My university issued this notice during exam time – A time when students are most in need of revision material:
A number of eBooks are in high demand at the moment due to exams.
Please check Discovery and use copies on both platforms if available – VLeBooks and Ebook Central.
We may have two sets of Ebook Central copies due to a recent change to the permissions made by the publisher Pearson. Use both sets as they are not the same copies.
eBooks can only be read online and a copy will become free as soon as someone stops using it.
If they are currently all in use, please try again later.Heriot-Watt University Information Services, 2020
This really annoys me.
E-books are digital. And like all digital content, it can be freely copied as long as you have storage space and the time to do so. And yet despite this, because of some outdated notion of scarcity value and copyright, publishers insist on hobbling and crippling these new technologies. And we just go along with it.
E-books could be a bounty of information. Like access to the internet, access to e-books would allow unprecedented ease of access to information. If the world allowed e-books to thrive like any of digital file, we could enter a new age of information sharing and knowledge, which is of particular importance in educational institutes.
Imagine if whenever we wanted to visit a website, we were restricted so that only one viewer saw any given page at a time. That’s the kind of ridiculous scenario that libraries distributing e-books find themselves in. It takes more effort to block access to these books than otherwise, but it makes the publishers money, so that’s what happens.
Students, most of whom are already strapped for cash, should not be expected to go out and spend hundreds of pounds buying textbooks they will use for one semester and then never need again. But when the library isn’t able to handle “demand” for what is technically an unlimited resource, that’s the reality they face. That, or don’t revise ahead of exams. (There is of course the 3rd way, but let that go unmentioned. 🏴☠️)
If we take it as given that publishers have to make all the money in the world, we should not be forcing libraries to buy copies in the old way. The old way assumes a model of scarcity that does not make sense for e-books. Instead, libraries should be free to just distribute the copies to students, and pay a miniscule fee for each book borrowed. Then libraries could send their payment to the publisher at the end of the month.
I know that publishers have to make money, but it is really disheartening to see libraries, the institutes that are supposed to be educating the future, unable to do their job properly because publishers cripple what should be easy access to information, all while they cling on to an outdated system and refuse to modernise.
Oh, and don’t get me started on the pain that the phrase “platforms” means – no doubt this is some horrid software that makes it so difficult to actually read the borrowed book you might as well spend the half hour bus journey going in to get the physical copy.
Header by Jonny Caspari on unsplash