Written by Jimmie Epling   

Breaching the Paywall for You Once Again! 

By Jimmie Epling

When the Internet was new the dreamers thought the advent of the free flow of information to all was at hand.  Everyone would have access to any information at any time by tapping a few keys (of course no one talked about providing something as unimportant as entertainment to the masses via the Internet).  The utopian vision for the Internet at the time was the free flow of information it provided would unite us into a global, collaborative community able to solve our most vexing problems.  They were wrong.  The visionaries did not foresee rise of the information being trapped behind an “electronic curtain” or the “paywall.”  They also failed to see libraries, like the Darlington County Library System, would once again become your way of breaching the electronic paywall as it has always done with the print paywall.   

In the early days of the Internet, when there was only one style of text on screen (black, green, or blue), illustrations made up of keyboard characters (some were quite elaborate and intricate, which made me wonder who had the patience to do it), and the top of the line search engine was “gopher” (derived from “go for”), it seemed the visionaries might be on to something.  Governments, nonprofits, businesses, and others paid it little mind, distributing what they had to offer freely to what was then a small group of computer hobbyists and techno geeks.  When the Internet morphed into the World Wide Web in the 90s, many saw the potential of the web and thus was born the “dotcom boom” (for the commercial web address that always ended with “.com”) and a new form of the paywall!  Everyone realized there was money to be saved and made by erecting electronic paywalls on the Internet.  The vision of a free flow of information slipped away due to an economic reality, somebody has to pay for the creation, maintenance, and distribution of information and, let’s not forget, entertainment.

The Library has from the beginning made it its mission to bridge the information divide created by the cost of books, a “print paywall.”  The only thing the Internet required of the Library was, in addition to its print collection, it add electronic resources.  That addition did nothing to change the Library’s commitment to continue to breach the information paywall for the community.

In a very real economic way, the Library bridging the digital divide has come to mean overcoming the paywall of computer ownership and access to the Internet.  The Library   provides free public computers, Wi-Fi, and Internet access.  This is critically important for those who cannot afford a computer and the monthly charge for internet access.  Many government agencies have closed offices and ceased using print forms for services and benefits as it is much less expensive to have clients complete applications and update records online.  The Society Hill Branch is a site for GED/Work Keys classes.  We have made it possible for participants to get their GED.  Businesses made the switch to online applications and tests to save on the expense of hiring employees.  It makes good business sense to do so.  However, this requires potential applicants to have access to a computer linked to the Internet.  Recently, the Darlington Branch helped applicants for jobs at the new Walmart get online to complete the application form and an assessment.  The staff of the Library regularly helps those needing access to a computer to submit an application, resume, or a benefits claim.

In the early days of the Internet, the LexisNexis Group pioneered the electronic accessibility of legal and journalistic documents.  It claims to have the world's largest electronic database for legal and public-records related information.  And all of it was built behind a paywall because the company realized early on people will pay for accurate and vetted information.  Others were a bit slower to catch on that their information in print had value online. 

Libraries once housed huge print reference collections.  Darlington County was no different.  Libraries have always breached that paywall created by companies that sold their information in book, magazine, and newspaper form for their community.  How many of you could afford an Encyclopedia Britannica (now only available online at a cost) or a less expensive World Book Encyclopedia back in the day?  My parents were only able to obtain an encyclopedia for my sister and I one volume at a time from a local supermarket.  The advent of online databases made buying print books and maintaining such collections much less expensive.  Our print reference collection is much smaller and those funds needed to build and maintain the print reference collection have shifted to providing free to the community DISCUS (a 24/7 collection of databases), Ancestry.com, Mango Languages (learn over 70 languages), Universal Class (over 500 classes), and more.  You do not have to personally spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to get through a paywall for quality information services or databases, you have free access through the Library.

The hottest commodity online is not information, it is entertainment!  Paywalls have been built to control the distribution of entertainment in all its forms: books, music, movies, etc.  The Library offers a wide variety of electronic books, audiobooks, and magazines for adults and children for free.  There is no need to go to Amazon.com to find something for your reading or listening pleasure.  All you have to do to start your search is go to our website at www.darlington-lib.org.  And of course, we have hundreds of thousands of books you can check out.  There is also no need to subscribe to several online video services (Netflixs, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, Showtime, etc.) or pay at a RedBox kiosk for something to watch.  The Library has a huge collection of movies and TV series on DVD for you to check out for free.

The Darlington County Library System has always been that place in the community where paywalls that inhibit the free movement of information and entertainment,

in all their forms, are breached.  Whether it is unintentional, like that created by a government agency with application forms, or intentional, like Netflixs with House of Cards, the Library will always be there to punch through that paywall for you.

March 14, 2016

Last Updated ( Sunday, 03 July 2016 )