The Library Myth

“If we had a national library of e-books, you wouldn’t need the library down the street,” Roger Sutton says in The Horn Books’ Roger Sutton on Literature’s Place in the Culture, (Publishing Perspectives,  June 6, 2012).

As I was perusing news on Google+ I came across the above referenced-article, and that statement just got under my skin. This man has worked as a “young adult librarian, a children’s librarian and a branch librarian.” If he held all these jobs, how could he ever say that you wouldn’t need a library down the street?

Why does the myth persist that libraries are only warehouses full of books?!? Libraries are rich cultural institutions that often make up the heart of their individual communities.

Here’s the response that I posted on Publishing Perspectives in regard to the article.

As a librarian, I have to refute this statement:

“If we had a national library of e-books, you don’t need the library down the street. How will these places keep going? That’s the question.”

Libraries have evolved with society. They are often the technology centers and community centers for their area. As issues crop up, libraries work to fill society’s needs, and do an excellent job of it.

People who have never touched a computer (yes, they are out there) can take classes that teach them how to use Twitter and Facebook. People who have lost their jobs can file for unemployment, and low-income workers can use library computers to do their taxes online for free.

Students go to libraries as a place to collaborate on projects, a place where they don’t need to buy food to take advantage of free internet. Libraries are busier than ever. The only issue facing how these places will keep going is economics. If you don’t fund a library, it will fail.

The main issue with ebooks is that publishers are trying to push libraries out of the equation. Overdrive has a model where libraries purchase an ebook, and that book can only be checked out to one person at a time. I frequently check out ebooks from my library. I’ve read three in the past two weeks on my iPhone, and am on the wait-list for others.

No one bats an eye at the fact that libraries can purchase a hardcover book that can be checked out 70 to 80, even 100+ times. The question isn’t “How will these places keep going?” The question is “Why does the publishing industry feel the need to push out of the equation a working model that provides them with a steady stream of revenue?”