Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Public Libraries for Sale.

So libraries now have ebooks for the Amazon Kindle. And so does Amazon have us.

We often talk about the value of libraries, about the library building, about the collection, but we don't often discuss the value of the concept of a library and what it means and what it's worth.

Right now we're all broke. Except for your rich bastards. But most of the rest of us are broke. Either because of our own greed or stupidity or because the The Man keeping us down. In my case, it's The Man.

But libraries have value that we can't perceive unaided. Our library gets many requests from the public for us to allow them to become associated with us. Some want us to link to their website or some want to discuss their businesses or books they've written with the public.

I don't know about you, but when we're considering a purchase for our library, we look to see how many other libraries have made a similar purchase. Because libraries are home to many professionals and bright people so we've determined that libraries make good recommendations. And I think others feel the same. That's why some many people and businesses want to work with us.

I was once told that Google even views libraries as better than most other sites. And if a library links to another site, that site in turn gets an upgrade in Google's algorithm. And how much is that worth to have your business easier to find on Google?

So what is it worth to have libraries send our patrons to Amazon to borrow ebooks? You might think, nothing, because these people are Amazon customers anyway, Kindle owners. But now the library is delivering our patrons to Amazon. And what will Amazon do with our library patrons? In order to make our Kindle users happy, we're also giving away a little of their privacy. Amazon now knows which library books they read. Again, not a big thing by itself. But these are library patrons. And in this business world, this can be an entire demographic. I don't know. I only know that we've given a huge global entity access to something that, as libraries, we've been trained to protect. And we did this because our patrons wanted it.

So I don't think anyone can truly calculate the value of a library. Actually, I think the private companies that contract to manage libraries can because they exploit the goodwill that libraries have earned over the last 100 years when they use volunteers to run their for-profit *public* library.

Companies spend millions to create the perception that they are good, whether they are, or not. And libraries have this already. A library doesn't need sponsorship or logos or mascots or jingles. Build a library any place in America, in the world, and the neighborhood becomes a better place to live.

So the battle (okay, it wasn't a battle, yet) with Amazon is lost and it's not our fault. Our patrons don't really understand the value of their privacy and how it relates to freedom. Although, I've been telling them for years.

As far as the brokeness issue, I don't have the answer. But for libraries looking for money through partnerships with private companies, please rethink your true value. It's not just how many people will see the ad in your library stacks, it's how much each of those sets of eyes, those minds, are worth. In my view, they're priceless. But I won't criticize you if you sell out for, maybe, $50 million.

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