By Omar Rafik El-Sabrout
We live in the era of Venmo and CashApp, when after a nice meal with friends, you no longer have to argue over who will pick up the bill. On the surface, this is an extremely promising way to keep people from accidentally going into debt with each other. But it also reinforces interactions that are extremely transactional. The old idea of “I’ll get you back next time” is part of the give and take that members of a close community engage in. In our transactional present, people don’t have to rely on the idea of trust–trusting the butcher at the farmer’s market won’t price gouge me, trusting my friend will pay me back. People aren’t learning that you can vote by caring, by putting your money behind something that matters to you. At a moment when “you get what you pay for” is the capitalist norm, enter the Internet Archive, which today is asking you to make an investment in community-wide sharing.
The Internet Archive, which runs the project Open Library, is working to create a vast network of online book lending in order to make all books accessible to all people. Open Library cares about the input of its readers. As Open librarian and Internet Archive Software Engineer Mek Karpeles describes, “Open Library’s theory is that readers deserve a say in what’s on their bookshelves,” which is why he and his team have created a new Book Sponsorship feature.
Founded on the idea that a library ought to have books that “reflect [a] community’s needs and values,” Book Sponsorship allows any of the more than two and a half-million users of Open Library to #saveabook. This is a natural follow-up to the long standing “Want to Read” functionality whereby a reader can indicate a book is missing from the Archive that they wish to read.
With our new book sponsorship program, readers are given the option to put money towards directly sponsoring the acquisition of a particular book, after which the Internet Archive will digitize, store, and make the ebook available for lending–for free. Among other possibilities, this would allow people to combat the lack of representation of young black protagonists that Marley Dias, creator of the #1000BlackGirlBooks, found at her school and local library. We currently feature almost 400 of the #1000BlackGirlBooks on archive.org and with your support, we can buy and digitize all of them.
When people are given the opportunity to be generous in an obligation-free way, we find that typically brings out their desire to do good.
By giving people a say and making them feel represented, they become more invested. The care that comes from the investment of individuals is what eventually creates a community, and our hope is that the Open Library community will use this feature to help disenfranchised patrons gain access to materials that would enrich their education. When people are given the opportunity to be generous in an obligation-free way, we find that typically brings out their desire to do good. It’s relatively easy to put a price on a book, to calculate printing costs and publishing costs, but what’s harder to determine is the value of giving a gift. If you’re interested in sponsoring a book, either for yourself or for someone else, just click on a Sponsor an eBook button or visit https://openlibrary.org/sponsorship to learn more.