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Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

Why BookSwim Is Bad for Reading

October 13, 2009 15 comments

BookSwim is a business that essentially claims to be the book version of Netflix.  I’d been to their website a few months ago, but when someone reposted it on Twitter I revisited.  I was immediately struck by how the whole thing bothers me.  After a bit of pondering, I realized why.

BookSwim is attempting, subtly, to become a monopoly in the supply of books.

They claim to be more convenient and better than borrowing from a local library, cheaper than buying books, and more trustworthy than eReaders.  They also claim to be better than swapping services like SwapTree, since you’ll be getting new or barely used books instead of old copies.  However, they understand you may still want to buy a book, so you always have the option of buying a book you have rented from them and then just not returning it.  Soon, all you will need for books is a BookSwim account.

Everyone knows monopolies are bad from an economic standpoint.  Where there’s a monopoly there’s horribly high prices, and the item being offered becomes a mark of wealth rather than something everyone uses.  However, I see a monopoly of this type as dangerous to literacy, intellectualism, and even freedom.

How easy would it be to censor what the public reads if everyone attains their information from the same book provider?  Can you imagine the nightmare for freedom of thought it would be if one congolmerate controlled all collection development for an entire nation?  Already they claim to have almost every book you would ever want to read, yet when I searched for five books on my to be read list, only the most recently published one (this year) was held by BookSwim.  (Most of the other were from 1960s to the 1980s, though one was a classic).  They claim to be willing to buy any book they don’t have that you want, but I honestly am skeptical about this.  Maybe I’ve received too many promises like that from cell phone providers, but I can just see the “sorry, there wouldn’t be enough demand to warrant the price” email now.

I know most users wouldn’t limit themselves to just BookSwim for getting their books.  At least not right now.  Yet this scenario of a Big Brother monopoly over where we can acquire our books is clearly what BookSwim wants.

“But, Amanda,” I can hear you saying, “Shouldn’t a business want to become a great succcess?”  Well, yes, but they could have come up with a business model that is more supportive of the community of reading and learning.  A website such as IndieBound, for instance, that makes it easy for users to find local independent bookstores.

Reading and learning isn’t just about “Oh I got this book that’s popular right now, and it came so conveniently in my mail.”  Reading and learning are about the journey and the connections.  When I go to my local independent bookstore and browse for something to read, I not only get a used book cheap, but I also chat with the owner and other browsers.  I leave knowing that my book came from someone else in the community.

I like knowing that the books I read come from many sources.  I use the local public library, borrow from friends, buy used from indie bookstores, buy new copies, receive ARCs from LibraryThing and blogs, and plan to swap via SwapTree in the near future.  My knowledge-base is fluid and about a community.  It isn’t one business that ships my books to me in the mail.  It’s the various communities of readers that overlap and interact to make for my own unique learning experience.  If a company such as BookSwim did become a monopoly, I would lose all that, and that is one of my favorite aspects of reading.

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Banned Books Week

September 25, 2009 13 comments

Banned Books Week, the ALA’s yearly anti-censorship awareness campaign, starts tomorrow.  I hadn’t really thought much about it or paid much attention to it as I work in a special library.  We don’t exactly do the sorts of themes that public libraries do.  My GoogleReader had an opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal that raised quite a few relevant issues with the theme that I hadn’t thought about before.

Muncy points out that traditionally censorship is seen as the government prohibiting their citizens from possessing or gaining access to something within the borders of that country.  China’s censorship of the internet is called to mind.  He then points out that public libraries are technically branches of the government.  In addition he points out that most of the “banned books” being celebrated this week have in fact only been challenged by patrons, usually patrons concerned about their children reading/viewing these materials.

You know those moments when you suddenly realize you’ve been indoctrinated into believing something that doesn’t make sense?  Reading this article gave me one of those moments.  Muncy is completely right.  When was the last time the US government–any branch of it–banned a book from being in the United States?  Um….I can’t even think of a single time in the last one hundred years at least.

Don’t patrons have a right to express their opinion regarding library holdings?  It doesn’t mean librarians have to acquiesce to these opinions, but shouldn’t patrons have the right to express them?  Aren’t librarians supposed to cater to their community?  Clearly if only one patron doesn’t want a book in the holdings but many others do, we shouldn’t remove the book, but what would be the harm in putting some sort of parental warning sticker on the book?  The parent could tell the kid “don’t read books with that sticker,” then it’d be up to the kid to be obedient.  Like it or not parents actually do have the right to censor what their kids are exposed to.  Would any librarian complain about a parent preventing a child from viewing porn?  No.  So why do we get all upset when a parent doesn’t want their child reading a book that has the n-word or that has a gay couple in it?  It may go against our politics, but our politics are not supposed to come into play when doing our job.  We are here to serve our patrons whether we agree with their political opinions and manner of raising their child (within the confines of the law of course) or not.

Muncy is right.  Banned Books Week highlights censorship where there really isn’t any.  Why couldn’t Banned Books Week highlight actual censorship worldwide?  Books that have actually been banned by various governments, for instance.  For that matter, why couldn’t we have a Controversial Books Week?  That could show how powerful books can be ala the pen is mightier than the sword.  Books such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin that stir massively strong feelings in people would be such a wonderful tool for opening up dialogue.

Of course I am against censorship, but patrons voicing concerns about holdings isn’t censorship.  It’s their right as a public government-funded public libraries serve.