How Public Libraries Got Started

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2236/how-did-public-libraries-get-started

I found this article very interesting. It’s the first time I had read about the various approaches (Social Libraries, Circulating libraries etc.). I noticed private law libraries weren’t mentioned. I’ve read that lawyers used to collect their own private collections of law books. They were an important local repository of legal information.

One thing that was not addressed is copyright.

Sounds a little like peer to peer file sharing. :slight_smile: I find it ironic that Ben Franklin would be in serious trouble these days. Books are one of the few creative properties that can be freely shared. I can loan a book to anyone I choose. Obviously I can’t copy it and distribute it. Otherwise, I can use my book however I want.

That may soon change. Electronic books once again opens up that nasty issue of copyright. Amazon recently reached out and deleted books they sold to kindle users across the country.

Will electronic books eventually threaten public libraries? Will we ever have complete ownership of books in electronic formats?

I got burned by the edit time out.
Here is the rest of my post.
Will electronic books eventually threaten public libraries? Will we ever have complete ownership of books in electronic formats? I personally don’t feel comfortable with books in electronic format. There’s no sense of permanency. They only exist in a format that may change over time. Beta vs VHS only in book form. We’re already seeing that publishers are trying to control the content & distribution. I’m not sure electronic books published today will exist a thousand years from now. Paper books have been found that are over a thousand years old.

I’m not trying to debate copyright here. My concern is how it effects libraries.

Librarian here. You basically answer your own question in your OP.

Lending books is nothing like peer-to-peer file sharing. You’re not sharing a copy, you’re sharing an original. And according to the first sale doctrine, what you do with the original is your business. You could even charge people for the right to borrow your stuff and be perfectly in the right legally (see Blockbuster, Gamefly, Netflix, etc).

The vast majority of public libraries already offer electronic books for their patrons. The books are mostly less popular non-fiction and public domain books (because that’s what publishers currently allow to be affordable), but electronic books only scare the oldest librarians who keep their hair in very tight buns.

Probably some day. There are already a variety of formats available that are pretty open and transferrable between machines. It’s only a matter of time before ownership rights come with it.

This is known in libraries as “format migration” and is actually a problem we’ve been dealing with for decades. How many microfiche readers do you see anymore? Not too many right? But we still want to make that information available to people, so we’ve got to transfer it. If ebooks ever replace paper books, it’ll just be one more format that needs a migration.

Thank you for the reply, that’s very interesting. Microfiche brings me back to my college days. I hope my days of academic research are behind me.

I’m very glad we have public libraries. I’ve always gotten a library card anywhere that I live.

Libraries were started in a simpler time. I’m not sure they could be invented today. I can imagine the howl from the authors.
“You want to let anyone in the city read my book for free? Where’s my lawyer!” :wink:

You’re wrong about authors, mostly. I’ve been a member of professional writers organizations for many decades and have participated in the ongoing debate about copyright so I’ve heard the opinions of hundreds of writers.

A few do grumble about not getting royalties from library patrons being able to read their books for free. This is a most American problem, though. Canada requires libraries to report on the number of times each book is taken out and then apportions royalties from a government fund to the writers based on the book’s popularity. Some European countries have similar programs.

Of course, you can find a few authors - or a few anybody - to grumble about absolutely anything. Most authors are huge supporters of libraries because they are also huge users and beneficiaries of libraries.

There is no difference at all between libraries having physical books and having electronic books. Authors get royalties every time their book is sold in a Kindle edition or in any of the other formats, just as they do with physical copies. You’re confusing that with the issue of people stealing books and making them available in pirated versions. That’s what most authors complain about.

Admittedly, there is a growing number of authors who claim that even pirated editions are no different from library distribution or the sale of used books, which also go without royalties. Exposure to the name is good business for the brand because it drives the reader to the authors’ other books. The counter to that argument is that it only works for the most prolific authors. If you have 30 books in circulation and a pirate rips off two that might give you net sales. If you have two books in circulation and a pirate rips off two, you’re dead in the water. By some strange coincidence, every writer I’ve ever heard make the “all is good” argument is extremely prolific. I am not. Make of that what you will.

I’m always surprised at how many people don’t use public libraries. I use them a lot, but I also impulse buy too. If I see an interesting paperback at Walmart or other retailers I’ll usually buy it. Amazon is another impulse buy. It’s so simple to click and have it at your door in a couple days.

Libraries can create interest in an author. It’s just one more way the public sees their work.

I don’t use my local library much because its selection is small. It belongs to a state-wide library network, so I can usually get any book they don’t have thru the exchange. But I can get it even faster thru Amazon, and Amazon delivers to my door. I only use the library facility if I’m not sure I want to own the book and don’t mind waiting.

