Why writers should stand up for libraries

Earlier this summer, I worked with the American Library Association on their Authors for Library Ebooks project -- which is asking authors to call on their publishers to offer ebooks to libraries at a fair price. Right now, libraries pay several times more for ebooks than people off the street -- up to six times more! I recorded this video explaining why libraries and authors are natural allies.

In this video Doctorow says, "There's only one powerful voting block out there whose only interest is in promoting authorship, books and knowledge to the exclusion of things like shareholders or Kindle e-book sales and [platform] lock-ins, or ad sales, or the invasion of privacy, and that's libraries."

He also acknowledges the key role that librarians play in fostering a love of literature and building an audience for authors, "...who takes that one-book-a-day kid who's going to be the 20 percent that reads 80 percent of the books, and when they walk in says, 'Here's a book you've got to read.' If it's not a librarian, who's going to do it?"

Cory Doctorow on E-books in Libraries: 'Libraries' and writers' interests are closely aligned.'

Notable Replies

  1. Though Cory's plea in support of e-books is admirable, at this point I think all support should be leveled at simply keeping our nation's libraries open. Library hours and days have been severely cut in my home town - with real threats of closing several or all branches. In a way, the thrust of this video (by Cory) is similar to someone trying to save and reupholster the interior of a car, when the car's tires are flat and the transmission is blown. Also, Cory's convoluted break down of the machinations of Amazon and other book sellers confuses me, so I wonder how confusing Cory's line of thought would be to small rural principalities who simply need to cut back library funding immediately, so they can keep a few cops gainfully employed

    I returned some books to a local library the other day and this particular branch seems to be primarily used as a wireless hub. People are using libraries as home office extensions (nothing wrong with that) and as places to kick back and rest (nothing wrong with that) - actual books on shelves have dwindled, while DVDs and popular audio books have increased. The glorious days of libraries being used as a primary means of doing grand research are over - unless you're using the Harvard Law Library or the British Library.

  2. Inasmuch as I consider writing to be an art form, I support public support (tax-based) of authors. That said, I'm afraid I don't understand the purpose of libraries anymore. They seem to simply be community centers nowadays with only a few Luddites still actually browsing the shelves. I'm all for community centers as well, but our town doesn't need two.

    Maintaining an expensive facility and staff so that a young book lover might get the occasional recommendation doesn't seem like a good use of resources.

    What does it even mean for a library to offer e-books? Why do we need a staffed facility for that?

  3. So what other means do people without the resources to pay for Internet access, ebooks or education have?

    What about the laid off factory worker without computer skills or Internet access who has to file for unemployment and start a new job search? Where does he go?

    Look up some research on the digital divide before you start talking from your privileged position about things you know little about.

  4. I'm not surprised the people who don't use the public library don't see any reason to continue to support it. What about all the people who do use it? It is one of the common good things our taxes pay for, along with clean water and other benefits of civilization.

  5. Where? How? With what money?

    Why would those companies bother?

    Also, there are apparently more libraries than Starbucks shops (http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2013/06/every-library-and-museum-america-mapped/5826/).

    A quick search seems to indicate that library use is increasing and involves more than just being a "wireless hub":

    A 2007 study showed that visits to public libraries increased 61% between 1994 and 2004 (http://www.ala.org/news/news/pressreleases2007/april2007/salpr07)

    A 2010 study in California showed in a typical day more than one million people visit a library and more than 770,000 items were checked out or renewed (http://www.cla-net.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=124)

    Public programs attract lots of people and seem to have a positive relationship with circulation rates and reference questions (2011 CO study) (http://www.lrs.org/documents/fastfacts/298_Programming.pdf)

    Students who attend summer reading programs at public libraries demonstrate higher reading achievement (http://gslis.dom.edu/sites/default/files/documents/IMLS_executiveSummary.pdf)

    Parents seem to think libraries are really important (http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2013/05/01/parents-children-libraries-and-reading/)

    Books in print dominate the physical portion of a library's collection (http://www.imls.gov/imls_2010_public_library_survey_results_announced.aspx) (I had to use cached version of the page to read it).

    [You can look up a lot of information for specific libraries: http://www.lrs.org/data-tools/public-libraries/other-states/ ]

    What about cost?

    A 2004 Florida report showed that public libraries there return $6.54 for every $1.00 invested (http://dlis.dos.state.fl.us/bld/roi/pdfs/ROISummaryReport.pdf)

    A 2008 Wisconsin study estimates $4.06 return on investment for each dollar of taxpayer investment (http://pld.dpi.wi.gov/files/pld/pdf/wiimpactsummary.pdf)

    Colorado libraries show an average ROI of about 5 to 1 (2009 study) (http://www.lrs.org/documents/closer_look/roi.pdf)

    A 2012 Texas study showed $4.42 return for every dollar invested (https://www.tsl.state.tx.us/roi)

    So ... tell me more about why you doubt that libraries should be funded by taxpayers.

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