Libraries are our future, but they need our help!
I made my first website in 2000, as a student at George Mason University. I bought the domain Studioamelia.com and I have had that domain as my art space, I called it Studioamelia.com: Virtual Studio Space. Over the years I have had a lot of different jobs, opportunities, and life changes. But the ability to make my art in my digital studio space (online and from anywhere) is something I’ve treasured.
Every few years, I go to the Wayback Machine, a way to stroll through the Internet Archive, a vast digital archive that holds everything that was and is online, like a library of everything that happened in the digital communication temple of knowledge we call the web/net/phone. The Wayback Machine has a URL search bar and you can view that website at various collection points and literally travel back in time to see some of your favorite websites as they once were. Now maybe a broken flash link or a full-page gif (remember when we had those enter here gifs?) and other questionable conventions of surfing the old-timey web (cringe).
The ways I have used the Archive personally have been so fundamental to how I understand the internet, its history, and the concept of the digital commons. This archive and its 25-year mission contain our values to democratize information for the benefit of the planet.
Of course, the Internet Archive doesn’t just exist so I can be nostalgic and embarrassed, its mission is to provide universal access to all knowledge, something those of us who were around this digital zip code in its beginning deeply cared about, some of us still do. Democratizing access to books, and written materials is central to its mission. From a statement from The Internet Archive:
“has been working with other libraries for almost a decade to digitize and lend books via Controlled Digital Lending (CDL)…
This service has been especially crucial during the pandemic, but will be needed long afterwards. Many families cannot afford to buy all the books they and their kids want or need to access, and look to libraries to fill the gap. Researchers may locate books they need, but discover they are out of print. Others simply want access to knowledge. And all of these people may not be able to visit the physical library that houses the works they need. CDL helps to solve that problem, creating a lifeline to trusted information. It also fosters research and learning by keeping books in circulation when their publishers are unable or unwilling to do so.”
But in a few months, the Archive will face a court case– Hachette v Internet Archive– whose plaintiffs seek to prevent the institution from helping our national libraries bring information forward into the future. Four large publishers have sued the Internet Archive, alleging that its digital lending program violates their copyrights and threatens their businesses.
I am not sure why the plaintiffs, in this case, feel they are entitled to make every instance of knowledge-sharing into a revenue stream, but there you have it. Perhaps there is some legal precedent for this. I invite you to look it up, for free, online.
Here are a few excerpts from sources that helped me get up to speed on this case.
The Internet Archive has made the following statement in regard to this issue:
This activity is fundamentally the same as traditional library lending, and poses no new harm to authors or the publishing industry. In fact, the Internet Archive is helping to foster research and learning by making sure people all over the world can access books and by keeping books in circulation when their publishers have lost interest. As the world contemplates a dramatic increase in distance learning in response to the pandemic — without a correspondingly dramatic increase in financial resources for education — this service will be even more desperately needed.
As an author, I absolutely hate this idea. No one is breaking copyright, I do not make less money because a librarian is able to make this work digital. I have not come across an author who hopes their work dies on the printed page and never makes it into the future.
Congress is currently looking into the overly restrictive contracts these publishers have with our libraries which have paid them millions. We can’t let corporations funnel our tax dollars and misuse all of this work from writers in this way, we can’t let the words we write on the page die in this way. This concept is absolutely against the way knowledge is shared from one generation to the next. The internet archive is transforming digital access to books and I for one am 100% on their side and hope we can all help them win this battle and those to come.
From the blog post by Internet Archive on 6/8/22:
In 2020, four of the world’s largest publishers sued our non-profit library to stop us from digitizing books and lending them for free to the public. The publishers and the corporations who own them, Newscorp and Bertelsmann, are demanding $20 million in damages and that we destroy 1.4 million digitized books. What’s really at stake? The right of all libraries to own, digitize and lend books of any kind. (Here’s what Harvard’s copyright advisor has to say about the consequences of our case.) Starting today, make a small donation through Gitcoin and have an enormous impact for the defense of Internet Archive, through Gitcoin’s quadratic funding.
Regarding this issue, the Senate Finance Committee has stated in the article:
Wyden, Eshoo Press Big Five Publishers on Costly, Overly Restrictive E-Book Contracts with Libraries
Libraries report facing financial difficulties making e-books available to patrons under expensive, limited leases from publishing houses
E-books play a critical role in ensuring that libraries can fulfill their mission of providing broad and equitable access to information for all Americans, and it is imperative that libraries can continue their traditional lending functions as technology advances…
Many libraries face financial and practical challenges in making e-books available to their patrons, which jeopardizes their ability to fulfill their mission….
Under these arrangements, libraries are forced to rent books through very restrictive agreements that look like leases,” the members continued. Remember these libraries pioneered technology and did the labor of digitizing books they owned, and paid fees to allow them to rent a book. They only lend out as many digital copies as they paid for or that are in their collection, but the contracts are squeezing them when they have been the ones who invented the concepts that these corporations are now monetizing by teaching and informing the public about ebooks and creating ways in their systems for people to check them in and out.
A copy of the letter written from the Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Representative Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., to Penguin Random House is here, Hachette is here, HarperCollins is here, Simon & Schuster is here and Macmillan is here.
An excerpt from the Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, letter to one of the publishers:
E-books play a critical role in ensuring that libraries can fulfill their mission of providing broad and equitable access to information for all Americans, an it is imperative that libraries can continue their traditional lending functions as technology advances.
In recent years, e-books have been a growing part of library catalogs. Not only do many library users prefer to borrow e-books, but digital options can provide greater accessibility for Americans who have disabilities, face mobility challenges, or live in remote areas. The COVID- 19 pandemic and related mitigation measures-including the prolonged closure of schools, libraries, and other public institutions-highlighted the importance of ensuring that Americans have remote access to the resources provided by public and academic libraries. Ensuring that libraries can offer an array of resources, including e-books, is essential to promoting equity in education and access to information.
Many libraries face financial and practical challenges in making e-books available to their patrons, which jeopardizes their ability to fulfill their mission. It is our understanding that these difficulties arise because e-books are typically offered under more expensive and limited licensing agreements, unlike print books that libraries can typically purchase, own, and lend on their own terms. These licensing agreements, with terms set by individual publishers, often include restrictions on lending, transfer, and reproduction, which may conflict with libraries’ ability to loan books, as well as with copyright exceptions and limitations. Under these arrangements, libraries are forced to rent books through very restrictive agreements that look like leases.