they keep permanent collections — even of unpopular books, even of impermanent, seemingly valueless items — a samizdat from 1940, a newspaper from 1933. Ebooks, including self-published ebooks, would become part of permanent library collections, which could then join the worldwide network of electronic libraries.

The existence or disappearance of a library’s permanent collection isn’t a sexy issue. But it’s absolutely basic to access to information and to the continuity of human knowledge. […]

The goal of the public library has been to give anyone who needs or wants it permanent, unlimited, free access to books. All books.

The goal of the public library in the electronic age is what it always was: to give permanent, unlimited, free access to books — print books, ebooks, all books — to everyone.

She outlines the threat libraries face from stingy corporate publishers:

For a long time most Americans agreed on the importance of the free public library to the well-being of the community and the country. A publisher then would hesitate to be seen deliberately making things hard for libraries. But reactionary ideology has weakened the idea of community; muddy thinking has convinced people that information on the Internet is free; and libraries are being conveniently misrepresented as mere outmoded warehouses for print books. Readers may assume that libraries don’t and won’t buy and circulate ebooks.

In fact, despite the expense of constantly changing technologies, the non-support of voters bleating anti-tax mantras, and the aggressive tactics of corporate publishers, the great public libraries have kept abreast with the electronic age, and they very much want to buy and circulate free ebooks.

Since corporations don’t consider human rights or needs, only corporate profits, they feel free to use tactics that infringe, ignore, or flout the rights of readers. They are in fact practicing commercial censorship. They are keeping books from us.

If the part libraries play in distributing ebooks gets “frictioned” into insignificance, it will be easier for the corporations to take further control of what ebooks you personally can obtain, how long a book will stay on your reader before you have to pay for it again, and whatever else they want to control. If they see profit in doing any of this, they’ll do it. If small publishers try to sell the books they don’t sell, the big corporations will eliminate the small publishers.

And cross-file this under “Books are made of win”:

If ebooks largely replace printed books, and the public libraries are decimated or eliminated as a permanent resource open to everybody, we may be able to access books only through the corporations. It will not be easy to get a book the corporations have decided is unprofitable, outdated, unnecessary, or unpleasing; it may be very difficult to find out whether a text has been cut or tampered with; there may be no way to know that a book ever existed.

Much more here, and as always, worth reading.

(Video via Ebooks for Libraries)

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