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Should libraries and librarians protect us?

Libraries Got Screwed by Amazon and Overdrive

The very short gist if you don’t want to follow the link and read the article and watch the vid:  Overdrive has been working with Amazon to bring more books to its service, but in doing so has allowed Amazon to put ads in the books themselves, send emails to patrons (that can double as an ad), and Amazon is storing a patron’s information (since they will know the patron’s checkout history, as well as annotations, bookmarks, and etc. that a patron has marked a digital book with).

So, yeah.  It’s taken a little bit for me to have time to sit down and write out anything on this.  Color me…..conflicted (Yellow? Maybe a mauve?).  On one hand, a part of me wants to pump my fists and be right there by the Librarian in Black, even though I’m not a librarian myself.  These practices are against what a library stands for.  Libraries and librarians have fought various battles to keep the government and other prying eyes out of our lending histories, lest we be discriminated against for what we check out.  Also, libraries are not technically about selling books, they are about lending them (I have to say technically because our local library has a book store).  Ads are a distraction, can be annoying, and true, might lead some to think they can’t just check out the book again.

However, it seems to me that librarians are essentially fighting a battle that’s already been lost.  Why?  Two major reasons.  One, though you may be protected at your local library, essentially every other business you interact with offers you no protection.  Amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Nobles, Borders (when they were open), Netflix, Redbox, and all other sellers/renters of books and media do not follow the same rules that the libraries do.  They are corporations, and thus must follow United States law and their own policies, one of which they can change at will.  If required to by the government, they will release all they know about you without telling you first (the last part of that is actually part of the law itself).

And two, sadly, libraries are just not competing.  Competing you say, they are a library!  They aren’t selling anything!  Wrong.  They are selling the concept of their own existence.  They have to prove why we put money into them.  Unfortunately, on the digital front they have fallen way behind.  I think I said in a earlier post that I was excited that Amazon might start a lending service, even a pay one, since that would finally let me “rent” the books I want.  For myself, and many, many other people, the most important thing about a lending/rental service is that they have what I want to borrow or rent.  It is worth nothing to me to have a service available that doesn’t contain anything I want.

But what about the privacy concerns, you might ask.  Well, if that’s an issue I for one am already screwed.  My local library failed me on having the content that I want (and I did look and give it a try).  So I had to purchase the eBooks that I wanted via Amazon, iTunes, and other retailers.  Concerning movies, my local library also doesn’t have all that I want in the format that I want it (nor do I actually expect them to), so I use Netflix.  In fact, the majority of what I read/watch is not sourced from the library.  Yes, what I do get from them is protected.  Hooray, you won’t get to find out that I rented some travel videos to watch over the weekend.  Ooops….

No, I get it.  I’m not making fun.  There are things that I could want to read or watch that I don’t want everybody finding out about, and it’s nice knowing that there is somewhere I can read/watch those things and be protected.  But for the majority of things do I really care if you know what I’m reading?  How can I, when I talk about what I read openly anyway, and share reviews?  The same can be said for what I’m watching.  I think given the prevalence of social networks, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t openly talked about what they are reading/watching at least at some point.

What should be done, or what can be done?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that it’s not enough for librarians to try and protect just the library, unless the library somehow has the funding to have everything I could ever want.  It’s like having an impenetrable bunker that you can retreat to; while you are there you are safe, but you can’t live there.  Personally, I have to live in the real world, and in the real world there are far fewer protections.  So I salute you, the libraries and librarians, the knight protectors.  I will listen with a concerned ear to your rants, your cries as you fight to protect your bastions of knowledge.

But I have to listen from the outside.