I came across a very interesting post today on the Freakonomics Blog titled “If Public Libraries Didn’t Exist, Could You Start One Today?” It’s an interesting question in today’s age of the RIAA, MPAA, and seemingly ubiquitous DRM. In a world where sending my friend a song by a new band he may like is illegal, is borrowing a favorite book that different? From the article:
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?
I am guessing there would be a huge pushback from book publishers. Given the current state of debate about intellectual property, can you imagine modern publishers being willing to sell one copy of a book and then have the owner let an unlimited number of strangers borrow it?
I don’t think so. Perhaps they’d come up with a licensing agreement: the book costs $20 to own, with an additional $2 per year for every year beyond Year 1 it’s in circulation. I’m sure there would be a lot of other potential arrangements. And I am just as sure that, like a lot of systems that evolve over time, the library system is one that, if it were being built from scratch today, would have a very different set of dynamics and economics.