Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Indie Bookseller Unburdens Her Soul

I once volunteered at an independent bookstore. It was a feminist bookstore whose owners cultivated an all-embracing environment and hired a diverse staff of mostly left-leaning book lovers.

Inside the Toronto Women's Bookstore, an independent bookseller in Canada.
image source: 1310lgbtq/flickr

During my time at the small bookseller, I interacted with a variety of interesting customers. Few brought children with them, so I didn't have to keep an eye out for little ones wending their way toward an inappropriate section, as Amanda Nelson had to do, according to her "Confessions of a Newbie Independent Bookseller." (See the article below.) But, like Amanda, I never judged customers' taste in books - it helped that we had a great selection!

Book Riot * February 7, 2012

Confessions of a Newbie Independent Bookseller

By Amanda Nelson

A few months ago, I got an offer from a local indie bookstore (over Twitter!) to come work a few days a week. I immediately accepted - after 8 months of being cooped up with my new twin boys, I was ready to get out of the house and talk to adults. Sometimes the pay doesn't cover the cost of childcare for twins, but it's not about the money - it's about talking to grown-ups who don't want me to feed them applesauce. And now, after working (and loving) the job for almost three months, I have a few confessions to make.

I Love Reading Things Before You Do
One of the best parts of being a bookseller is that I get advanced review copies (ARCs) of books months before they come out. The new John Irving that comes out in May? I've had it for a month. Alex George's much-buzzed A Good American? Oh yeah, I read that like six weeks ago. And while my enjoyment of this is partly a "nanananabooboo I got it before you," it's mostly about how I am now in the business of BUZZ CREATION as opposed to being on the receiving end.

I Have So Many Tawdry Quirks, I Could Open a Tawdry Quirk Shop*
I love alphabetizing the books. Shelving makes me oddly happy. If you buy a face-out book, my hands itch until you leave and I can put something in its place to fill the hole. If I see you with your smartphone out, I'll follow you around until you put it away. I'll pretend I’m busy, but I'm really spying on you to see if you're using your phone to check Amazon. When the store is empty, I like to lounge on the floor and read the kids' books (Skippyjon Jones for the win).

I Don't Judge Your Taste in Books
When I get a customer who wants a recommendation, I usually ask what the last book was that they loved so I can see what they're looking for in a book. Sometimes there's a pause, an embarrassed shifty-eyed gaze to the floor. A mumble of, "Well, I read a lot of teen books, like, Hunger Games and stuff…" Independent bookstores can have a reputation for being snobby places where the books are "curated" out the ass - where you won't find a bestseller anywhere, but where you can definitely find the collected works of David Foster Wallace. I'm sorry if you've had that experience at other indies, but honestly - I don’t care what you read. If you want to add to your collection of mermaid erotica, I'll help you. You want to read the next Twilight? I'll help you. Looking for a how-to on building your own yurt? You're the coolest! Let's do this. There's no judgment.

Customers Can Make Me Feel Inadequate
When you ask me if I've read a certain book, more often than not, the answer is no. As a book blogger and general reading-obsessed-type-person, I already feel the pressure of every book I've ever not read bearing down on me. The other day I actually had a customer whip out a Best Books of All Time list from some obscure newspaper and start grading me. I almost hyperventilated.

Unsupervised Children Near the Humor Section Make Me Nervous
We have a humor section with books like What to Do When You Have a Huge Penis, and Snark: The Sex Edition. I keep that stuff on the top shelves for a reason, but sometimes browsing customers move stuff around. When your six-year-old wanders over there, I internally freak out and rush over before she can discover what to do with an anatomical tripod.

Recommending Books Is a Two-Way Pleasure
I love pointing customers to books I know they'll love…but I also get a perverse sense of happiness when I walk by a book I hated and ignore it. Take that, icky book. I WILL NOT SPREAD YOUR SUCKITUDE.

So that's it. Any other booksellers out there have confessions to make? Unburden your soul, booksellers. Unburden your soul.

*Anyone get the Doctor Who reference? Anyone?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Anonymous Subway Rider Emerges as Published Author

Every day, creative types - singers, dancers, poets, rappers, and more - hope to be discovered while riding a big city's subway train. For one New York writer, however, there truly was light at the end of the tunnel.

