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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Goodbye Libraries?

31 July 2020

As a kid growing up in the late 1950s and 1960s, I spent a huge portion of my life in the local town library.

So much knowledge, so much information, so much reading.

Why did I spend time *in* the library instead of bring the books home?

Well most of the books I wanted to read were not available for removal. They were the weighty tomes of reference books, encyclopedias and volumes that were deemed to valuable to let out the doors.

Yes, I did borrow an average of 10 books a week from the lending section but I could also be found reading those worthy (and precious) titles from the time school got out in the afternoon until the library doors closed at 5pm.

To be honest, it wasn't just the books, it was the whole ambience and feeling of being surrounded by such a trove of information that was attractive to me. The library was almost a temple of knowledge that begged attendance.

Sadly, I fear that future generations will not know this simple joy.

Not only have e-books threatened the entire concept of physical volumes but even the very concept of "borrowing" a book without paying for it is about to be challenged, in the USA at least.

An interesting discussion is about to kick off on the SlashDot website about a case involving The Internet Archive.

From what I've read, during the lockdown the Internet Archive (IA) was allowing people to "borrow" copyrighted works without the usual control over numbers and that angered a number of publishers.

The IA seems to have argued that it was safer for people to borrow a digital copy and read it in the safety of their home under lockdown than it was to risk infection by borrowing a physical copy. Normally, e-books are lent using a system called "Controlled Digital Lending" (CDL) which ensures that only a fixed number of "lends" are active at any given time. No new lending can take place until one of the existing lends is returned. This is pretty much how physcal libraries work.

Well now it seems that a growing number of publishers are seeking to put an end to CDL and therefore, in the age of the e-book, the whole concept of public libraries.

Sometimes we have to acknowledge that everything has a finite life and perhaps the whole concept of libraries is at an end.

With e-books being relatively cheap, is there really a need to "borrow" them?

Surely a membership to Amazon's book club will give you unfettered access to countless titles for one simple monthly fee so that's a modern alternative... right?

And do we even need a library of published titles when you can get so much information totally free via the internet anyway?

Who wants to borrow and read a crusty old academic tome when there's bound to be a free video on YouTube that presents the same information in a far more digestible format?

Well call me old-school but I still think there's a place for libraries... virtual or otherwise.

It's all about the awesomeness of having so much learning and information in one place. It's also about the fact that registered publications tend to have a far higher "signal to noise" ratio than the general internet. For every genuine science video on YouTube there are dozens of fake-science consipiracy videos that are full of BS. How are the gullible and naive supposed to spot the difference?

The nice thing about libraries is that you can have a far greater "trust" in the content you find there and it also tends to be far better organised.

No matter how much we love them it has to be admitted that phyiscal libraries are probably not going to be around for much longer -- at least not in the form we've come to know and love them. Virtual libraries are likely to fall victim to the greed and myopia that pervades the world of intellectual property in the age of the internet.

Ah well, at least they can't take our memories from us. "Dementia? what's that? -- I'll go look it up down at the library".

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