[WEB4LIB] Re: Linking to Amazon.com for Big Bucks

Walt Crawford Walt_Crawford at notes.rlg.org
Fri Oct 22 10:54:43 EDT 1999

I'm troubled by this hot new idea for raising money for the library. Seems to me
that you're explicitly (or at the very least) implicitly endorsing Amazon, as
opposed to, say, bn.com, borders.com, books.com, your local bookstore...

If I was the owner of a local bookstore and had been a strong supporter of the
local public library (which is the way it should work), and I then found that
the library's online catalog was--in effect--touting Amazon and steering
customers away from my bookstore, I would at the very least be outraged and cut
off library support. At worst, I'd think that the bookstores and competitive
online stores would have a pretty good case for a lawsuit about using tax funds
to support specific businesses over other businesses--and I don't think you can
make the claim that no public resources are being used, when you explicitly
mount links and build the linking mechanism.

If you're one of those who believes that public libraries should really be
businesses anyway, and that anything that brings in the bucks is a Good Idea,
then I suppose this is old-fashioned liberal whining. I assume your community
information file sells placement? (Looking for a restaurant? Our reference
department will steer you to whoever's paid us the best fee!)

I haven't responded to some of these other notes, but I assume some of you are
aware of the negative implications of systems that offer to show you books you
might want based not only on what you've borrowed before (which means they keep
a record of everything you've borrowed--so much for decades of working out
privacy provisions) but, much worse, on what *other people* have borrowed

I've heard it suggested recently that Amazon's not really in the book business;
they're in the demographic information business. I suppose a library could also
make Big Bucks by going that route: "people on this block seem to take out a lot
of left-wing literature--oh, and look, there are really only two heavy users on
this block."

Disclaimer: these are my own thoughts and don't represent the opinions of my
employers, although I can assure you that our design and implementation
practices support searcher confidentiality as a basic principle. And we haven't
implemented "buy it here" links, at least partly because of the equity issue.
But we haven't taken a formal stand on that...and then again, we're not a public
library or tax-supported academic library.

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