Why a Library is always special

I open Neil Gaiman’s book “Art Matters” and find myself transported to a childhood memory of a community library. Libraries have always been special to me, and as I talk with my friends, I realize they adore them too. Why do we love libraries so?

I think it’s because libraries are a holy place where they teach us to revere books. In the book store, books get graded on profit and loss. In the library, the old, hardbound classics take pride of place. There’s a silence, a very comfortable silence as you and the book are in communion. And in that silence, you are transported into magical worlds.

The high priest (aka the librarian) worships books and will take the utmost care to ensure that everyone behaves appropriately in the haloed place. And should she see you are a devoted patron, she may share other treasures from in the hidden, dusty book-shelves! Good libraries have layers that you can breach only through devotion!

Libraries teach you patience. Today, if a book is not available in your local shop, you can order it online. In a library, you queue up and wait for its return. Waiting for the arrival of a book is a joy – I am sure all you library lovers would agree!

I miss some of the curated little shops that sold handpicked collections. It was a treat to listen to the curator talk about how he discovered a book and why it’s unique. Books benefit from formal introductions too – and the curator was doing just that and helping you get acquainted with a potential best friend.

I think there’s a place for the library, little curated shops, and the modern bookshop to coexist. Together, they can make our lives so much richer. Would you agree?

Sharing in the electronic world, why are we making it so tough!

Let me confess, I am a big kindle fan – and have been one for a couple of years now. The endless collections, speed of procuring the books, and the “paper-like” feel the device provides – all I am sure contribute to this positive vibe.

Last week, however I discovered a non-feature – a feature that should have been there but for some reason has been pushed to a roadmap (as the amazon.in representative on chat support informed me). Here’s what happened – I stumbled upon a book that a colleague (and friend) had been very eager to lay hands on – and decided to give him a pleasant surprise by gifting the digital version to him – only to find that I couldn’t gift books on amazon.in (amazon india) – yet – now why would they not consider that a high priority feature? Aren’t books designed to be gifted/ shared/ discussed together about in the first place?

As I got thinking about it, I realised our “digital world” had created multiple barriers for sharing – in some ways painstaking so – which kind of defeated the essence of being digital. For isn’t digital all about being able to get what you want, when you want and how you want it?

If that seems a major crib, consider this:

1. My itunes songs cannot be shared (DRM!) – except on a few of my devices. The song at its core is actually sharable, some technologist has actually put in some code to prevent the sharing (piracy concerns huh?)

2. Likewise, I cant share my books on kindle. One of the greatest pleasures of book reading is to share it with like-minded friends – again while the book is sharable in its essence, a layer of security on top of the book renders it unsharable

3. My DVD player has the capability to play DVDs purchased around the world – except that it cant. Someone has written a piece of code that will restrict this – it can now only play DVDs bought in India. Who cares that I have purchased priceless stuff from UK, USA and other travel – caveat emptor huh! You just need to google in “unlock DVD codes” to find how many people are affected by this decision….

and the list goes on. I understand that there is a sense and need for curbing piracy which is at the root of all of this – so there’s a defence alright.

But then wasn’t the “digital economy” an exercise about “investing in trust” in the first place? How can I expect to entrust apple and amazon with my credit card details and not expect them to trust me in return to use their assets in the “right spirit”?

As I look around, I realise there are alternative approaches being tried. Amazon prime is an excellent example – it allows you to share/ rent stuff on subscription basis – but is available only in the US. Leanpub.com offers DRM-free, multi-format books that are easy to share. So maybe the world is changing – and its time we embarked on this journey now? Thoughts?