By Iris Jastram
Imagine walking through the stacks in your favorite library. The slightly worn spines creating that familiar regular irregularity on each side, that distinctive smell of books and dust and filtered air, everything promising far more to explore than you could ever chart out in one lifetime, everything beckoning you toward its own particular rabbit hole of interconnected facts and ideas. Imagine pulling several books off the shelves to take with you, either to check out or to spread in front of you in the reading room.
Now imagine that each book you’ve selected comes with different usage rules. This one only allows you to see one chapter at a time. That one only lets you check it out for 24 hours, and no more than three times over the course of the year. This other one opens itself and all of its contents to you, while the fourth will only let you see its table of contents until a full 24 hours has elapsed since the last reader cracked its pages. Each book’s publisher has decided just how much of the book you can see and for how long based on the publisher’s idea of what’s fair.
Imagine the work on the library’s side to keep track of all these different usage and loan rules for items in the collection and to guide its readers through the various hoops each publisher requires. Imagine the librarians returning to antiquated roles as gatekeepers of information as they’re forced to ensure compliance with all the various publisher rules lest the publishers swoop in and remove all of their books from the library’s shelves.
Hard to imagine?
Now imagine walking through the digital stacks of an ebooks collection.
Iris Jastram is the Reference and Instruction Librarian for Languages and Literature at Carleton College. She also blogs about librarianship and instruction at Pegasus Librarian.