Libraries are finally getting to play lead instead of catchup. This will be the saviour for the entire industry, I tell you. Hooray for libraries! (Librarians, I am available for gratitude-based celebratory makeout sessions, but only if you’re wearing tight, scratchy wool skirts and sweaters. And glasses. And those stockings with the seams up the back. Basically, you need to dress like an extra from an Aerosmith video who’s hired to lapdance in the background on a photocopier. Hey, at least I’m honest.)
Starting Tuesday, a group of libraries led by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library, are joining forces to create a one-stop website for checking out e-books, including access to more than a million scanned public domain books and a catalog of thousands of contemporary e-book titles available at many public libraries.
And in a first, participants including the Boston Public Library and the Marine Biological Laboratory will also contribute scans of a few hundred older books that are still in copyright, but no longer sold commercially. That part of the project could raise eyebrows, because copyright law is unclear in the digital books arena. Google Inc., which is working on its own book scanning efforts, has been mired in a legal brouhaha with authors and publishers over its digital books project.
To read the books, borrowers around the world can download and read them for free on computers or e-reading gadgets. Software renders the books inaccessible once the loan period ends. Two-thirds of American libraries offered e-book loans in 2009, according to a survey by the American Library Association. But those were mostly contemporary imprints from the last couple of yearsâ€”say, the latest Stephen King novel.
The Internet Archive project, dubbed Openlibrary.org, goes a step further by opening up some access to the sorts of books that may have otherwise gathered dust on library shelvesâ€”mainly those published in the past 90 years, but of less popular interest.