The internet needs a library.
The internet needs shelves to wander by and rows of spines to run your fingers over. It needs a floor to sit on for hours between the shelves with one book, or a pile. It needs a stern-looking librarian to keep things quiet.
The internet needs a library because libraries are where readers grow. They don’t grow in bookstores or publishing houses or catalogues. Bookstores and publishing houses and catalogues grow books, not readers. Readers grow in libraries, because libraries are a different sort of place. What are they? They are Free to ALL. Free to a child barely able to read, to a grandma living off Social Security checks, to a student already spending $500 on textbooks. To All.
The bookstores and the publishing houses and the catalogues and the internet need readers because readers become writers.
Remember sitting on the floor of the stacks, the edge of the shelf digging into your back, your knees falling asleep under you? Remember when you could read the books–not sample them, not preview them, but actually read them?
Maybe you’d check one out. Maybe you’d put them all back. Maybe you’d put some on your list of books to read when you got around to it… one day.
Some people don’t like “Free to All.” But that’s just because they’re saying it wrong. They say “FREE to All.” As if the price tag were the thing that mattered. It isn’t. Maybe they didn’t spend so much time on the floor of the stacks, shelves digging into their backs. Maybe they didn’t like how their knees fell asleep after sitting for so long, reading. Maybe they never got around to their list of books they wanted to read… one day. Whatever it is, for some reason they fear “Free to ALL.”
Silly, really. Don’t they realize we’ll always need them to make the books, just like they’ll always need us to read them?
There are, arguably, stacks to browse on the internet. There’s Amazon with it’s “Look Inside!” feature. There’s Project Gutenberg and Questia and their ilk with books that have entered the public domain. And there are more daring, user driven sources like Usenet for those willing to pay, or sites like the Pirate Bay for the cheap asses among us.
If you choose Amazon, you can hope that the random excerpts the site chooses land on something interesting before your page limit is reached. Or you can take a chance on the economical $0.99 books. But even $0.99 adds up and if you choose this route, the days of sitting for hours reading or bringing home a stack of stories to try out is gone.
The public domain projects are admirable certainly. Everyone deserves access to the classics. But where are our stories? Where are the contemporary pieces, the stories of our times, written in our, modern words, reflecting our lives? Where are the cliche-ridden YAs, the cheap series, the trashy romances? These are our books too, not just the classics 150 years done. But most of our contemporary stories are inaccessible.
The final type of library, TPB, Usenet et al. are more a method, rather than a place. They are not a stable haven or repository of knowledge, but rather ephemeral spaces in between users where knowledge might exist, might bleed, might live or might die (this is their strength, of course, but also what sets them apart from the true library.) And for the most part, they are not book-centric.
Now there is another type of library–that I hardly count–that no doubt somebody would mention if I did not. That is the shadow of the physical library online. Some physical libraries, that is. Some physical libraries do have an online database. But it is about as limited as Amazon. More so, actually, as this type of library most often requires a physical card, and hence a physical residence in the county to use the online resource. And if you can get your hands on a card and a book, you’d better be quick because they’ll disappear. And keeping it extra days isn’t as easy as hiding the book in your bag and saying you’ve just forgot it when the librarian stares you down.
But, you may say regular libraries have due dates! You need to return books there too! And here’s the thing. You don’t. You’re supposed to. Yes, that is the idea. And ideally, this is what people do. But the thing is, the librarian doesn’t come home with you. The librarian doesn’t come home with you to lean over your shoulder and make sure you don’t scan it into your computer or copy out any pieces. And, truth be told, at most libraries you can renew a book almost indefinitely. Technically, a story once held in your hands, could be yours forever. Didn’t you ever copy a poem our of a book? Or a chapter from a textbook? And remember when you took a book out of the library, you too it OUT of the library. That was the whole point of the return policy When they hand you the book, they no longer have it. It’s the downside of ink on paper technology. But this is not an impediment any longer.
Somebody thinks we don’t need a library on the internet. Somebody thinks the internet is different.
Consider this: even when you buy an ebook, you have less of a claim on it than when you borrow a library book.
A borrowed book can go anywhere with you. You can read it at your desk at work, in your home office, on the couch in front of the TV, at the dinner table over a bowl of pasta. It doesn’t even have to be you that’s reading it. It could be your friend. It could be your mother. It could be your sister’s sneaky friend that’s always going through your things.
No so with ebooks. If we want to read one of those, it’s an event. We have to invite the publisher, the distributor, the author, and maybe even our ISPs over just to make sure we’re not doing anything unsavory like sharing our books with friends, or reading it at our work computer AND at home. And who knows who else will show up. You might get a lobbyist or a lawyer too. They have no relation to the book whatsoever, but they heard about the party and showed up at your door. They are not there for the story. They’re there to frown at you and collect the fine for inappropriate use of a story.
We need a place for books. A place for stories. A place for readers. We need a place where the books don’t pull disappearing acts or stare disapprovingly at you. We need a place that is, truly, Free to All.
We need The Ultimate E-Book Library.
And…. more on libraries tomorrow, including answers to pressing questions like ” How the F do you pronounce “TUEBL” ?” and “O my god, we’re all going to die!!! ?” (Hint: no, we’re not)