Believe it or not, people still read books.
Despite the doom and gloom and often-reiterated refrain that young people today are illiterate, the world and its modern technology has not managed to cripple the long-standing literary institution: the local library. Libraries survive by the manic activity of their employees and the attention of patrons.
But it’s no longer just physical copies. E-books, available on tablets and phones, have become a mainstay in the way people read. People at libraries can rent tablets preloaded with several books. For people on the move, a tablet can be much easier to carry than a stack of 10 books each averaging at 300 pages and weighing a few pounds.
Clearly, it won’t be its patrons that ruin libraries for everyone, but the book publishers themselves.
Macmillan Publishers, one of the top five biggest publishing houses in the U.S., announced its intent to soon limit the number of copies of its published books to one per library for the first eight weeks.
While that seems like the corporation is cutting off its nose to spite its face, for Suffolk County’s library system, which handles all of the area’s e-book rentals, it means patrons will have access to one single copy countywide for rent.
Think about who uses a library. The highest levels of patronage are enjoyed by people living in the North Shore communities, according to Kevin Verbesey, the director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System. While there are plenty of people who use the library for its many events and other activities, many others use the system to gain insights on world events and better themselves as they enjoy free access to computers and books. They find solace during an escape into literature.
It seems cynical, ludicrous and downright greedy on the part of the publisher to limit access. It suggests the current library system, which has existed for more than a century, is now, all of a sudden, cutting into publisher’s profits. Meanwhile there is good evidence to suggest libraries help create buzz and interest for the publisher’s books. Data from the Library Journal suggests many readers will go out and purchase the same book they borrowed from a library, and even more buy a book by the same author as one they borrowed from the library.
The library system exists and is as natural as the written word itself.
Librarians across the country look at the publisher’s actions and condemn them, but their voices are drowned out by the scale of the overall operation.
While Macmillan may assume people will simply go out and buy the book instead of getting it from the library, this hurts all those who cannot afford a new book, in electronic or physical form. Even worse, other publishers will potentially copy what Macmillan has done, severely limiting access for patrons to their electronic literature.
Libraries are the backbone of culture in a community. We ask all North Shore residents show support for their local library. Start a petition. Other publishers are waiting in the wings to see what happens. Letting Macmillan’s model become the norm will only harm the collective good.