KILL: THE E-BOOKS WE READ WILL BE DICTATED BY OUR CORPORATE OVERLORDS
As staunch defenders of intellectual freedom, American public libraries stand opposed to censorship in any way, shape, or form. Allegedly, so does Amazon — the company has stated that it "prides itself on complete selection."
But in 2009, a coding glitch caused hundreds of gay-and-lesbian titles to disappear from Amazon's sales charts and search results. After a public outcry, the company apologized and fixed the problem. However, in 2010, Amazon removed incest-themed erotica and a pedophile guide-book from its Kindle store.
Even if libraries licensing Kindle titles from OverDrive are never subjected to elisions, they remain at odds with two of the six major publishing houses — and although they comprise at least 10 percent of the digital-book market, libraries have less purchasing power than individual consumers (and don't get the bulk discount they receive on analog books to make up for it).
Libraries cannot purchase e-books published by Simon and Schuster and MacMillan, neither of which has determined a profitable business model for selling e-books to libraries. Which is to say nothing of HarperCollins. In February, the publisher incurred the ire of librarians nationwide when it put a cap on the number of times libraries could lend their titles — after 26 checkouts, libraries would need to purchase the title again at full price. In the wake of this decision, more than 60,000 people signed a petition against HarperCollins, and many libraries openly boycotted purchasing their titles, digital and otherwise.
OverDrive, which has the lion's share of public library contracts, is soon to align with the biggest corporate force in publishing. In doing so, it will shut out all other digital book distributors, securing OverDrive's stronghold on the market and narrowing libraries' options.
What's more, the current e-book distribution model has inserted two additional profit-driven middlemen between libraries and publishers. While the bulk of the book trade has been in the hands of international conglomerates for roughly two decades now, this undoubtedly furthers the corporatization of what was once a public space.
SAVE: LIBRARIES ARE MOVING AWAY FROM BOOKS, ANYWAY
In Newport Beach, California, construction for a "bookless" public library is underway. As the Los Angeles Times reported in April, patrons will order books by speaking into a video camera; librarians in a remote location where the books are stored will then send the books to Newport Beach for pickup at a later date.
This might just be the future of libraries. California is broke, and the Newport Public Library is trying to stay afloat with a limited budget. Even if its new incarnation sounds like a Paul Verhoeven film or a Mac store, the Newport Public Library's mission remains the same as other, less terrifying branches: to deliver the information desired by its patrons.
Increasingly, that information has nothing to do with books. A 2011 survey from the American Library Association noted that "the same recession that cut into the funding of public libraries made them a key resource for people looking for work" — people without computers or Internet access at home. That same survey reports that in two thirds of the country, libraries are the only place to access the Internet for free. In other words, the public library of 2011 has become the last refuge for the technologically disenfranchised.