Obviously, in larger libraries/cities, the selection would be more encompassing.

Exapno Mapcase, don’t authors get even angrier about books being endlessly resold in flea markets? I cannot imagine anyone except the reseller getting a cut out of twenty-five cents for a used paperback. That seems like the first thing authors would want DRM to put a stop to in digital books, as it has in digital music.

One publisher, Baen, has decided to stop piracy of their books by making them free online themselves, with no DRM, at the Baen Free Library. They’ve been doing this for several years now, and they’re still one of the top publishers of fantasy and science fiction, so it seems to be working pretty well.

Derleth, that’s not really the same issue. A paperback is an original copy, and was originally sold once and royalties paid. (That’s why there is that disclaimer in the front that if the book doesn’t have a cover, it is a pirated copy.) As Justin_Bailey said, the original is yours to do what you will with.

The problem with peer-to-peer sharing is that it generates copies. This means one original sale (presumably) can get converted into thousands of copies that preclude the need for anyone to buy a second copy. It would be like having a printing press and binding operation, and you take the paperback and redistribute new copies without paying royalties. Each copy is as good as the original.

The new ebook sharing mechanisms I have heard about use some sort of tagging such that there is only one active copy per license, kinda like shared software licenses that companies use. You have a certain number of licenses for your company, and everyone has a copy of the software on their machine, but only a certain number can be active at one time, and the licenses are logged which are checked out. The ebook sharing systems are similar, in that you either have a pool of users with one library they share from, or when you transfer the file to a new machine it deactivates the old copy.

Basically, if they perfect the self-deleting mechanism such that you cannot copy the ebook (or music file), only transfer it, then the situation will be similar to paper book copies.

The OP seems confused about the vast difference between buying copyrighted works and copying copyrighted works. I’m pretty sure very few copyright holders have ever objected to anyone purchasing their product.

But that doesn’t prevent dreamers from fantasizing about collecting something every time a product changes hands.

There are problems with electronic books -
Format- I find a physical book a lot easier to read. maybe with something like Kindle, the electronic version will be readable; but if I’m going to shell out several hundred dollars for a screen that can talk to the internet and display stuff, why can’t it do general computer duties? Just give me a USB port to add a keyboard as needed.

DRM - I have never bought music online. The DRM crap just sounds too cumbersome. If I really really want it, I’ll buy the CD and rip it. Much simpler. For odd songs, well, there was napster. From what I read of book DRM, it’s even more onerous.

Price - they’re charging almost as much for an electronic book that is drmcrippled, as they are for a permanent paper copy. Why? Do they think I value a crippled electronic file as much as a hard copy of a book?

Until there’s a simple, standard, transferable file version of all books, librabries aren’t likely to carry them. My librabry has CD’s and DVD’s galore as well as books, because that is a pretty durable very standard format.

I’ve also noticed that since the internet came along, I spend a lot less time reading books, magazines, or newspapers. I used to impulse-buy books, but do so a lot less once my unread pile go into the hundreds.

The thing people may not realize is how much abuse library books take. They often wear out, and are also sometimes lost or stolen. What this means is that libraries often buy replacement copies of books. Plus, libraries will likely buy multiple copies of popular works, so that more than one patron can check them out at a time. It’s hardly Barnes and Noble numbers, but libraries do buy a lot of books from publishers (more than you might think).

Really, when you think about it, it’s not much different from the video-rental-store model… which was a huge money-maker for movie studios. The only difference here is that municipalities or nonprofit orgs are footing the bill of buying the “rental copies”, instead of Blockbuster, Inc. The fact that the “rental store” charges $0.00 per rental, instead of $4.99, makes no difference to the publisher/movie studio. They’ve already gotten their money for the sale of the original copy. In fact, it likely encourages MORE people to rent the media (since the entry barrier is so low) and likely results in copies wearing out SOONER, leading to the “rental store” having to buy replacement copies sooner…

According to one of my professors at library school, public libraries account for 10% of all of the popular fiction/non-fiction sold in the US. For scholarly books, college libraries account for 90% of all of them sold in the US.

But while libraries do buy replacements for destroyed material, it’s not as often as you’d think. Mostly, by the time a book is destroyed it’s popularity will have waned and we’ll make do with however many copies are left on the shelf.

When I was a page in the local public library, I assisted for a while in Tech Services too, preparing books - putting on those index stickers and card pockets, stamp “Property of” etc. One trick the libray would do is buy paperbacks, then have them re-covered in hardcover for durability.

I One of those hardcover paperbacks, which a friend had purchased at a library sale and later passed on to me. It has the original paper cover wrapped in a plastic dust jacket which is glued to the hard cover.