LIBRARY CONFESSION : download on the down-low

Bless me Father, for I have sinned.
          I'm not even Catholic, but my guilt has driven me to confess. Please help me find forgiveness in the eyes of (insert Higher Power of choice).
          I had been noticing that one of our library regulars here in the school library kept telling me she had this or that book on her Kindle already. Recent releases, and LOTS of them. Finally I made some comment about how much money she or her parents must be spending on all of these eBooks.
          She gave a sidelong look and muttered, "Yeah... not really..."
          To cut to the chase, kids know how to get digital files for free, illegally. They are EXPERTS at it. They do it constantly, like breathing. Apparently without compunction.
          I knew this, but hadn't applied this knowledge to eBooks, yet. There's so much digital literary content that's free LEGALLY, and I'm very aware of DRM issues (digital rights management) since I work in a public school library, and am a writer myself. Obviously I have a high regard/respect for creators' rights.
          When this student first told me about "torrents," and illegally downloading bestselling eBook files, I was horrified and disappointed. I made it clear that such a thing is WRONG, and not fair at all to the writers or publishers. After that, whenever she would mention already having a certain book on her Kindle, I would snark, "Yeah, ILLEGALLY."
          Meanwhile, I'm pretty poor at the moment, and almost all of the legally free content for Kindle is free because it's OLD, and the copyright has long since expired. I continually troll Amazon, Project GutenbergInkmesh, and even Bartleby for free digital books I would actually want to read.
          Slim pickin's, my friend. Desperate times.
          Finally the pressure became too much. One day last week when that particular student was near the circ desk, I blurted out, "What website did you say you go to, to get these illegal free eBooks which I do NOT approve of?"
          She wrote it down, along with a few notes about what to do and which files to download. It was a dirty transaction, and I felt like I was involved in a drug sale.
          "Well, that is one website I will most certainly NOT be going to!" I insisted indignantly.
          Later, alone in the library, I discovered that the school district's firewall blocks sites with illegal "torrents" or whatever you call them. And it's a good thing! I was just checking, to make SURE the firewall knew to block that site.
          That night, at home, I found the website confusing and scary, and quickly backed out of it, looking over my shoulder.
          Then yesterday that same student was telling me about a new YA novel that she's currently reading on her Kindle. She LOVES it, she was raving about how awesome it is, and describing the characters and the plot to me. I immediately made sure it was at the top of our school library's Amazon wishlist. For whenever we might actually have a little bit of a book budget.
          The more the student raved about the book, the more it sounded like the kind of thing I myself would very much enjoy reading.
          The student glanced around, then quietly said, "I have the file on my flashdrive right now. I could email it to you."
          I gaped, slack-jawed, the blood draining from my face. I REALLY want to read that book... But it's WRONG! I should absolutely NOT be encouraging digital piracy, especially of BOOKS. I know better than that, don't I? I have high moral standards, and it's important to me to set the right example for our students. Besides, I'm a goody-two-shoes at heart and doing stuff you're not supposed to do SCARES me.
          The seconds passed, my jaw working but no clear words coming out.
          "This is a terrible decision for you..." the student observed.
          The Devil appeared in a flash of red smoke and sealed the deal. I watched as if from behind a screen, helpless in the face of such bibliophilic temptation. I failed.
          Luckily, before I had time to do anything with the file, one of my fellow library technicians from another school reminded me in an email (purely by chance) of Netgalley, which is yet another way to LEGALLY obtain free eBooks, even NEW ones. Mainly if you have some connection to libraries, book stores, or book reviews. You have to request titles, and get approved for each one before they are downloadable. Basically, Netgalley is looking for beta readers, people who will read and review new and upcoming titles. I quickly requested a handful, and started getting approved for downloads.
          Hopefully Netgalley will keep me out of jail.