A routine subway ride to Brooklyn became anything but for
one very lucky author.
image source:

While aboard a Brooklyn-bound F train, Kim Purcell was telling a friend about her new book, a young-adult novel on human trafficking. A fellow subway rider overhead them and was intrigued. This rider happened to be a children's book editor, and by the time the three arrived at their same destination, Purcell was on her way to being a published author.

To read more about this incredible stroke of serendipity, see the Publishers Weekly article below.

Publishers Weekly * February 16, 2012

Want to Get Published? Take the F Train

By Liz Hartman

In a classic, serendipitous New York City moment, a book deal for a debut YA novel, Trafficked by Kim Purcell, was set in motion one evening on the subway. In November 2009, Viking children’s editor Kendra Levin was on her way home from the theater when she overheard two women talking about the National Book Award readings that they had just attended. Levin tuned in because she had wanted to go to the readings but her theater tickets prevented her. The two women then moved on to chat about a book one of them was writing. Levin’s ears perked up when it became apparent that the novel centers around human trafficking, a topic that has long been of interest to her. Levin recalls thinking to herself, "This actually sounds really interesting."

The more she heard, the more she was intrigued, but her next thought, as a wary New Yorker, was, "Should I say something or is that creepy?" Levin put herself in the writer’s shoes and decided it would be a welcome intrusion, but her subway stop was nearing. When the writer and Levin both exited at the Park Slope station, Levin decided it was meant to be. And so, a conversation took place – right there on the platform of the F train.

After apologizing for eavesdropping, voicing the usual disclaimers ("it may not be for me"), and clarifying that she only worked with YA and children’s writers, Levin learned not only that the book was indeed intended for the YA audience, but also that the manuscript was already with an agent, Kate Lee at ICM, who intended to send it out that very week. Levin handed Purcell her card and was contacted by the agent the next morning. Within a week, Levin read the manuscript and bought the book.

Trafficked tells the story of Hannah, a recently orphaned Moldovan teenager’s path from good student with a tight group of friends and a promising future in her homeland, to a slave held under lock and key in a foreign land. When she is brought to Los Angeles as a nanny, Hannah is unaware that she has been sold to – not hired by – a family that takes advantage of her circumstances and threatens and abuses her.

A former journalist, the author travelled to Moldova to gain an understanding of the circumstances that would lead a girl to take the leap of faith of moving to another country and subsequently get caught in a terrible situation. "I learned that in almost every case, these people had chances to escape,” said Purcell. “Many times there were no physical restraints. They’d been threatened and filled with such fear that they couldn’t move. And I realized that we are all stopped at times from doing things we want to do or things we should do, because we’re afraid."

The novel pubs today. Make that eight million and one stories in the naked city.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

20 Superhero Librarians in Pop Culture

Superhero librarians can always be counted on to drop knowledge while dropping bad guys in the clink.

Haly in Libyrinth, by Pearl North lists "20 Heroic Librarians Who Save the World" that include Karma from X-Men, Barbara Gordon from Batman, and Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. * October 22, 2010

20 Heroic Librarians Who Save the World

By Charlie Jane Anders

If information is power, then there's no hero mightier than a librarian. Librarians are superheroes, adventurers, explorers and invaluable guides to other heroes.

As Spider Robinson writes in The Callahan Touch, "Mary Kay is one of the hidden masters of the world — a librarian. They control information. Don't ever piss one off." So here are 20 librarians who you shouldn't ever piss off — but who might be a lot of help if you're in a tight corner.

Flynn Carsen in The Librarian movies on TNT

Noah Wyle, star of the upcoming Falling Skies series, also starred in these awesome TV movies. Flynn Carsen gets hired by the Metropolitan Public Library to work as a librarian — but he doesn't realize the Library has been around for centuries, and it actually protects a ton of magical artifacts. (Similar to Syfy's Warehouse 13 series and Friday the 13th: The Series.) With the help of the amazing powers of Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin, he tracks down missing artifacts and keeps the world safe from their power.

The Librarian of Unseen University Library, in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels

A wave of magic transformed the librarian into an orangutan, and he discovered he liked being one — so he's resisted all efforts to turn him back into a human. It's rumored he was once known as Dr. Horace Worblehat, but since he's systematically destroyed all images and documentation of his former human identity, it's hard to know. The only sounds he ever utters are "ook" or "eek," but by now Rincewind and the other wizards are so used to this that they can understand him perfectly.

