[I've been 
reading]

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by Cory Doctorow (2008)

read: 28 October 2008
rating: [+]
categories: best in show, non-fiction

If you like Cory Doctorow’s writing and general angle, you will love this book. I finished reading it as I was on a series of airplanes travelling to give my own talks to librarians about licensing, open source, technology and whatnot, and this was good food for thought. This book is only sort of a “book” which is part of the point Doctorow is trying to make. I got an actual print copy of it from his publisher [one of those “hey do you want to read this?” "yes I want to read it" exchanges] but I could have just as easily downloaded it from the web, legally and easily. In fact, thanks to the open licensing on the book’s “content” (again, this is the point) I can download a Braille version and RTF version, or even an audio version of a lot of the chapters. These aren’t created by Doctorow or his publisher, they’re created by fans. When we talk about user-generated content, and we do a lot, I don’t so much mean “you do work for us for free and in return we re-sell your freely given work for our own profit” what I mean is things like this.

Now, this sort of in your face free culture stuff really only works if you’re not living hand to mouth and if people like what you say enough to want to follow you around and remix your content. However, it does work. It doesn’t implode because authors don’t get paid -- a point that Doctorow makes frequently through this series of essays -- and it doesn’t fall apart because there’s no quality control of the sort that (allegedly) only top down business can give us. As librarians, we’re some of the original free cultists. Paying attention to what is going on in the world of copyright and the world of content licensing should be the most important part of our jobs moving forward as we watch more and more content become digital, redistributable, and literally uncontrollable. This collection of essays has advice, advocacy and a lot of useful metaphors all tied together with Doctorow’s oddly cheery dystopian predictions combined with a great grasp of both the language and the issues.

In a talk I gave to a bunch of Kansas librarians I used Cory’s cite of William Gibson’s quotation “The future is already here it’s just not very evenly distributed” to start talking about digital divide issues. We’re still loaning, and loving, print books while many people are getting digital books beamed directly to their portable devices with or without librarian assistance. Understanding the system is the minimum possible work we need to do to grok our role in the system. When I was done giving my talk someone asked me “What’s the name of that book again?” and I was able to just hand them the one from my backpack “Here, you can keep it.” and I was able to both give it away and keep it at the same time. That’s the future.

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