If Public Libraries Didn't Exist, Could You Start One Today?


Raise your hand if you hate libraries. Over On The Freakanomics Blog Stephen J. Dubner makes some interesting book publisher connections. He asks if there was no such thing today as the public library and someone like Bill Gates proposed to establish them in cities and towns across the U.S. (much like Andrew Carnegie once did), what would happen?

He's guessing there would be a huge pushback from book publishers.


I don't think the world would be the way it is now so I couldn't make a balanced comment.
When I was younger I never understood why publishers allowed lending libraries to lend out their books, reference maybe but not lending.

Anyway if a book is good enough you'd go and buy a copy anyway.
I got into Harry Potter because I downloaded text copies of the first 2 books off Napster. After that I bought the books and have ever since as well as seeing the movies. Now as I already had the content why would I need to buy the print copies? Because it was good and I wanted a proper copy. It sparks the mind.

Funnily enough these days I never go to the public library, if I want a book I buy it. Just don't buy them as soon as they come out, like DVD's you know if you want a month or two the price will come down to a more sensible level. And theres a thriving sencon-hand book market out there too funnily enough, would book publishers ban that as well?

If book publishers were like other media types, at least today, they'd try to reverse the First Sale Doctrine entirely, which would rule out lending and resale. That's been made pretty clear...as an ultimate goal. "If someone uses it, we should get paid." That's the mantra. (Think how rich vendors of cooking utensils could be with that approach!)

If public libraries did not exist in the U.S. and private citizens tried to establish such a system, they'd be treated the way private citizens are in Cuba for daring to lend out their private property without the permission of their government. They be arrested on psuedo-criminal charges, given show trials, imprisoned on sentences of twenty-odd years, and some of their collections would be burned.

Libraries in the UK have a system where libraries pay royalties to authors. It is called the Public Lending Right.

Wikipedia entry on Public Lending Right.
Blurb from the UK Public Lending Right website: Under the United Kingdom's PLR Scheme authors receive payments from government funds for the free borrowing of their books from public libraries in the United Kingdom.

To qualify for payment, authors must apply to register their books with us. Payments are made annually on the basis of loans data collected from a sample of public libraries in the UK.

To learn more about the PLR Scheme, and the statistical data generated by it on trends in public borrowing click on the appropriate option.

Here is a picture of a quote on the St. Louis Public Library that fits with this discussion. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bibliofuture/43617097 /

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