Lirael in the Abhorsen novels by Garth Nix

Lirael is the first of the Clayr not to inherit the gift of the Sight, in hundreds of years. With her raven-colored hair, pale complexion, pointy face and unknown parentage, she looks nothing like the fair-haired, tanned seers around her. She's horribly depressed about being so different, until she gets an appointment to the Clayr's Library on her fourteenth birthday. There, she starts to do research in forgotten corners, uncovering clues to an adventure of immense importance. She discovers a soapstone carving of a dog and accidentally sets free a powerful magic creature in the library, called a Stilken, which she finally vanquishes using the Chief Librarian's sword. She later summons the Disreputable Dog, who helps her on her quest to bind the evil Orannis once again and save the land.

Rex Libris in the Rex Libris comics

Rex Libris is the "tough-as-nails Head Librarian at Middleton Public Library," who strikes fear into recalcitrant borrowers — and also battles "loitering zombies" and alien warlords who refuse to pay their late fees. His teleportation crystals let him travel to any corner of the universe to battle evil. "With fists of steel and mind as sharp as a tack, Rex is a true guardian of knowledge, foe of the foolish, defender of the Dewey Decimal System, and the best hope for the future of civilization."

Iku Kasahara in Toshokan Sensou (Library War)

In an alternate 1989, the Japanese government passed a law allowing for the censorship of information or ideas that might be harmful to Japanese society. Now, it's 2019, and the Media Betterment Committee sends soldiers to the library to destroy works they want to censor. It's up to the militia defending the libraries, including new recruit Iku Kasahara, to save knowledge from those who would destroy it. As one person puts it, "going to library school means basic training and learning how to use a rifle to protect books." This manga series was also turned into a 12-episode anime.

Margarita Staples and other librarians in Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

This book gave us the classic line:

"I'm Margarita Staples." She bowed in her harness. "Extreme librarian. Bookaneer."

All bookshelves lead to the Wordhoard Pit, a kind of nexus of libraries, in Mieville's imaginative YA novel about a distorted alternate London. The Extreme Librarians risk their lives in this universe of towering bookshelves to retrieve volumes, with picks in hand, sometimes having to battle shelf-monkeys. As Margarita says, "There are risks. Hunters, animals, and accidents. Ropes that snap. Sometimes someone gets separated."

Evelyn "Evie" Carnahan in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns

Rachel Weisz's character tells Rick:

I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O'Connell, but I am proud of what I am... I am a librarian.

She travels all around the world to seek the lost Book of Amun-Ra, and finally finds the Book of the Dead. And she turns out to be pretty handy with a gun and fights against Anak-Su-Namun.

Lara in the Superman comics

Superman's biological mother was the archivist and librarian in the capital city's archives on Krypton. She "possessed a vast knowledge of Kryptonian history and culture," perhaps allowing her to include more useful information in the rocket ship that sent her son to Earth. And if you want to watch a compilation of great librarians in comics, click here. (Plus here's a great listing.)

Barbara Gordon in Birds of Prey and other comics

No mention of heroic librarians would be complete without including the former Batgirl — who worked as a librarian in Gotham City for many years (and probably had to deal with all sorts of strange reference volume requests). Eventually, her librarian skills went fully digital and she's now the super-hacker known only as Oracle. (She also was a member of Congress for a few years, although I guess that's been retconned at this point.) If you ever doubted that information was power, you'd only have to mess with Barbara G. and you'd learn your mistake. (Batman also has a keen grasp of library science, as proved in the Peter Milligan storyline where he copes with a serial killer who is murdering people and placing their bodies according to a modified Dewey Decimal system.)

Zoe Heriot in Doctor Who

She's not just the smartest companion ever to rock a sparkly catsuit — Zoe also has an incredible brain, including total recall. Which is why, when we first meet her in "The Wheel In Space," she's working as the librarian aboard a space station, specializing in parapsychology. Of course, she needs the Doctor to explain to her that "logic, my dear, merely allows one to be wrong with authority." It also allows her to make a computer have a brain seizure just by talking to it, though. Don't mess with a librarian who's seeking information.

The virtual Librarian in Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

As Tim Blackmore from the University of Western Ontario writes in his essay on this librarian, Hiro Protagonist's "indispensible guide and companion" is a virtual librarian, given to him by Juanita, along with half the library worth of information. Writes Stephenson:

Hiro can see a large, dimly lit room that wasn't there before . . . . A man walks into his office. The Librarian daemon looks like a pleasant, fiftyish, silver-haired, bearded man with bright blue eyes, wearing a V-neck sweater over a workshirt . . . . Even though he's just a piece of software, he has reason to be cheerful; he can move through the nearly infinite stacks of information in the Library with the agility of a spider dancing across a vast web of cross-references. The Librarian is the only piece of CIC software that costs even more than Earth [a geopolitics program]; the only thing he can't do is think.

