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.

eBOOKS and eREADERS - Shut up about it already!!!

          Dude, I don't even know where to BEGIN. I am not afraid of new technology, but I AM afraid of people who want to jump on the latest digital trend before the kinks are worked out.
          A few months ago one of our parent-run funding committees started asking about getting eBooks and eReaders into our school library.


          We have NO YEARLY BOOK BUDGET, and exist purely through special funding like parent organizations, donations, and book fair profits. We are still FAR below the district average for actual print material. We have less books than any other library in this school district. It seems like we need to at least fix THAT, before we start on something that seems like an "extra" to me.
          Plus, eReader technology is changing as we speak, and so are the DRM (digital rights management) that govern eBook usage. Nobody can agree which device or format is going to triumph. Will it be Amazon with their Kindles that read kindle-formatted eBooks? Or will it be Barnes & Noble with their Nooks, which read ePub format? Will it be iPads, which read ePub or pdf formats? Technically, iPads could read Kindle, too, since you can download Kindle for PC for free. It's all confusing and in flux.
          Oh- and you can get either Kindle or Nook for PC, as free downloads.

New and rapidly-changing technology

          So, with all this new and rapidly-changing technology, THIS is a good time to spend a ton of money on one of the options, right? Before we can tell which one is best? Especially for a school with no real funding? It reminds me of the early days of videotape technology, when my family chose "Beta" over "VHS," and bought the machine and a bunch of tapes before VHS obliterated Beta.
          I was asked by this particular funding group to do some "research" into the whole eBook/eReader thing, which I gladly agreed to do. But once I returned with many articles and reasons to support NOT jumping on that trend right now, they didn't want to hear it. Even when I bring up the fact that unless they're willing to purchase an eReader for EVERY student at our school, then it's not an equitable practice, they STILL are not discouraged from it. We're a PUBLIC school library, don't we have to provide equal access to whatever we provide for our students?

Don't we have to provide equal access?

          They're talking about buying maybe 10 Nooks for the library, or something like that. In a school with 1,200 students, how exactly do you decide which 10 students get to play with the Nooks? And what about actual eBOOKS? Those cost money, too. On average they cost as much as print books do, and the Librarian and I both would rather have actual print books that every student could read, whether they are one of the select few to get their hands on an eReader or not.

Wouldn't take long at all for them to be
damaged, stolen, or lost

          Can you imagine the waiting list nightmare that would be created by having just a handful of brand new eReaders? And if you work in a library, you know it wouldn't take long at all for one or two of them to be damaged, stolen, or lost.

"Overdrive," costs $4,000 yearly

          A big reason I object to this whole idea is that technically, an eReader is "equipment," which we library techs are not supposed to have to manage.  The eBook files are the "books," so I could see us eventually having an online database of eBooks for download in multiple formats (for whatever the student happens to have access to), but the current standard for this is "Overdrive," which costs $4,000 yearly. We just don't have that. We're lucky if we manage to scrounge up $2,000 for new books in any one year.          

          Just last week we had a meeting of all Library technicians. I had asked that "eBooks & eReaders in our public school libraries" be put on the agenda. At first our coordinator seemed confused by this wording, specifically that I made a point to indicate PUBLIC school libraries. We all know we're a public institution, of course, but I think this is a good time to remind everyone what that means, as far as accessibility.
          eBooks would not be accessible to more than an extremely SMALL portion of our student body, even if we purchased a handful of eReaders. But we didn't even have to go into the "equitable practice" angle of the issue.
          Our coordinator quickly assessed the situation after I explained it, and said that any purchase of technology at this point would be premature, because there has not been a district standard set, yet. There is a committee that reviews new tech stuff, no matter what the funding source is, and eReaders would have to be proposed to them, and go through a review process.
          As soon as we explained this to our admin, the ongoing (and seemingly neverending) discussion seemed to come to a grinding halt. Which is exactly what I was hoping. For now, at least.