Media ownership vs. media access

We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.
~B. F. Skinner

This is another one of those times when several mentions of a topic seemed to converge all at once and now I need to write about it.

I used to be a big media owner. I had a dream as a child of owning all the books I ever loved, all the movies I liked, all the music I listened to. In short, I wanted a Library.

And for a while I tried to achieve that goal. I bought all the books I read and kept all the books I bought, bought new bookshelves whenever I ran out of space, and happily organized, reorganized, and moved my small library.

And that’s common for bibliophiles. But owning books does not a bibliophile make. Nor do I lose out on my bibliophile status simply because I own less than ten percent of the books I’ve read. But I see a lot of bibliophiles stressing the importance of ownership. It’s almost religious at times…as if Cicero was being literal when he spoke of rooms without books. But it’s not the physical form of the book that matters; it’s what’s contained within. And that can be accessed without ownership. It’s important to make this distinction and important to remember that a book is just an object. In and of itself it’s nothing. Without the ability to read, a book is merely fire starter or maybe toilet paper.

That’s not saying huge libraries are a bad thing. They’re just not my thing anymore. Too much to cart around. I can read the Harry Potter books easily, without owning them. I can borrow them from friends with huge libraries, or get them from the library. The same goes for movies and video games. The media in and of itself is not important…it’s the access to the media.

And in this day and age, media is becoming increasingly available. Libraries can share between each other, movies and music can be streamed online, I can bop down to the grocery store and rent Star Wars from Redbox or I can just go to Blockbuster and rent a video game for a week or two.

I no longer need to weigh myself down with ownership. There will, of course, always be those that I will keep. Slightly obscure texts, reference books, my precious Red Dwarf boxed set, personally annotated House of Leaves, Elder Scrolls games, books I will read over and over and over until the covers fall off or my friends lose them. But my life will not be over if my apartment burns down and I lose my books.

For those people who want to claim ownership, but don’t want to hang on to physical books, I strongly suggest giving LibraryThing a try. You can keep an online catalog of books. Books you own, books you’ve read, random books about whatever. Everyone uses it differently. It’s literally a virtual library…almost all the benefits with none of the drawbacks.

One Response to “Media ownership vs. media access”

  1. This is why I love (and I’ve heard good things about BookMooch, too). Unless it’s something I want to keep, I can just relist it and let someone else take it.

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