Mar. 15, 2012
As ebook sales explode, everyone probably realizes that the book publishers are nervous about the ramifications on their profits and business model. However, publishers have plenty of case studies from other industries that have gone before them and cut a path into the digital jungle. More interesting to me will be watching the impact this has on our public library system…a system that could be described as formalized piracy if we accept the definition promoted by the music and movie industries.
Will it be possible for the library to survive digitization without the resources or financial motivation that fueled innovation in other industries? And will the publishing industry help them survive, or will they use this as an opportunity to euthanize a system that provides free access to their intellectual property? If the library system has any hope of surviving, I think that they need to start making the case for their existence much more public.
At least traditionally, a strong public library system has been considered an essential part of having an educated and literate population. Free access to books and other educational materials theoretically benefits everyone, but especially the poor, who may not be able to afford the materials otherwise. If we lose our libraries, we’ve lost a critical component to the “American Dream.”
It’s clear that if libraries are to remain relevant, they must continue their transformation from book warehouses to digital educational centers. This presents not only a logistical challenge, but a marketing challenge as well. Public libraries need to re-establish themselves as a critical education resource for the community. This isn’t a problem that can be solved by simply renovating the facility or adding another program. It’s an awareness problem.
If libraries don’t enlist public support, it’s likely that the publishing industry will be more than happy to watch them silently slip into irrelevance. I worry there’s a real danger that the next generation won’t have the kind of free access to copyrighted material that we expect from our current libraries.
Although libraries haven’t traditionally been known for aggressive marketing campaigns, their continued survival depends on effective communication and raising community awareness. This will likely require those in leadership positions in the library to think differently and break their most sacred rule; it’s time for them to start talking, loudly, before no one cares to listen.
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