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From the Director - September/October 2012

Dear Friends,

Talk to any public librarian in the United States about what the profession values and I’ll bet you hear the phrase “freedom to read.” While you may never have considered your ability to read in need of defending, it’s constantly under attack. Just close your eyes and picture a librarian with a red cape, billowing in the breeze and a big letter “R” emblazoned on his chest. That shows seriously we take our job as “Freedom to Read Defender.”

Here’s what we mild mannered superheroes -excuse me - librarians, do. We provide a wide variety of reading material, covering both conventional and controversial topics. We support access to as many different opinions and viewpoints as possible. We know there’s no onesize-fits-all approach to reading preferences or learning, and we want your reading choices to be unlimited. We have books that some will find offensive and that’s just the way it should be. We believe it’s your right to read what you want and the library’s job to have something that appeals to everyone.

And why is all this variety and diversity in reading material important? Because a free society depends on your freedom to read, seek information and new ideas, and to explore conflicting opinions. These activities just happen to be protected by the Constitution. Lately, I’ve been thinking that your freedom to read is in danger in the digital age.

Currently, several major publishers have refused to sell commercial eBooks to public libraries. Right now, that’s inconvenient and it limits the eBooks we’re able to offer. Usually, we can still provide a print alternative, but how long before this lack of access shifts from mere frustration to an encroachment on your First Amendment right?

A recent Price Waterhouse Cooper report projects that by the year 2016, e-books will make up 50 percent of the U.S. trade (new, popular) book market; and that spending on printed books will be limited. Will there still be a reason for every new book that gets published to be printed AND available as an eBook? I doubt it. With the consumer demand for eBooks outpacing the demand for print, I can see a day in the not too distant future when new books will only be published in a digital format. Those with the most freedom to read will be those with an eBook reader in their book bag, a credit card and disposable income. That should be unacceptable to all of us. It’s not just a digital divide we’d be facing, but a knowledge divide that, in South Carolina, we can’t afford to exacerbate.

Want to help us defend our community’s freedom to read? Go to ebooksforlibraries.com and let publishers know you want eBooks to be available to your public library. Thanks. You look good in a cape!

Warmly,

Melanie

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