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In a recent article entitled “Why The Hell Would You Want To Privatize Libraries,” two authors criticized movement towards the privatization of public libraries. I certainly would agree with them, but I would go a step further and ask, “Why Do We Still Have Printed Books?” Yes, I understand that many readers like to have a paper version of what they are reading in hand and would not want to make them all electronic. If they want to maintain a private book collection in paper, I suppose that is up to them. But there are environmental and other public concerns in continuing to print books for public reading. 

Let’s consider that.

Suppose that every book were available in an electronic format and could be read on-line. Yes, I understand that this would create a big question of how those who created the books would be compensated, and that is what I am prepared to discuss here. (I am not suggesting that the public would have to pay individually to read). Let’s first look at the advantages of making all books electronically available. Suddenly, there would be no need for brick and mortar public libraries. Librarians could do all their work in advising the public on-line, and the libraries themselves could be on-line. 

The individual states, or even cities, might want to preserve a few of the old fashioned libraries, but most of them could be turned over to better use – made into schools, or even housing for those who lack it. On top of that, there would be a huge downturn in paper printing, which would certainly help the environment. Books would no longer need transportation, and they would all be instantaneously available.

I am not sure how books would be marketed. My idea would be to have books available for free to the public. That would mean that we would have to compensate book creators so that they could continue to make them. I suppose the creators could be paid through government money, although I certainly wouldn’t want the government decide who could write and produce books. 

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There would also be a big question of how to let the public know what books were good and which were bad. But my assumption would be that literary magazines and other services which tell us about books now would continue on, even as we found ways of making sure that the book creators received what was necessary so that they would continue to create. And, of course, we would have to consider how to give permission to the entertainment industry to use the books for movies, television, and so on.

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By making all books electronically public, we would really make the cost of books very inexpensive overall, and I’m sure that we would increase readership enormously. This would educate the public in addition to helping the environment. I am sure that if we made the system work properly, we would also have many more people writing and sharing information.

The downside might be the impact on the paper industry and those who were into the physical printing. There would also be far less jobs in marketing. But the marketing professionals could get non-private (but also nongovernmental) jobs, telling people which books were worth reading and discussing.

Consider people like Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Carnegie who championed the public libraries. This would carry their ideas even further and make education in the US far more efficient and ultimately affordable. I am sure that I haven’t solved all of the problems in this brief article but I am hoping that what I am writing here will catch on and that we, the public, can find the answers to any important questions at the click of a button.