Will Libraries Exist In The Future – I decided to build the next Library of Alexandria. Now I think: will there be libraries in 25 years?
Kale, founder and digital librarian of the Internet Archive. Member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Internet Hall of Fame
- 1 Will Libraries Exist In The Future
- 2 Turning Nairobi’s Public Libraries Into ‘palaces For The People’
- 3 Philly’s Public Schools Have One Certified Librarian—parsl Is Working To Change That — Read By 4th
- 4 The Famed Boston Athenaeum Library Undergoes Renovation
Will Libraries Exist In The Future
When I started the Internet Archive 25 years ago, I focused our nonprofit library on digital collections: preserving web pages, archiving television news, and digitizing books. The Internet archive was recognized as innovative and unusual. Now all libraries are becoming more and more electronic, and necessarily so. To combat misinformation, serve readers during a pandemic, and be relevant to 21st century learners, libraries must go digital.
Turning Nairobi’s Public Libraries Into ‘palaces For The People’
But just as the Internet has exponentially expanded people’s access to information, an opposite trend has emerged. Global media corporations, emboldened by the sweeping copyright laws they helped create and the new technology seeping right into our reading devices, are exercising absolute control over digital information. These two opposing forces—toward unlimited availability and total restriction of access to information—have defined the last 25 years of the Internet. How we deal with this ongoing clash will shape our civil discourse for the next 25 years. If we can’t get it right, publishers’ business models could destroy one of society’s great democratizing tools: our independent libraries.
These are not small, popular publishers: a few publishers dominate the sales and distribution of books, including trade books, e-books, and textbooks. Right now, these corporate publishers are putting pressure on libraries in a way that could make it impossible for any library to own digital texts in five years, let alone 25. Soon librarians will be reduced to help desk representatives for a Netflix-like rental catalog of bestsellers. . . If this happens, you can also replace your library card with a credit card. That’s what these billionaire publishers insist.
The libraries I grew up in bought books, stored them, and loaned them to their patrons for free. If my library didn’t have a certain book, she would borrow a copy for me from another library. In the transition from print to digital, many commercial publishers are outlawing each of these activities: they deny libraries the right to purchase e-books, store e-books, or publish e-books. They require libraries to license e-books for limited or restricted use at exorbitant prices, and some publishers refuse to license audiobooks or e-books to libraries at all, making these digital works inaccessible to hundreds of millions of library patrons.
Although we are best known for the Wayback Machine, the historical archive of the World Wide Web, the Internet Archive also buys e-books from several independent publishers who sell,
Philly’s Public Schools Have One Certified Librarian—parsl Is Working To Change That — Read By 4th
, e-books for us. With these e-books, we lend them to one reader at , protected by the same technologies that publishers use to protect their e-books. The Internet Archive also digitizes printed books that have been purchased or donated. Similarly, we lend them to a single reader at , following a practice used by hundreds of libraries over the last decade called “controlled digital lending”.
Last year, four of the world’s largest commercial publishers sued the Internet Archive to end the library’s longstanding practice of controlled release of scanned books. Publishers filed suit at the start of the pandemic, when public and school libraries were closed. In March 2020, over a hundred closed libraries signed a statement of support asking the Internet Archive to do something to meet the extraordinary circumstances of the moment. We responded as any library would by making our digitized books available without waiting lists to help teachers, parents, and students without books. This emergency measure ended two weeks before the planned 14-week period.
The lawsuit requires the Internet Archive to destroy 1.4 million digitized books, books that we legally acquired and scanned in collaboration with dozens of partner libraries. If the publishers win this lawsuit, every instance of online reading will require permission and a license from the publisher. This would give publishers unprecedented control over what we can read and when, as well as a wealth of data about our reading habits.
