Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Books! Books! Books!

Let's talk about ebooks.

No, no the _ebooks found on Twitter. The other kind. You know, those you probably won't find in libraries.

One would think libraries would be the place to find ebooks. Libraries deal with books, and the leap from dealing with books to dealing with books is not as great as one might imagine. Yet, those ebooks are somehow somewhat absent from public libraries. Why?

The answer is a complicated mess of licenses, restrictions and wishful thinking. Copyright, in other words.

One might imagine that the Pirate Bay would have set something of an example when it comes to establishing large scale databases with open access across many platforms. That the solutions employed in this entrepreneurial endeavor would cross over to apply to other agencies who wished to make sharing a matter of daily routine. That interdisciplinary dialogue would have happened.

It has in fact happened. And the rightholders did not at all like what they heard.

Instead, they took Measures. Legal sized pads were procured, legal pens set in motion and legal documents put forth. Documents that specified that libraries should limit the lending of ebooks to one (1) ebook at a time, that the fees for lending an ebooks should be greater than for old skool books, and that various forms of DRM are to be used on the few books that actually manage to pass through this narrowing of potentials.

You can bet that librarians are not overly fond of this new order of things. But what can they do? They are bound by the rules of copyright, after all, and if they are to have any books to lend at all they have to follow them to the letter.

No matter that the spirit has long since left our phenomenology.

The thing is, though, that all these demands put on the poor librarians is nothing but wishful thinking. Sadly enough. While the ambitions may be to limit the public exposure to free stuff, that very exposure already happens anyway. Not only with the help from the good fellows over at the Pirate Bay, but with the combined efforts of the world in general.

There's a lot of things other than reading books out there in the world. And there's a whole lot of world too, to boot!

So the net result of all this hassle is, in the end, detrimental for all parts. The rightholders miss out on all the free exposure that comes from being freely available in an appealing fashion, the librarians have to constantly explain the complicated and unappealing ways their ebooks wont work, and the public at large still have to rely on the somewhat unreliable forces of the free market.

We have the technology to make libraries better. There's no reason to question that - only unreason would question better libraries. But we have to give libraries permission to be what they can be, rather than construct ever more complicated reasons for them not to be.

A better world is possible. And it's hard to imagine a better place to start than at a library.

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