Remember the book mobile? The precursor to today’s school book fairs, it used to come by my school and magically open the sides of the bus to allow perusal and, yes, even touching, of its beautiful insides. The smell…the feel…just being in the midst of those books made my happy place even happier…for now it moved!
Apparently, this idea, or something similar, is coming to the web. On July 3, the Wall Street Journal (online) published an article about a company with a “novel idea.” Just as itunes created a sort of virtual “song-mobile,” Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library, is forming a coalition with several libraries to provide access to millions of ebook titles. The goal of this group is to create a “one-stop shop” for users to “borrow” out-of-print books, scanned public domain books, and even contemporary titles for those readers hoping to find a current title on the shelves.
The website, http://openlibrary.org/ allows anyone to “check-out” any title within its collection for a period of two weeks. At the end of the loan period, the software intrinsic to the ebook copy renders the file obsolete and the user can no longer access it. Internet Archive hopes to give access to thousands upon thousands of books sitting on shelves, long forgotten, covered in dust, mold and various other fungi, by using one of 20 scanning centers it operates worldwide. If openlibrary.org does not have a particular title, they most likely are linked with a library that does have a copy, either in print or digital form. Through a subscription to openlibrary.org, you can link to that library, and follow the same procedures for borrowing the book as previously mentioned. Sounds great, right? It is great, but as usually happens when one stumbles on a good thing, there is a catch.
How do the libraries in question handle the issue of loaning copies of in-copyright, yet out-of-print, titles in digital form? As Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild stated in the WSJ article, “I am not clear why it should be any different because a book is out of print. The authors’ copyright doesn’t diminish when a work is out of print.” So what is the solution?
One option is to get permission from every author of every title in the collection. Ugh. A more feasible, and less time consuming option, at least until the copyright issues are resolved, is to loan out a digital copy of a title, but refrain from checking out the print form of the same title while the scanned copy is on loan. The idea is fantastic…I will be interested to see how this plays out, especially with the advent of ebook readers such as the Kindle and now the ipad.
In the meantime, I might just throw some books in my car, whip open the doors and be transported back to that magical time in my youth.