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An example of a successfully managed commons is the Maine lobster industry. Maine lobster-men know that they must follow loosely-regulated restrictions in order to secure the future of their industry. If they over harvest, there will be no more lobsters. That's why, in the face of technological innovations, they have been using the same harvesting methods for close to 125 years.
What does environmental theory, the nuclear arms race and Maine lobster have to do with libraries? As open space and natural resources are the commons to environmental theory, access to information through libraries (both physical or digital) are the commons to library science. I believe that the management of ebooks will be the libraries industry "tragedy of the commons."
There is a battle being raged, between publishers and libraries over access of electronic content: dealing with the licensing, access and distribution of electronic information - and ebooks seem to be the latest vanguard of this fight. I will admit, a lot of what is happening is over my head, having never had to deal directly with library acquisitions or collection development policy. But what it seems to boil down to is the publishing industry protecting its profit margins while librarians protect the right of their patrons to access information.
Hardin stated that "a technical solution may be defined as one that requires a change only in the techniques of the natural [or communication] sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values of morality." Digital rights management has been part of the publishing industry as a technological solution to control content - which is handy for fighting piracy, but when applied to libraries can limit access of information. It seems that the argument on side of the publishers is that they are trying to protect authors and copyright holders. But we need to remember that copyright was founded as a balancing act - to not only promote incentives for authors and creators to share their ideas, but also to allow for the general public access to their ideas to build upon them.
And just like Wiesner, York and Hardin concluded, I do not believe that there will be a technical solution, but we need to bring about a look at our morality in dealing with freedom to read. Do we value open and private access to information? As a democratic nation whose foundations include the creation of modern libraries, I would like the think that we do - we just might have to make others see that, too.
As I still try and learn about the logistics and strategies of this fight - I do know that librarians need to stick together and raise their voices. It is through collected action that gains can be made. Look at the fight in academia over the controversies of scholarly communication and the rising costs of journal titles. The collected action of librarians and faculty to boycott these journals is starting to make an impact.
As we work to combine our voices, we should look to leaders in this fight. This is who I am currently following:
K.G. Schneider had an excellent recent post on her blog, Free Range Librarian. Keeping with the environmental theme, she describes this as a problem with "reading ecology."
Andy Woodworth has been a constant voice in the discussion of eBooks in the library setting through his blog, Agnostic, Maybe.
Sarah Houghton, the Librarian in Black, has also been very vocal in speaking up for readers rights - and even has a YouTube channel where she uploaded a video discussing her views of how Amazon treat library patrons.
This is an ongoing debate, and I would love for you to share your thoughts. How do you think libraries should handle the ebook situation? Who have you heard speak up to publishers in the name of freedom to read? What will the future look like? Let us know in the comments below and let's keep this conversation going...
J. B. Wiesner and H. F. York, Sci. Amer. 1964; 211 (No. 4): 27
G. Hardin, Science 1968 Dec 13; 162 (5364):1243-8