Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Galleycat Frustrations

I have aired my complaints about Mediabistro's Galleycat blog before. I guess it's always easy to go after the biggest players in the game, who post so much that they're bound to put up stuff that isn't agreeable to everyone, but this one-two punch really rubbed me the wrong way today.

First, at 12:03pm, Jason Boog posts this story on Fox News Chicago trash talking libraries, questioning why we even need them when we have "the internet and e-books." Boog nicely calls foul.

But then, at 1:23pm, Mark Byrne posts this story about the wonders of the non-profit Open Library, where folks from around the country - or the world? - can check out e-books. Fine, fine. Byrne points out how this could challenge Google's monopoly on e-books and, though he doesn't say as much, this reminds many of us of debates wherein librarians were irritated that we all let Google - a private company - scan everything, meaning they now have it all and can offer it back to us in whatever form they, as a private company, want. Anyway, Byrne ends with a point that annoys me, as he celebrates this Open Library initiative:
Much as we love brick-and-mortar libraries, we can't help but imagine how much money we'll save on late fees when our eBooks automatically return themselves.
Hey, look, it's a joke. I get it. It's a nerdy joke, so I should love it. Right? Well, not so fast. Because Byrne is playing right into the mentality of "e" standing for "easier," and that's just not necessarily the case. I have no problem with Open Library but I think with all of these digital initiatives, which we are seeing of course at publishing houses as well, we need to be careful not to set up a black or white paradigm. Jokes about the expend-ability of the old "brick-and-mortar libraries" are not that amusing in the context of massive lay-offs of librarians and shuttering of smaller branch libraries - something I know we here in Massachusetts are seeing all around us.

And can't someone at Galleycat watch posts as they go up, so we don't have one celebrating and defending libraries followed by another that jokes about the convenience of a massive online library, in place of the bricks-and-mortar?

(I was actually at the Boston Public Library just today, and was reminded once again of how that courtyard is one of Boston's best kept secrets, but you didn't hear that from me.)

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