[UPDATE] Putting Toothpaste Back in the Tube: Solving the Library "Problem"
When I say "library," what's your first reaction? Maybe you think of the dusty place your Mom dragged you to. Is it more like, "Oh, yeah, that place I haven't been in 20 years"? Or maybe it's: "Those damn places that give away our content and undercut our sales!"
Quick survey: How many of you have a library card—digital or hard copy? How many of you use that library card?
For me, the word "library" has always conjured up words like “magical” and “palace.” It’s given me books and CDs and DVDs, and I can read about anything. Libraries have always opened up worlds that might, otherwise, have been closed to me. I can test out music and movies that I might never have the opportunity to otherwise. How cool is that? A bit dorky, perhaps, but I suspect that this reaction to libraries has always been true of many people.
And, yes, I have not one but two library cards—for the New York Public Libraries and the Mid-Hudson Library system. I use both regularly, and I buy books.
Sure, but how necessary are libraries in a world with the Internet?
The importance that libraries still hold was underscored when I read in the New York Times that several Occupy (Wall Street or Boston or….) locations had created physical libraries on their sites. In the midst of trying to change the world, and dealing with cops and weather and fatigue and everything else… they made library tents. That's how important libraries are. The content at the Occupy libraries is mainly geared to political and philosophical writing to educate and support the efforts of those involved. But it was an instinct to create those library tents. I’m sure that people have computers there, with Internet access. Writings by Noam Chomsky surely could have been accessed that way.
Still, the role of libraries is certainly in flux. Just as publishers are struggling with e-content in terms of consumer sale and library usage, libraries are having to decipher their role in this new world. A recent article on CNN.com talked to this point. The director of Collections and Circulation Operations for the New York Public Libraries says that their e-content collection is “up to over 75,000 copies across more than 35,000 titles.”
As mentioned, publishers are struggling with ebook lending from libraries. As CNN points out, “Several large publishing companies have yet to make eBooks available to public libraries.” Others limit the number of times a book can be loaned out, others are limiting the number of times a book can be downloaded.
Amazon has recently, in effect, created a library. Kindle owners, who pay to be members of Prime, can get books—“as frequently as a book a month, with no due dates.” This may seem counterintuitive for a bookseller.
By definition, libraries have always served as a “threat” to publishers—why pay for it, when you can get it for free at your local library? And yet, libraries and publishers have existed side-by-side. I think a point that gets missed is that when you give people an opportunity to open their minds up, to explore and dream you create additional demand. Sure, some of that demand will be fulfilled at the library but some will be from buying books.
But the availability of e-content has changed the dynamics of that relationship. Even without the library factor, book publishers (generally) still don’t have a successful business model. Physical books they sold to libraries would wear out and need to be replaced—not so much with electronic files. Information is available on the web that can make both the library and publisher unnecessary.
Publishers are trying to get creative to make this all work with libraries. But they can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Libraries are not going away. Solutions need to be found.
By the way, when the NYPD removed the Occupy Wall Street people at 1 a.m. the other night, they dismantled the library. There is still some confusion as to whether the entire library has made it into storage. However, when the protesters came back the next night, they started a new library. That’s how important libraries (and the first amendment) are.
Update: For those who might not have thought that the relationship between publishers and libraries was a hot topic, here comes news that Penguin has halted library lending for e-books. While this does not impact titles in circulation, new titles will not be allowed.
Penguin’s statement describes their decision as coming from security concerns and will be holding off until they believe “a distribution model that is secure and viable” exists.
Even more specifically, they stopped sending files to Overdirve, which is used not only by thousands of libraries, but by Amazon for their new Kindle library. The impact and ramifications of this could ripple out, not just to libraries by to Amazon competitors.
I TOLD you libraries were not dull!
- Noam Chomsky