The Librarian gets great lines like, "Sorry-but due to my internal structure, I'm a sucker for non-sequiturs," and due to his learning capacity, he's mostly programmed himself.

Luna Moth in the Escapist by Michael Chabon, Brian K. Vaughn, et al.

The other superhero created by Kavalier and Clay, creators of The Escapist, is the mistress of the night, Luna Moth. Her alter ego is Judy Dark, a quiet librarian who works in the basement of the New York Public Library. One day, she sees a couple of criminals trying to steal a rare and magical book, and confronts them — but after a gun gets fired, a wire falls into a puddle of water, causing a surge of energy to run from the book's golden cover into Judy Dark. She's transformed into a warrior goddess who goes around zapping criminals with her green energy rays, while never quite being able to control the force of her imagination.

Elijah Bradley, The Patriot, in the Young Avengers

While working at the New York Public Library, Eli also becomes a member of the Young Avengers, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Isaiah Bradley. He has all the powers of a super-soldier, like Captain America. Another superhero who's a librarian in his spare time is Captain Comet, who explores the stacks of his local library when he's not out exploring the universe and fighting ultimate evil.

Lucien in Neil Gaiman's Sandman

Lucien is the trusted librarian of the Library of Dreams, which contains all the books that have been written, as well as those that were only dreamt of. And he watches over Morpheus' crib while he's gone. Another librarian who watches over a library of all the books that were, and all the books that could have been is Henry Cecil, in David Henry Keller's 1949 novel The Eternal Conflict.

The Cheshire Cat in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series

Renamed "the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat" due to changing boundaries, this cat is the overseer in the Great Library, a library within the book world, which contains every book ever written. The Unitary Authority cat turns out to be quite helpful to Thursday in her quest.

Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Rupert Giles is the school librarian at Sunnydale High, but he's also got a secret — he's a Watcher, who guides Buffy on her journey to become the savior of the world. And he sometimes rolls up his sleeves and goes out to save the world on his own. Not to mention, Giles has another secret on top of that one — he's also Ripper, a ruthless, maybe slightly psycho, former wizard who's not afraid to get his hands a bit dirty. When there are nasty things that need to be done to keep us all safe, you won't have to look further than the book stacks at the high school to find the man to do them. (Thanks to WitnessAria for reminding me of this one.)

Wraith (Jennifer Maloy) in the Wild Cars universe

Jennifer Maloy is a shy, introverted librarian — until she discovers she's an Ace, with the ability to become insubstantial. Unfortunately, she can only carry a small amount of matter through walls, so her uniform as Wraith consists of a mask and a bikini. She steals from the rich and gives to the poor, and winds up battling crime lords and helping to solve the murder of Chrysalis. Art by Adam deKraker.

Haly in Libyrinth by Pearl North

In the distant future, the Libyrinth is a library so massive, people get lost in it and never come out, because it contains all the precious human knowledge saved from Earth. Haly is a clerk to the Libyrarian Selene, but she alone hears the books talking to her. She learns of a plot by the book-hating Eradicants to destroy the Libyrinth, and journeys with her friends to the Queen of Ilysies for help. But they get attacked, and Haly is forced to save the Libyrinth on her own.

The Psykers in Warhammer 40,000

The Psykers have powerful psychic abilities, which make them valuable allies but also leave them open to demonic possession or insanity. The most powerful and physically able psykers are chosen to serve as Librarians in the Space Marines, where they keep the records of the Chapter they belong to. They also help out in battle using their formidable abilities, and help to divide dangerous mutants from ones which might be useful to the Imperium. (Thanks to NinjaCyborg for suggesting this one.)

Karma in The X-Men

And finally, one more superhero librarian! Karma, a member of the New Mutants, works as a librarian at the University of Chicago, where she helps Kitty Pryde battle the anti-mutant hate group, Purity. Later, she goes back to Charles Xavier's Xavier Institute and works as the librarian there, also helping to mentor the students who are under 15 years old. She eventually starts teaching French and also serving advisor to the Alpha Squadron and the Lower School.

Additional reporting by Katharine Trendacosta.

