Has Amazon and Overdrive 'screwed' the libraries? Maybe, maybe not

Or do libraries have to move with the time?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

California librarian Sarah Houghton has recorded a video in which she Amazon and Overdrive's library lending program 'anti-user, anti-intellectual freedom, anti-library' and says that libraries have been 'screwed'.

Here's the video (Warning: Some language may be NSFW.):

There's a complete transcript of the video here.

Here's the core of Houghton's argument against the electronic lending system:

So how is this different, right? Well, unlike on all the other formats and devices, when you check out a Kindle book from Overdrive, it dumps you out on the Amazon web site, and you conclude the transaction there. And the transaction ends with a pitch for you to buy more books.


So many libraries have a rule that we cannot endorse companies or promote a particular product or service, and with one fell swoop many of us are now doing that through this Kindle lending program that we have through Overdrive. So hey, are we aware of that? Probably not. So that's not cool. So we need to tell Amazon and Overdrive that that's not cool.


The other thing that's really distressing is that all of the data about users' borrowing practices with library ebooks is being kept by a corporation now. So Kindle has allowed Amazon to harvest all of this borrowing data. So it's an instant violation of all of our privacy policies. So most of our policies in libraries have some statement of "This is the data that's kept by us or our vendors or if you're on our web site or if you're using databases." Guess what. It's moot. Right? Because if they're using a Kindle, Amazon's keeping friggin' everything. And we haven't told people that, and we need to tell people that.


And maybe Amazon and Overdrive - there's the possibility you don't understand how grave an issue that is for us, how serious it is. Maybe you really don't understand what it would be like to live in a police state, where you can get punished for your ideas and the police can use the things that you choose to learn against you. Maybe you really don't understand how core and critical an issue that is for libraries, and how critical an issue it is for a successful society. maybe you don't get it.

Okay. But you know what? I do.

So it comes down to two issues:

  • Commercialization of the library system
  • Privacy

Houghton makes some valid points and overall has a compelling argument. But there's a 'but' ...

See, I think that there are several aspects to the whole Amazon/Overdrive electronic library lending debate that Houghton misses entirely:

  1. Accessibility Electronic lending will make the library service more accessible to a far wider audience that traditional bricks-and-mortar, and that's a positive thing all round.
  2. Choice I'm assuming here that Amazon and Overdrive aren't putting a gun to people's heads and forcing them to use the electronic lending service over going o the library and grabbing a physical copy of the book. People sign up to the service willingly. There's no coercion. It's a choice.
  3. Privacy I get the privacy issue, but overall how many people really care about who knows what book or books they've borrowed from the library or bought? Seriously. I know that some people do care about such things, but these people either won't sign up to an electronic system in the first place because they're aware of the associated 'risks' of doing business on the internet, or they're already leaving a massive electronic paper trail behind them that 'the man' (whoever that might be) will be able to follow from a mile away (with or without the appropriate judicial approval).
  4. Buying the book is not evil If people are offered the chance to buy the book, and they do so, then is that so evil? At the very least, it benefits the publisher/author, which is a good thing, and it also frees up a book for the next person wanting to borrow it.

What do YOU think? Is the Amazon/Overdrive electronic lending system 'anti-user, anti-intellectual freedom, anti-library' and the libraries are 'screwed,' or is i a sign of the times and libraries and librarians need to move into the 21st century?

(Image credit: timetrax23)

Editorial standards