There is a conflict underway that has the potential to destroy public and university libraries as a concept. The publishers of E-books do not want to sell their materials to libraries and allow multiples uses. They are insisting on collecting a fee for every time someone looks at a publication. In other words, they want to collect tolls instead of deliver a product.
This is a departure from publishing practices going back some 200 years. The fact that a book or periodical purchased by a library will have multiples users has long been accounted for in the fact that libraries have always paid more for both individual copies of books and periodical subscriptions. What the publishers now want goes beyond that precedent. They want to collect a toll every time anyone looks at a publication. This unprecedented demand creates an untenable situation for any library and threatens the freedom of information that is a bedrock value under-girding public libraries and educational institutions.
Of course, the libraries could simply purchase hard copies of publications and avoid the problem. But, more and more titles are published only in E-book format and not available in hard copy. And, more and more readers are using only E-books.
Will this conflict lead to a culture war between the sub-culture of traditional, academic research and analysis on the one hand and the culture of new technology on the other? Or, will someone create technology that effectively makes it impossible for E-publishers to lock out non-toll-payers?
An in-depth analysis was published in this morning's edition of The Washington Post here.