CBC to Trash Thousands of Items from Its Music Library

In what many consider a short-sighted measure, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) will dump thousands of rare items from its music library during the ongoing process of digitizing its collection. Specifically, the CBC's Vancouver music library, which currently contains 100,000 items, will be forced to reduce its holdings to 14,000 recordings. The remaining 86,000 items "will be given away or discarded, while other items will be sold wholesale to private archivists," according to the Vancouver Sun.

The CBC center in Vancouver houses a vast music library.
image source:

Many institutions are digitizing their collections, but there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The CBC is clearly doing it wrong. It could take a page from the Library of Congress' book: "The U.S. Library of Congress has been gradually digitizing manuscripts and other primary source materials, while retaining the original physical copies," reported the Vancouver Sun. "Many agree this would be an ideal scenario for the CBC as well." I agree. Just because an institution is digitizing its collection doesn't mean it has to trash the original materials. The CBC's decision to do so is a lamentable one (although I'm sure many private collectors are clicking their heels).

To read more about the CBC's regrettable move to dump thousands of items from its music library, see the Vancouver Sun article below.

Vancouver Sun * February 14, 2012

CBC Music Library Could Be Lost

Amber Goodwyn, the music coordinator at Montreal radio CKUT, says "digitization
obfuscates that history."
photo: postmedia news

By Natasha Pickowicz, Postmedia News

For the past 32 years, archivist John MacMillan has cared for the CBC’s Vancouver music library. Until now, producers and DJs have been able to visit the library’s 100,000-item collection to choose tracks to play on the CBC broadcasts that air from coast to coast. In January, MacMillan was informed that he would have to dismantle the entire archive by March 31.

“Much of the material will be lost,” says MacMillan. “We just won’t be able to cull it properly because of time pressure.”

The CBC is currently transitioning to a new, more streamlined digital library system, which will be available to show producers across the country. Every regional bureau will be asked to evaluate and liquidate its music archives, with the exception of Montreal and Toronto, which will absorb some material. Recordings scored with high “programming value” will be digitized and made available online. MacMillan estimates that 14,000 recordings from the Vancouver collection will be digitized. Everything else will be given away or discarded, while other items will be sold wholesale to private archivists.

“This is the nature of the digital broadcasting business,” says Chuck Thompson, CBC’s head of media relations. “Just as we made the transition from LPs to cassettes to CDs, new means of production are changing all the time, replacing the physical things that we once relied on.”

The future of all of the objects in the CBC’s archives is uncertain.

“We haven’t decided what we will do with the physical assets yet,” Thompson says. “We’re making every effort (to ensure) that parts of our music collection will find a good home.”

Although some albums will be digitized, it’s unclear if things like record-cover images, liner notes, or photographs will also be preserved.

“This metadata is inseparable from the meaning of the music,” says Jonathan Sterne, a communications professor at McGill University.

As contemporary society increasingly shifts its emphasis from physical objects to more ephemeral, non-physical data, preservationists are arguing that society needs to protect its cultural artifacts. After hearing about the CBC’s decision, Geeta Dayal, a San Francisco-based music and technology journalist, tweeted: “This is like a national film archive saying ‘Let’s transfer only part of our collection to .avi files and throw out all the original prints.’”

British music journalist Simon Reynolds tweeted back: “That’s crazy. They’ll be sorry, mark my words.”

Institutions around the world, both in the private and public sector, are increasingly moving toward digital storage and shifting their archives onto the Internet. Earlier this month, the Association for Cultural Equity released more than 17,000 free tracks from the collection of prodigious American folklorist and ethnomusicologist, Alan Lomax. The U.S. Library of Congress has been gradually digitizing manuscripts and other primary source materials, while retaining the original physical copies. Many agree this would be an ideal scenario for the CBC, as well.

“Digitizing means making your materials more available,” says Sterne. “It means moving from a hand-typed finding aid to something that is text-searchable on the Internet. It means making your collections available to people in faraway places. Digitizing in the right context is a good thing — it just needs to be paired with a clear understanding of the institution’s mission.”

Yet the CBC’s decision to selectively digitize its CD and LP archives has many people up in arms.

“Recordings of obscure artists from the past are often unearthed and found to have great artistic value,” says Nathan Gage, owner of Montreal record store, Phonopolis. “The CBC could be selling, or even throwing out, recordings whose importance have yet to be discovered.”

