In an era where disinformation is the new currency and social media algorithms determine what is “true,” the necessity of libraries—those venerable institutions of knowledge and democracy—has never been more pressing. Yet, here we are, watching the very foundations of these institutions crumble, not by accident, but by design.
Libraries are under siege, and it’s not only from budget cuts or the digitization of media. It’s from a more insidious form of erosion—extremist political views and late-stage capitalism. Libraries are fighting to lend digital books, but publishers are pushing back, treating digital copies as rental-only media. The Guardian’s piece on the U.S. library system’s struggle with digital licensing paints a grim picture. Libraries are being forced to pay exorbitant fees for digital copies that expire after a certain number of loans.
It’s a power grab, plain and simple, and it’s emblematic of a broader trend: the commodification of information. Companies such as Follett overcharge public schools for books, converting what should be a public good into another cash stream. It’s a disgrace, and it’s happening right under our noses.
And then there’s the legal battle between the Internet Archive and major publishers. The publishers want to treat digital books like rental-only media, requiring multiple payments for a single copy. The Internet Archive, on the other hand, is fighting to apply the traditional library practice of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) to digital books. The courts, in their infinite wisdom, have sided with the publishers. It’s a decision with far-reaching consequences, not only for the future of libraries but also for the fundamental concept of public ownership of knowledge.
On top of that, there are also extremist political views. There’s a growing sentiment in this country that libraries are somehow “leftist” institutions, pushing a “liberal agenda.” It’s a ludicrous notion, but it’s gaining traction, and it’s being used to justify attacks on library funding and even book bans. In a world where QAnon conspiracies are given equal weight to peer-reviewed studies, the role of libraries as arbiters of truth is more critical than ever.
So why does all this matter? Because libraries are not only repositories of books; they are the bedrock of a functioning democracy. They provide access to reliable information, free of charge, to anyone who walks through their doors. In a world awash in fake news and clickbait, that’s no small thing.
The bottom line is this: we’re at a tipping point. The forces arrayed against libraries are formidable, but they’re not invincible. It’s up to us to stand up and fight, to demand that our elected officials recognize the vital role that libraries play in our society. Because if we don’t, we risk losing something far more valuable than books—we risk losing our very soul.