Publishers’ scare tactics prompted lawmakers in Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island to pass laws requiring publishers to treat libraries fairly. The Maryland state legislature passed the law unanimously. In these states, if an e-book is licensed to consumers, publishers will be required by law to license it to libraries on reasonable terms. But publishing industry lobbyists argue that even these laws are unconstitutional. This is a dangerous state of affairs. Libraries should be free to purchase, store and issue all books regardless of format.
Attacks On Libraries Are Attacks On Democracy
Suing libraries is not a new tactic for these billion-dollar corporations and their proxies: Georgia State University’s law library fought copyright for 12 years; HathiTrust Digital Library has been fighting the Authors Guild for five years. In each case, the library organization won, but it required millions of dollars that libraries cannot afford.
Libraries spend billions of dollars on publishing products, supporting authors, illustrators and designers. If libraries become mere customer service departments for a publisher’s finished products, librarians’ roles in highlighting marginalized voices, providing information to the underprivileged, and preserving cultural memory independent of power will be lost.
As we move from print to digital, we can and should support institutions and practices that have evolved over hundreds of years, from e-book sales to readers and libraries.
So, if we all handle this next phase of the Internet well, I think the answer is that in 25 years there will be libraries, lots of libraries—and lots of publishers, lots of book distributors, millions of award-winning authors, and a society where everyone . I will read good books.
Libraries Synthesis Tw #1
Ideas features the world’s leading voices commenting on events in news, society and culture. We welcome external contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the editors. Constance Grady is a senior culture correspondent for , where she has covered books, publishing, gender analysis, celebrity analysis and theater since 2016.
Last weekend, Forbes published and then deleted a controversial article. “This article was outside the purview of this author and has since been removed,” Forbes said after a significant backlash. The article in question? A post claiming that libraries are a waste of taxpayer money and should be replaced by Amazon stores.
Seems to be beyond the competence of the author Panos Murdukoutas; he is a professor who specializes in the world economy. (A popular tweet suggested that Murdukoutas had paid for the privilege of being published in Forbes, though that turned out to be a mistake; he is a paid Forbes blogger.) But both the article itself and the backlash to it point to a deep-seated anxiety. about libraries and the question of whether they should be discussed.
If we believe that public libraries exist, that they are good, and that they are important, then we are saying that the services they provide are fundamental rights that our government is responsible for protecting. If we believe that libraries should not exist, that they are a waste, then we question the rights they protect.
How School Libraries Buy Books, Struggle For Funds, And Confront Book Bans: An Explainer
Note Murdukoutas’s now-deleted opinion piece, whose central idea was that the functions traditionally performed by libraries—selling books, of course, but also serving as community meeting places—are now better performed by “third institutions” such as Starbucks and bookstores-cafes. . . And because Amazon’s brick-and-mortar bookstores have easy access to Amazon’s large database of books worldwide, the paper concludes that Amazon’s cafe bookstores are better than libraries.
Many people may read this argument and protest, “But I have to pay for books on Amazon! I can borrow from the public library for free!” Murdukutas is back. “Let me make something clear,” he wrote on Twitter. – Local libraries are not free. Property owners must pay tax to the local library. My bill is $495 a year.”
It is true that libraries are funded in part by property taxes, just as taxpayers fund other public services that we as a society have decided are important to the public good, such as schools, fire departments, parks and road works. I may not have children in school, but I still pay taxes to the public school system because we have agreed that when all children are educated, it is good for the whole country.
Murdukoutas was trying to discuss not whether libraries are a “good buy” (generally they are, especially if you don’t have a lot of very valuable property to pay taxes on), but whether library services should be provided to the public. it is good for the whole country. He questioned the status of the library as a public good.
The Famed Boston Athenaeum Library Undergoes Renovation
Libraries are funded by the public to serve the public. They offer books, films and music selected to entertain and inform the public, with more available through interlibrary loan. They offer internet access and cheap printing services. They offer financial literacy training and job search assistance. They cater to non-English speaking immigrants. They serve prisoners, homeless and domestic people.
Libraries do it all
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