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Sunday March 26th 2023

The Importance of Access to Information

Publish: pub-lish [puhb-lish] – verb: 1. to issue for sale or distribution to the public (from
The primary purpose of writing is to share information. The environment in which readers access written works is a delicate ecosystem made up of the writers, publishers, booksellers, and libraries. The balance of this ecosystem is changing, due in large part to the growing importance of electronic publishing.

Three of the members of this ecosystem are, at some level, in it for the money.  Writers often have ideas and ideals they wish to share, but they are generally paid for this.  Publishers and booksellers are certainly (most commonly) for-profit enterprises. Libraries, however, generally have a more simple, not-for-profit mission: to provide information at little or no cost (yes I realize they are generally publically funded, and nothing is free). Libraries accomplish this buy purchasing books and materials, and then lending them, or allowing visitors to use them on-site. Printed books provide an easy model for this. If a library purchases a single book, then it can loan it to a single user at a time. If the book wears out, the library buys a new one. Libraries often share resources, transferring a title to another branch. If the library user cannot wait for a transfer, they purchase the book and support the ecosystem as a customer. Nobody seems to have trouble with the physical implementation of this…it all seems fair and easy.

E-books present a problem.  There is not a universal standard to manage digital rights. Some publishers have presented models in which the library pays a type of royalty fee for every instance of lending an e-book.  However, such a usage-based model would penalize the library in the long run.  Over time, costs rise for providing electronic content.  It seems clear that electronic content should be cheaper and more efficient, easier and more flexible than traditional printer paper.

Holly Carroll, executive director of a library district in Colorado has recently written about these issues and their impact on libraries

This problem is not unique to E-books.  The same issues have troubled the music and movie industries for years.  Some have found success in opening up access, trusting the buyers of content to manage their ownership.  Others have created entire systems that allow them to broadcast, monitor, and control access to the media they provide.  In other countries, some companies have worked out deals that allow unlimited sharing of certain media at no cost, with certain premium features requiring payment (  In the good-ole US of A, the big news is iCloud and how now we can have slightly easier access to the music we already own…thanks Apple (much of the tech Apple leverages for iCloud was previously available as LaLa, which was free and easy…apple bought them, closed the service down and found a way to make a freemium service that millions will line up to use)! If the model for books matches Apple’s model for music, then we are doomed to pay 99 cents for almost everything, here and there, and only the established publishers and their broadcasting method of choice will benefit.

There does not seem to be an easy answer to these issues.  However, in a world with so many low-cost options for publishing and broadcasting information, we must be able to find solutions that help disseminate ideas and works, while fairly compensating writers to continue to encourage them to continue writing. Libraries server an important role in society, and should not be another victim of greedy and myopic publishers who struggle to resist technological advances unless it serves (only) their bottom line.

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