John says: "So I definitely think ebooks are the future. Libraries are
increasingly recognising this fact too."
I think it is probably a shame that the discussion developed in a polarized,
either-or, binary way, and I know I'm at least partly to blame for making
what I viewed as a half-serious, half-flippant wise crack counterposing file
sharing technology to the social institution of libraries as the real
socialist future or whatever, only to have it taken WAY too literally, and
especially conceiving of this in a narrow, short-termist way.
But if the "napsterization-of-everything-and-nothing-less" idea was perhaps
overdone, the library-as-socialist-paradigm is also deserving of further --
and pretty serious and profound -- analysis.
I think -- nay, I HOPE and PRAY -- that the "library" model will become
outmoded. And first of all, of course, in a sense that we all agree with: as
a tiny, fenced-off, not terribly user-friendly island of "free" (but free
only as in "free beer," not as in "freedom") access surrounded on all sides
by the shark-infested waters of commercial publishing (and broadcasting,
etc.). Looked at another way, "library-ism" will expand to encompass all
But that means libraries lose their specific, elevated, distinguished
Under water or in space, "air" is a special resource, carefully contained,
preserved, delivered in precisely measured and quite expensive supplies, the
very king of commodities for without it all others lose their use-value.
But where I am sitting now, air's use value hasn't changed but it isn't
anything because it is everywhere: at most it is a conduit for (at this
moment) Love of My Life by Queen, or a container for hotness, coldness,
wetness, or pollution. But air, in and of itself, on the earth's surface,
under normal conditions, it isn't anything, nothing at all.
You may think that ain't so but do a thought experiment: imagine you're
checking out some space, a hall for a concert or an apartment with someone
else, and the person looking at it with you says there was a door to a
closet on the main hallway, can you go see what is in it? You go there, open
the door, find nothing on the walls or on the floor or hanging from the
ceiling. Do you go back an say it's full of air? Or do you respond, there's
nothing there at all, it's empty.
I remember years ago writing about Napster, I think it was here, that it was
like a library of Alexandria of music. The statement was a bit hyperbolic
but only a bit. I still remember my joy at finding songs from my childhood
in Cuba, by a child music and movie star from Spain named Joselito, that I
think had never, ever been distributed in the United States, and certainly
NOT in the last forty or fifty years, and that I hadn't heard in decades.
And like that, the Tom Lehrer classics from That Was the Week that Was, the
late 50's/early 60's genre that I call "sickies," teenage love interrupted
by plane and car crashes, suicides, resuscitations of the dead and all
manner of other macabre circumstances, one-hit wonders galore, from the
folks that did Telstar and Wipe Out to Sukiyaki, the Japanese song that for
some inexplicable reason was a monster hit in 1963 [though I admit that to
hear the Bob Dylan/Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover of it, I had to
wait for YouTube]. Oh yeah, and the recordings of 1930's Black Cuban singer
"Bola de Nieve" (literally, "snowball.")
The question is, what librarian or group of librarians would know to have
all that available in the audio section, in addition to the obvious stuff
like Beethoven, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, beat poets reading their works
and Barenaked Ladies singing Brian Wilson -- live? It could be me. It would
HAVE to be me -- which brings to mind a RECENT addition to my music
collection, the "It could be you," which probably won't mean much to anyone
but us hard core Kyle XY fans (a just-cancelled TV series that I had only
discovered a couple of months ago thanks to a very "underground" specialized
sci-fi torrents site. And actually, its *social* side, comments people were
posting about goings on in the series, and not too much to the "supply side"
technical stuff of torrent files and trackers).
I refer to the old Napster because, although technologically it was more
primitive, in a way socially it was more advanced. In those days before RIAA
scorched-wallet lawsuits, everyone shared everything they had and you could
see what was in everyone else's collection.
When I say "bittorrent" -- really meaning unfettered file sharing -- is the
future, not "libraries," that is what I mean. The domain of freedom changes
qualitatively when EVERYONE is a "librarian," when there isn't ANYTHING
still extant that isn't available to anyone anywhere at any time with a few
And I'll repeat here what I USED to say back in 1999 and 2000, which is that
anything and everything digital can be Napsterized, and everything that CAN
be Napterized WILL BE Napterized. Now with people downloading 8-gig rips of
blu-ray movies, the observation seems trivial, but back then it could take
hours to download a single 3meg Beatles tune, and it was not so obvious.
But it is the *implications* of the Napsterization of everything that are
most exciting. It means content becomes free in multiple dimensions. It
becomes free as in freedom: you can play it, you can sing it, you can
perform it; free as in free beer; and free as in being negated and becoming
something entirely different, free to be ripped and mixed, source material
rather than a fixed "product," a fetishized commodity.
But this TRANSFORMS the role of a library from being a repository of fixed
and finished works to being a source/dump for content, an input/output
component of a cultural blender. And library goes from being a small
isolated island to being an open-ended expanding Universe. And it shifts
decisions like: what must be preserved, what should be preserved, what could
be preserved, what can be thrown out, and what should never have been
created to begin with, FROM "librarians" TO, well, everyone, an entire
population of creator/users.
My son, that lanky kid now taller than I am that looks like he stepped out
of a Guitar Hero advertisement much of the time except that he HATES guitar
hero --"WORSE than posers"-- AND he's just discovering that Brian May isn't
just an astronomer with an asteroid named after him but God (or at least one
of them, a denizen of an Olympus where Mercury has dethroned Seuss) and he's
discovering it thanks to a really random, almost quantum interactions, like
me all of a sudden hearing Bohemian Rhapsody again a few weeks ago on a new
"good old boys" oldies station that plays, well, ANYTHING, and not just the
57 San Antonio Corporate Headquarters-blessed white bread cuts, and thereby
suddenly reawakening in me not just an interest in that music, but an
obsession with all things Queen is, this whole thing going on with me and
Queen and most of all Luke is, I think, a taste of what is coming. As is
too, of course, guitar hero.
Because what I did was to let the torrents flow -- getting complete
discographies, album covers, documentaries, concert movies, music videos and
even a learned academic discussion on gender in Wayne's World and the sexual
politics of Queen. So when my son hit me with some stuff he'd read in
Wikipedia on Bohemian Rhapsody I hit him back with the hour-long Beeb
documentary that most of those comments came from. And then he hit me with
the guitar solo -- well, a part of it, anyways, and a guitar version of the
repetitive cross-handed piano part that introduces what I think of as the
main section of the song.
Because Stuff that REALLY catches his ear, he plays, not just on his iPod,
but on his guitar. The way people with guitar hero do, except they sound
better than my son, with his little 10-watt amp but enjoy it less, I
Of course, in the bright communist future of humanity, there won't be a need
for guitar hero, because adolescents won't have to take civics and economics
and even history and algebra will be significantly easier, leaving plenty of
time to learn guitar and piano, or the Harp, for that matter.
My idea of hell -- or at any rate, of the failure of communism -- is a place
with gatekeepers and suggesters/esforcers of good taste.
And my idea of success is one where anything and everything is preserved,
where there is nothing outside the library and thus the library ceases to
exist at all, but withers away, like the state, dissolving into society as a
whole. And librarians are replaced by ever more complicated and intelligent
search algorithms on Google.