US libraries are under threat from digital assault, can they be saved? | World News - Hindustan Times

US libraries are under threat from digital assault, can they be saved?

Oct 10, 2023 10:17 AM IST

US libraries face budget cuts, book bans, and lawsuits, undermining their values.

Libraries are under attack in the United States.

Libraries in the US face budget cuts, book bans, and lawsuits, undermining their values(Photo by Arif ALI / AFP) / (AFP)
Libraries in the US face budget cuts, book bans, and lawsuits, undermining their values(Photo by Arif ALI / AFP) / (AFP)

They face budget cuts, book bans, and lawsuits from politicians, right-wing activists, and corporate publishers. These forces are trying to undermine the values of libraries, such as equal opportunity, universal education, and cultural preservation. They are going against the will of the majority of Americans, who support libraries strongly. They are making librarianship a dangerous profession, because of the actions of a hostile minority. It’s time to stop this war on libraries.

Libraries have a long and proud history in the United States. They were founded by publishers, lawmakers, and business leaders who recognized the social benefits of libraries, and of making books available to anyone who wanted to read them. They were aware of the dangers of tyranny over the distribution of books, and they created a system that protected the rights of libraries and readers.

Benjamin Franklin, a publisher and printer in his own right, established the inaugural subscription library in the United States with the aim of disseminating knowledge to a broader audience.

Andrew Carnegie, a shrewd capitalist, revolutionized the library system by assisting numerous towns in establishing their own libraries, bearing the inscription 'Free to the People,' as seen on the cornerstone of the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. In 1908, the Supreme Court rendered a pivotal decision, and in 1909, Congress included provisions in the Copyright Act to safeguard the unrestricted operation of lending libraries.

But now, in the digital age, these cherished legacies are threatened.

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The traditional practice of libraries is to buy or acquire published materials, preserve and catalog them, and lend them widely and confidentially.

For over a century, the regulations governing book printing on paper were well-defined. However, in the digital era, all of these functions have been restricted or, more recently, deemed unlawful for libraries in the United States.

In the present day, libraries are frequently denied outright ownership of digital books. Numerous books are exclusively provided to libraries in electronic format through restrictive temporary licenses, preventing libraries from ever possessing these e-books and instead requiring ongoing payments akin to streaming services like Netflix.

Several publishers have gone so far as to openly identify libraries as direct economic rivals.

Digital books have been withdrawn from libraries and altered without librarians' consent. Borrowers of digital books can no longer expect privacy, as publishers, distributors, and e-book retailers monitor readers, collecting data for potential sale or sharing with advertisers, law enforcement, landlords, or immigration authorities.

What can the US library authority do about this?

School libraries are an ally to students needing an escape. We can’t let them vanish.

● Publishers, and the American Association of Publishers, can sell e-books to libraries according to traditional practices and stop suing libraries.

● Authors have the option to stipulate in their contracts that e-books of their works should be made available to libraries under identical ownership, lending privileges, and pricing terms as their physical counterparts.

● Newspaper and magazine publishers have the ability to sell digital copies of their publications to libraries, thereby safeguarding the archives of journalism, often referred to as the 'first draft of history'.

● Legislatures and legislators can advocate for the principles of digital ownership and lending.

● Antitrust regulators should intervene to prevent the consolidation of publishers into a handful of global media conglomerates and take measures to dismantle those that have grown excessively large.

● Why is Houston closing libraries in certain underprivileged public schools, while readers have the opportunity to contribute to and back all libraries?

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