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Kindles, Orwell, Libraries, and Ownership

   July 21st, 2009

Kindle, burningHopefully by now everyone has read David Pogue's NYT article about Amazon deleting Orwell's books from its customers' Kindles. Even though it's been covered elsewhere, I wanted to throw in my two cents.

First, yes, it was shocking Amazon did this. Not that they could do it, but that, 1) they felt it was necessary, and 2) they just went ahead and did it. @librarythingtim linked to a good explanation of the whys and wherefores.

Hopefully libraries considering adding Kindles to their collections will take note. I'm not against ebooks, but I think too many people equate them physical books - and they are not that.

They are information, and libraries are right to pay attention to them. But customers, obviously, don't own them in the same sense they own a physical book. Ebook vendors have gone out of their way to convince us of this, but DRM technology is simply designed to the contrary.

In the library world, ebooks are more akin to databases than real books. We have access, not ownership. Database contents and interfaces change beyond our control (although usually we're notified first), but we're okay with that, because we understand that. Overdrive downloadable audiobooks are very similar - Overdrive says we "own" the books we buy from them, but if we ended our contract and lost access to their interface (or they went out of business), how useful would those ebooks be?

So I think it's the same with the Kindle. It's a technology not at all designed for libraries anyway, but lots of patrons are asking about it. However, what would library staff say to the patron who brought in their on-loan Kindle to complain that 1984 is just gone?

Or worse, what if down the road Amazon decides it doesn't like libraries loaning Kindles loaded with books, and just shuts down libraries' accounts and deletes their books? It might credit the money to their accounts, but is that only good towards the Kindle Store? And what could the library do with their expensive, empty gadgets?

But I do think libraries need to try to make this work. We just need to recognize that we have very little control in this arena. And then, we can develop policies and procedures around it, or we can work to change it. I vote for change.




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4 Responses to “Kindles, Orwell, Libraries, and Ownership”

  1. Jeff Says:

    There was a similar discussion on Meredith Farkas’s blog meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/ more along the lines of third party vendors hosting software for libraries. You are right, if Overdrive closed its doors, we lose the books.

  2. Winnie Says:

    More technology I don’t understand. I was trying to figure out how they could possibly delete things from a Kindle, assuming it operated much like my MP3 player. However, now I find they are wireless which means in my neck of the woods, not particularly useful.

  3. HotStuff 2.0 » Blog Archive » Word of the Day: “deletes” Says:

    [...] Orwell, Libraries, and Ownership [web link]Swiss Army Librarian (21/Jul/2009)“…down libraries’ accounts and deletes their [...]

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jeff: good call – I think this is the link

    @Winnie: Amazon calls their Kindle wireless service Whispernet, and from what I understand, it’s more like cell phone wireless than like computer wi-fi wireless – check out description and coverage map