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How Will Piracy Affect Public Libraries? January 7, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in InformationIssues.
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The future of libraries, the future of books, even the relevance of expensive research databases are constantly in question. The world of media is changing fast and in too many ways to possibly quantify or qualify. We can no longer predict with any veracity what patrons will want or how they will want it. While I personally don’t think books (in the hardcopy) are going anywhere soon, nor libraries, I did choose to become an academic librarian over public librarian because academic libraries seem to have more lasting power. Most people I know still see the public library solely as a repository for books. The library holds an anomalous position in our society—doing, in a sense, what piracy does on a large-scale, handing out copyrighted media for free. But while libraries demand their materials back, piracy enables the user to keep the materials.

So what happens when books are available on demand for little or no cost? You may think libraries have nothing to do with e-book piracy. You may believe that this is a problem for writers and publishers. But if books can be obtained for free, with the click of a button, what will keep patrons trekking to the library to “rent” a book for a limited amount of time? Will public libraries face the same fate as music stores when iTunes became popular and music piracy became rampant? Are libraries independent video stores and the web, Netflix? We will soon know the answer as digital piracy continues to insidiously contaminate all media.

Don’t think that reading is exempt. This article, published on the first by CNN, states that within days of the release of Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol, online, 100,000 copies had been illegally downloaded. I expect that stories like this will soon become the norm. Add sites like Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and Bartleby, to the mix and the libraries’ concrete offerings seem superfluous (not to mention the futility of paper reference trying to keep up with virtual reference).

So, if the public library is to remain relevant and useful (and in existence!) it must seek to outsmart the pirates and offer services that cannot be replaced digitally. And most importantly, it must make these offerings widely known. What are your suggestions?

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Comments»

1. mike - January 7, 2010

Interesting that this would come up in a week where two earlier posts referred to Cory Doctorow. He is a big proponent of letting information run freely, and he regularly publishes his work on line for free (including giving copies of Little Brother to librarians). Cory feels that in the long run he and his print publishers will be rewarded with hard sales.
I think some musical groups do the same.

2. mike - January 7, 2010

I visited one of the auto-links and found this related story:
http://readingandruminations.wordpress.com/2009/01/10/support-your-public-library/


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