They say a leopard cannot change its spots, and too often, this is so. Over the last few years I have documented various outrageous examples of greed and cynicism by the British Library.
The BL is, remember, a body entirely funded by the money of others. That money is not given freely. It is exacted by the state under threat of imprisonment from people who (in the main) cannot use the library or its facilities.
Now there is an argument for a national library, as a centre of learning, funded by taxes in order to benefit everyone. In the age of the internet, it could and should act like Google Books, placing books online in PDF’s to disseminate knowledge.
But that is not what the BL does. Instead, those who control it keep trying to use the internet to get money, rather than to serve the nation. Unlike the internet model, where everyone gives away content, they keep trying to exploit it commercially.
Today I read this heading: Put a thousand books from the British Library on your iPad for free. Well, it’s not much, really — think of Archive.org — but it’s something. Although… why an iPad?
I just love finding apps like this, and I think you’ll be excited too. The British Library has released 1000 books from its 19th Century collection into a free iPad app that includes novels, historical works, poetry, philosophy and scientific books.
The books have been scanned in high resolution and color so you can see the engraved illustrations, the beauty of the embossed covers, along with maps and even the texture of the paper the books were printed on.
You can search the collection, browse titles by subject, and even read commentary on some of the titles. The books can be downloaded for reading offline. …
The app only works in portrait mode, but some of the illustrations are oriented in landscape view. …
Yup. It’s not a set of books. It’s an “app”. In other words, the books are locked inside some proprietary software. As soon as I saw that bit, I knew. I could smell it. And sure enough…
Although the app is free, the British Library plans to charge for an enhanced version of 60,000 titles later this year.
You bet they do.
Let us thank heavens for Google Books. Thank heavens for Archive.org.
And a raspberry to these loathsome little civil servants, selling what is not theirs to sell, in an age when even ordinary chaps like me give content away.
I award them the Bloodsucker award for June 2011.