In 2011, Montreal musician Eric Fillion discovered a live session by Le Quatuor de Jazz Libre du Quebec, acknowledged as the province’s first free-jazz ensemble. The release of this ultra-obscure document, which was recorded at Radio-Canada’s Studio 13 in 1973, was described by Scottish music journalist David Keenan as a “historically potent unearthing.”

Many of the CBC’s archival vinyl records are either out of print or have never been released in a digital format and, with the closure of some bureaus, likely never will be.

“A library as a whole is a document of how and why an institution or organization collects and organizes its artifacts,” says Amber Goodwyn, the music co-ordinator at Montreal radio CKUT. “Digitization obfuscates that history.”

CDs represent a more redundant form of technology, notes Dan Seligman, the director of Pop Montreal, while vinyl records are a more accurate representation of actual recorded sound.

“CDs merely act as a medium to transmit digital information, and if that information can be archived in a more direct and useful manner, it will make accessing music easier for CBC DJs and producers across Canada,” he says. “(Records) have physical grooves that carry information. You can’t just digitize those. It won’t be the same.”

Another concern is the fragility of digitization, which is a relatively young and untested technology. Sterne rates the durability of digital data and storage media as surprisingly low.

“Hard drives are very fragile,” he says. “You can play wax cylinders that are over 100 years old, but most hard drives last about 10 years. I think digitizing introduces new logistical problems in terms of preservation over long periods of time. It doesn’t handle neglect or deterioration, as well.”

Even though society’s transition to digitization may be inevitable, archivists like MacMillan will continue to mourn the loss of physical artifacts.

“I feel there will be trouble in our future,” he says. “But technology is always changing.”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Penguin Pecks Away at Libraries' Access to E-Books

Last November, Penguin Group ceased to make its frontlist e-book titles available for library lending. Then, earlier this month, it decided to no longer offer any of its e-book titles to libraries. The big book publisher's big decision came after a dispute with OverDrive, the library digital vendor.

Penguin flips out over the lending of its
e-book titles to libraries.
image source: no_typographic_man/flickr

Officially, the dispute centers on the way in which OverDrive distributes Penguin's e-book titles. (See the PCWorld article below for the technical details.) But the real issue here is corporate greed. Like record companies during the rise of the MP3, book publishers are desperately clutching at their products in an effort to not let one cent escape their coffers. Such actions on the part of corporations always backfire. Judging by what's being said in library circles, there is already a backlash to Penguin's latest effort.

PCWorld * February 13, 2012

Ebook Publishers Want Library Borrowing to Be Difficult

By Jared Newman

In an effort to make library ebook borrowing less convenient, Penguin Group has discontinued over-the-air library book downloads for Kindle users.

Users will instead have to download books onto a computer, then transfer them to the device with a USB cable. In addition, Penguin has terminated its agreement with Overdrive, a library ebook distributor, which for now means Penguin won't supply any new ebooks or audiobooks to libraries.

Penguin's reason for splitting with Overdrive is somewhat technical: Overdrive was apparently relying on Amazon to distribute the books to Kindle users, but Penguin's contract allowed Overdrive only to store and serve books on its own servers, according to Infodocket.

But the bigger issue is that book publishers are worried about libraries. Random House is the only major publisher that gives libraries unrestricted access to purchase and loan ebooks. Other publishers place restrictions on how many times a book can be downloaded or when new books become available. Simon & Schuster and Macmillan don't lend ebooks at all.

Skittish Publishers

And as we're seeing now with Penguin, even when publishers do participate, they want the lending process to be difficult. A recent meeting between book publishers and the American Library Association made this fact painfully clear, as ALA President Molly Raphael points out:

“Borrowing a print book from a library involves a nontrivial amount of personal work that often involves two trips--one to pick up the book and one to return it,” Raphael wrote. “The online availability of ebooks alters this friction calculation, and publishers are concerned that the ready download-ability of library ebooks could have an adverse effect on sales.”

In other words, being able to download library ebooks is too easy. Penguin's USB download requirement could be a way to introduce friction. If you've ever actually tried to borrow a library ebook, however, you know that most of the friction comes from books being all checked out, not from the actual download process.

Furthermore, by making users put a file on their computers, publishers are increasing the risk of ebook piracy. DRM-cracking software for library ebooks is not hard to find, and users may be tempted to lift lending restrictions as long as those files are passing through PCs. In trying to increase friction, publishers may end up reducing it for unscrupulous readers.