All Libraries Great and Small

Posted: August 3, 2012 in Uncategorized
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How can we develop online borrowing without fully fledged owning?

I should start by saying I love libraries. I grew up with my parents taking us to get books out every three weeks when the loan period was up. They were, and still are, voracious readers. That discipline and sentiment has been a significant factor for me over the years.

As I write, my local council is looking to build a 22 million dollar library in the area. I teach high school English in this area. The idea of building a new state-of-the-art library should excite me, and certainly would have done a bit over a decade ago. Now, following a petition that came around and the changing nature of reading, I am wondering about the vision of such a building and the fear that such an enterprise could lead to a white elephant being created. Not that I quibble about the variety of public uses such spaces can and ought to generate.

In addition to loving reading, I have also enjoyed owning books. When young, I admired the collection of hardbacks, dusty softcovers, new editions and classics my parents possessed. I even went so far as to emulate a library in my pre- teen years, putting smaller stickers to identify the elaborate co-ordinates that the books came from on my shelves (Dewey had yet to make an impact on a 9 year old). Later, having moved out of home and with the excitement of a salaried income, I took a certain pleasure in buying up books, whether it be buying up a handful of 2nd hand classics that I had always desired, or forking over larger sums to buy a first edition. When going to a person’s house for the first (or even subsequent) times, I would draw interest in the choices that their shelves offered and what it said about the thoughts and values of the owners. A personal book collection often gave a good indicator of the character of a person.

However, behind all of this, my love of libraries stood as equally, if not more, important. Libraries satisfied the various pangs that I might have, from the trashy fairy-floss page turners that I could read in a night, to curious desire based on a recommendation that a friend or librarian might offer. There are books that I am quite happy to read and not own. I bought my wife a Kindle a couple of years ago. The idea that you can have a book, as the thought or remembrance of it occurs to you, within seconds, is enticing. Having watched Graham Hill’s liberating TED talk on removing the ‘stuff’ in our lives, the idea of having a “library” of hundreds of books in your hand, without the cheap paperbacks becoming moth-eaten and dusty, was compelling. I found my basis for reading and owning books had changed.

Thus the nub of my post – the need for a better library system for the online age we currently inhabit. Libraries are generally “free”. Certainly tax and rate payers pay for this system, but in terms of a greater societal good, it is ostensibly free for all to use thereafter.
In the United States, Amazon has its Prime service, which for 80 odd dollars, offers the lure of free shipping within two days for purchases, the ability to stream television and movies and the ability to read a “A Kindle book to borrow for free each month from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library“.
Currently we have nothing comparable in Australia and I am not sure when Amazon (or other providers) are looking to bring the game to Australia. Not that I am suggesting that Amazon has it ‘right’ either for US customers and readers. The $79 cost seems reasonable enough on the basis of purchasing, say 4-5 “regular” novels at a book store. But compare this to my local library – my children can borrow up to 30 (yes thirty!) items at a time, including books, DVDs, music and magazines. The only issue I face is ensuring all of it gets back by the due date to avoid the overdue fines. However, I think a ‘subscription’ to a library is infinitely sensible and practical.

So to all those developers out there, I am wondering if we can bring about or consider the following: –

  • Being able to access books, on a ‘device’ to read without having to ‘buy’ the book.
  • Perhaps having a limited period to read it for free (or a ‘stepped’ price, like a rental, for the longer you possess it – thus encouraging you to read it more quickly)
  • Ensuring that author’s continue to get royalties, as they would via systems like the Public Lending Right that currently operates

Of course, one could still choose to purchase a book, as now. But what other options could we use? I would love to hear other viewpoints that further or even challenge these sentiments!

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