The third section of Book: A Futurist's Manifesto includes a contribution from Eli Neiburger, associate director for IT and production at the Ann Arbor Public Library. His chapter, "The end of the public library (as we knew it)?", considers the current state of affairs between libraries and publishers and offers a novel approach already in practice in Ann Arbor.
As Neiburger writes, "We want to deliver digital content that’s in demand, but we want to do it in a way that meets our users’ expectations." In Ann Arbor, that means "leveraging the potential of digital distribution, not just offering digital services that are more restrictive than their physical equivalents."
The library negotiates with rightsholders to buy licenses for DRM-free content with no use restrictions. The standard license lets library patrons download files, use them locally and potentially create derivative works for their own use. Neiburger notes:
"Digital content doesn’t have to kill the public library. Libraries can diversify their value to their communities, continue to develop circulating collections of physical items that bring unique value to their communities, and aggregate the buying power of the community to keep independent artists producing good stuff for a real, paying audience. With licensing that embraces the digital format instead of resisting its potential, the library can give the user the experience of downloading free media, and the rightsholder the experience of selling paid media.
All we have to do to get there is to stop chasing blockbusters and take responsibility for our own legal and technical infrastructure."
Without taking anything away from the many people working to repair the relationship between major publishers and public libraries, I was heartened while editing Neiburger's piece. It offers an approach that could help align community requirements with an emerging digital reality. His work is well worth reading.
About Manifesto: You can now read Neiburger's chapter online, where it is hosted on the PressBooks site. The complete book can also be purchased in print, digital and bundled formats through O'Reilly Media and in print and digital formats at major book retailing sites. I've noted earlier that the royalties for the book are being used to fund the development of PressBooks, and for that reason I encourage you to consider buying the book.