Stealing Pages From Future Readers

Have you ever borrowed a book from the library, only to discover at some horrifying point, that a page has been ripped out? Even worse, multiple pages? This happened to me recently, while reading Snail Mail – Celebrating the Art of Handwritten Correspondence by Michelle Mackintosh. I was nearing the end of this beautiful book and looking forward to seeing her envelope templates, only to find that some selfish reader before me had ripped all the template pages from the book. I was horrified, angry and disappointed.

I couldn’t believe a library user who would borrow a book about snail mail and sending lovely items to their friends and family to treasure, could also be a thief. Ripping out pages of a book is essentially stealing from the future. They are stealing information from future readers and in this case killing craft projects before they’ve even begun.

In this day and age, there’s simply no reason to tear out pages from a book. Every library has a photocopier/scanner, and they  could easily have photocopied or scanned the pages of interest when they returned the library book. They could have scanned it at home, at work or from a friend’s house. They could have taken a photo of the pages with their smart phone. They could even have traced the templates directly from the book.

Libraries generally allow their readers to borrow a book for 2-4 weeks, isn’t that enough time to make a copy of something you can’t bear to live without? Or heaven forbid, make plans to purchase your own copy?

Tearing out pages in a library book is essentially destroying public property. Libraries are funded by the Government and are for the entire community to enjoy. Stealing from one, damaging a book or defacing property robs future patrons of what you yourself have enjoyed.

The scene from Dead Poets Society when Professor Keating (played by the late Robin Williams) encourages his students to rip out pages from their poetry textbooks is inspirational, however we don’t live in a movie.

When a library book is damaged in this way, it is often taken out of circulation. In this case, the copy of Snail Mail I borrowed was the only copy in the Port Phillip Library service, and after I informed staff of the damage, they advised me they would have to take the book out of circulation and wouldn’t be replacing it. What a shame and so unnecessary.

Snail Mail cover Michelle MackintoshBut it’s not just library books that are being vandalised in this way. Earlier this year I saw a woman tear out a page from a magazine in a waiting room and put it in her handbag. Naturally I confronted her about it and told her she was being incredibly selfish. I pointed out that waiting room magazines are a courtesy and there to be enjoyed by all and she was ruining it for everyone. I don’t think she cared much, but when did we become so greedy and selfish? What does this teach our children?

I’d like to hope that readers of this blog would never do such a thing and I encourage this community of booklovers to stand up to this sort of behaviour if you ever see it happening. Make sure you report any damage to your librarian as soon as you see it, and let’s preserve the reading material around us for everyone to enjoy.

Does Your Local Library Deserve to Survive?

Come on a hypothetical journey with me. Imagine a future where ebooks are the dominant format of books. It’s a world many people don’t think will ever exist. Boomerang’s own Aimee Burton is one of them (I’ve challenged her to a blargument, but until she picks up the gauntlet I threw down this will just have to be hypothetical). But let’s just imagine dead tree books are now the poor cousin of ebooks. Kind of like CDs already are to MP3s. In this world, there are still rabid collectors out there who buy every antique Stephenie Meyer out there, but for the most part, most people do their book reading electronically. In this world is your local library something you want your tax money spent on?

Before the mouth-breather with the orthopaedic shoes starts throwing the kids’ books around in the quiet corner, just think about it. I love local libraries. I love how empty they are. I love how many books are there. I love the crazy old cat lady who works there two out of every four days. But in the world I’ve just mentioned, what role does a local library have that cannot be fulfilled by every person’s internet connection in their own home?

The answer, at least for now, seems to be free access. Try as they might (read: they are not trying) the publishing industry is yet to come up with a way to make the full range of ebooks that are out there commercially available to government subsidised libraries. John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan US, recently described libraries in the digital age as a “thorny problem”. As the excellent Eric Hellman paraphrases:

In the past, getting a book from libraries has had a tremendous amount of friction. You have to go to the library, maybe the book has been checked out and you have to come back another time. If it’s a popular book, maybe it gets lent ten times, there’s a lot of wear and tear, and the library will then put in a reorder. With ebooks, you sit on your couch in your living room and go to the library website, see if the library has it, maybe you check libraries in three other states. You get the book, read it, return it and get another, all without paying a thing.

It’s hard to see a sound business reason why a publisher would ever want a workable system for library ebooks. And yet, as it stands, it’s up to publishing companies to come up with a solution to this problem. Ultimately, however, when you look at the depth and breadth of knowledge available for free on the internet nowadays, it’s hard to make an argument that every person needs free access to books. Many libraries are already shifting their focus away from merely being repositories of dead trees. Knowledge is no longer contained solely within paper covers. But, of course, knowledge was only one reason I used to go to libraries. Without my local library, there are a number of dodgy fantasy writers I never would have read.

So my questions today are these: Does your local library deserve to be saved? If so, how? If not, will you mourn the passing of the local library? If so, why? Share your library stories in the comments below.