One of the major justifications used for stealing books is that individuals have limited access to them. I have already addressed why e-book piracy can never be justified and reminded readers that access to the latest YA release is a luxury and not a right. Still, it seems one of the best ways to prevent readers from stealing books is to find alternate ways books can be read legally.
The most obvious means of obtaining free and legal materials is, of course, through the library. Sometimes, it’s true, you might have to wait for the show to be released on DVD or you might find that your library doesn’t carry every item you’d life. Or you may simply not have access to the library. It might be miles away and you lack a car. Or you might not be able to leave your home. There are solutions, however, to many of these problems, meaning that, once again, you have no excuse to steal books.
If your library does not own a copy of the material you desire, you can have them request a copy from another library. There may be a nominal fee, but something like fifty cents is a small price to pay for a new release. It’s a lot cheaper than actually buying the book yourself! And many libraries are now in systems together and have regular deliveries between them. So if you ask for an ILL on Monday you may receive your item by the end of the week!
If you can’t leave your home or make it to the library, you can access their online catalog and download an audiobook or an e-book to your e-reader or even your laptop.
Many libraries allow you to request the titles you want and have them delivered to your door if you are physically unable to leave your home.
If the library is too far from your house, you can check to see if they have a bookmobile and if it makes any stops close to your home. If you use the bookmobile and it doesn’t have an item you want, you can place a request and have it available next time it stops by. Often you can even participate in the summer reading program through the bookmobile!
Other Library Services
Some libraries have machines that they put around town where you can check out books. It’s sort of like a vending machine for library materials! So if the actual library is too far away for you to reach, you may still be able to check out books (though your options will be limited to whatever is currently stocked in the machine).
Services for individuals Without a Permanent Address
Some libraries issue temporary cards so the homeless population can use their services. Others may not do this but will have other ways for individuals to obtain a card. For instance, residents of a single mothers’ home may be able to bring in a document or official stationery from that home to receive a card for themselves and their children. Sometimes libraries give out cards to children who attend local schools, so they will have access even if their parents do not.
Most libraries have some sort of agreement where if you have a card from your home library, you can bring it to another library in the surrounding area or even in the state and get a card for that library. If your library and another library are in the same system, you may be able to check out a book from a neighboring library but return it at your home library. Or you may choose to get a card from a neighboring library so you have access to their downloadable e-books and don’t have to go to that library at all.
You may find that you want a book from an academic rather than a public library. If you want the book free (or for a nominal cost), you should request an ILL from your hometown public library. However, if you anticipate using this academic library a lot (for instance because it’s closer) or want access to their online databases, you can pay for a card. Most seem to run around $40, which may be too much for some individuals. I have, however, seen one card cost as low as $10. It may be worth checking into.
Even More Libraries!
I don’t know how common this is, but a friend told me awhile back (with much excitement) that she was able to obtain a free card from the Free Library of Philadelphia simply by living in Pennsylvania. (Non-Pennsylvania residents can obtain a card for $40/yr.) This means that even though she doesn’t live in Philadelphia, she can access all their e-books online. They have a lot more e-books available than her local library does, so simply by applying for a card she expanded her options.
Books and e-books are often far more accessible than those who pirate them want to admit. The difficulty, of course, is that accessing the books legally may require more time and trouble than pirating them does. Many argue that they want access to the work immediately and that they should not be expected to wait for an ILL to come in or for a movie to come out on DVD. But, again, immediate access to the specific media you want is not a right. You can’t justify stealing books because you want them and not the free alternatives available to you, or because you want them now and prefer not to wait for the legal versions.
But what if you don’t have access to a library at all? Pirating books is still stealing from authors and publishers and it cannot be justified. You wouldn’t want someone to make you work for free. You wouldn’t want to create a product or a piece of art and have someone steal instead of paying you what it’s worth. And if you wouldn’t accept someone stealing from you, if you wouldn’t walk into your local bookstore and shoplift a novel because you feel you deserve it, you shouldn’t steal from others by illegally downloading books online.