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SXSW Interactive 2013

Ebooks: a Coming War for the Soul of the Library

Ebooks are at the heart of a publishing revolution, and it won’t stop until it's had an effect on every sector of the book world. On its face, this is great news for libraries and their institutional commitment to preserving information and bringing it to the people. Digital files can be much more permanent and flexible than anything that has preceded them. But in practice, new technology comes at great cost. One of the cornerstones of the library’s legal foundation — the “first sale doctrine,” which allows purchasers of goods to use them however they want — is being chipped away as sales are replaced with licenses. And more: ebook licenses and tech threaten to upend the culture of privacy and intellectual freedom that have sat at the core of modern libraries since at least Jefferson’s inauguration of the Library of Congress. In this panel, librarians, activists, and others will discuss the place of the ebook in the modern library, and what it means for the future of the institution.

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  1. Librarians are often put in a tight spot-- squeezed between the needs and wants of their patrons on one end and the terms of publishers on the other. (This problem spiraling out of control on academic journal prices is one of the catalysts of the open access movement, for example.) How can librarians negotiate the demand for ebooks without giving up some of the rights granted by statute to libraries and their patrons?
  2. What are some of the threats that accompany ebooks that might be readily apparent to librarians but not to members of the general public? And are some steps towards a particular future not reversible?
  3. Are there some rights or privileges that library patrons have but may not even be aware of? What are they and how can libraries call attention to these rights?
  4. How entrenched is the library in this problem of licensing? What is the current state of the stalemate between publishers and libraries? What is the effect of the three-way relationship between publishers, ebook platforms like Amazon and Apple, and readers, whose interests are represented by the library?
  5. Looking beyond librarians: what role can authors and readers play in shaping the future of the library as ebooks become a more important part of their mission?



Parker Higgins, Activist, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Meta Information:

  • Tags: libraries, publishing
  • Event: Interactive
  • Format: Panel
  • Track: Content and Distribution
  • Level: Intermediate
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