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[tor dot com] The Sad But Inevitable Trend Toward Forgotten SF
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James Nicoll
2019-05-24 13:18:35 UTC
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The Sad But Inevitable Trend Toward Forgotten SF

https://www.tor.com/2019/05/24/the-sad-but-inevitable-trend-toward-forgotten-sf/
--
My reviews can be found at http://jamesdavisnicoll.com/
My tor pieces at https://www.tor.com/author/james-davis-nicoll/
My Dreamwidth at https://james-davis-nicoll.dreamwidth.org/
My patreon is at https://www.patreon.com/jamesdnicoll
Jaimie Vandenbergh
2019-05-24 15:15:03 UTC
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Post by James Nicoll
My patreon is at https://www.patreon.com/jamesdnicoll
"Winnie Ille Pu, by A.A. Milne" should probably be bolded - I don't
think a translation counts as an alternate work in an appropriate sense
for this article.

Cheers - Jaimie
--
"Some people think that noise abatement should be a higher priority
for ATC. I say safety is noise abatement. You have no idea how much
noise it makes to have a 737 fall out of the sky after an accident."
-- anonymous air traffic controller
David Duffy
2019-05-26 04:22:15 UTC
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Post by James Nicoll
The Sad But Inevitable Trend Toward Forgotten SF
https://www.tor.com/2019/05/24/the-sad-but-inevitable-trend-toward-forgotten-sf/
"the number of new books published each year in the U.S. has exploded by more
than 600,000 since 2007, to well over 1 million annually. At the same time,
more than 13 million previously published books are still available through
many sources."

The other list I have looked at is availability of Newbery Medal Award
winners, since I thought those from the 1970s, say, would make excellent
birthday presents that won't have already been read. Hard to get.

http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal

As to Michener and look on my works, ye mighty, _Tales from the South
Pacific_ is really good. And Cabell's wry remarks on his fame 5-10 years after
_Jurgen_ are just as apposite.

Cheers, David Duffy.
Richard Hershberger
2019-07-08 14:28:24 UTC
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Post by David Duffy
Post by James Nicoll
The Sad But Inevitable Trend Toward Forgotten SF
https://www.tor.com/2019/05/24/the-sad-but-inevitable-trend-toward-forgotten-sf/
"the number of new books published each year in the U.S. has exploded by more
than 600,000 since 2007, to well over 1 million annually. At the same time,
more than 13 million previously published books are still available through
many sources."
The other list I have looked at is availability of Newbery Medal Award
winners, since I thought those from the 1970s, say, would make excellent
birthday presents that won't have already been read. Hard to get.
http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal
As to Michener and look on my works, ye mighty, _Tales from the South
Pacific_ is really good. And Cabell's wry remarks on his fame 5-10 years after
_Jurgen_ are just as apposite.
Michener: commercial fiction nearly always has a short lifespan. There are exceptions, but they are rare. Look up the bestseller lists from the generation before yours and you will find an awful lot of books you have never read, often by authors you have never heard of. Track them down and you will find the writing decidedly dated.

There are two kinds of prose: that which is intended to be noticed, and that which is intended to pass by invisibly. Commercial fiction is usually, though not always, written with the second kind of prose. The thing is, what passes by invisibly is a moving target, subject to the whims of fashion. Prose invisible in the 1970s read today like bad haircuts and polyester leisure suits look.

Self-consciously visible prose has a better shot at longevity. People complain about Tolkein's prose, but were The Lord of the Rings written like a mid-20th century popular novel, it might have been influential in its day, but only eccentrics interested in the history of fantasy would be reading it nowadays.

Michener? Definitely of his time. This is not a criticism. "Of its time" does not equal "bad."

Richard R. Hershberger
o***@gmail.com
2019-07-08 20:42:36 UTC
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Post by Richard Hershberger
Michener? Definitely of his time. This is not a criticism. "Of its time" does not equal "bad."
Some, perhaps.

But.......his _Centennial_ and _Chesapeake_ are, at least to me, historical, in a way that defies "dated".

The same can be said for much of his other work.
p***@hotmail.com
2019-07-09 04:04:02 UTC
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Post by o***@gmail.com
Post by Richard Hershberger
Michener? Definitely of his time. This is not a criticism. "Of its time" does not equal "bad."
Some, perhaps.
But.......his _Centennial_ and _Chesapeake_ are, at least to me, historical, in a way that defies "dated".
The same can be said for much of his other work.
I recently read _Tales of the South Pacific_. I did not find the style to be
dated or intrusive.

Peter Wezeman
anti-social Darwinist
David Duffy
2019-07-08 23:30:37 UTC
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Post by Richard Hershberger
Michener: commercial fiction nearly always has a short lifespan.
My point was that _Tales of the South Pacific_ (and _Jurgen_) ain't
commercial fiction in the same way as, say, Lee Childs is. _The 39 Steps_
and _Riddle of the Sands_ might or might not be commercial fiction,
but they definitely remain a good read (IMO, YMMV etc). Ditto Dickens,
Doyle, Stoker...

Cheers, David Duffy.
Default User
2019-07-03 22:01:09 UTC
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I think it's tricky extrapolate from small samples. For example, the St. Louis County library system, which is probably middling-sized, has a large number of Michener books in ebook. I didn't check paper. Most of the books are wait-listed, so people are definitely reading them.

In fact I think the increasing selection of ebooks in libraries will improve availability over time. You don't worry about the book being lost, stolen, or too worn or damaged to lend.


Brian
Magewolf
2019-07-04 17:04:09 UTC
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Post by Default User
I think it's tricky extrapolate from small samples. For example, the St. Louis County library system, which is probably middling-sized, has a large number of Michener books in ebook. I didn't check paper. Most of the books are wait-listed, so people are definitely reading them.
In fact I think the increasing selection of ebooks in libraries will improve availability over time. You don't worry about the book being lost, stolen, or too worn or damaged to lend.
Brian
But you do have to worry about buying a new license after every 26
lends. Publishers can not do much about lending libraries now but they
can make sure that e-books stay under their control.
Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2019-07-04 17:18:41 UTC
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Post by Default User
Post by Default User
I think it's tricky extrapolate from small samples. For example, the
St. Louis County library system, which is probably middling-sized, has a
large number of Michener books in ebook. I didn't check paper. Most of
the books are wait-listed, so people are definitely reading them.
Post by Default User
In fact I think the increasing selection of ebooks in libraries will
improve availability over time. You don't worry about the book being
lost, stolen, or too worn or damaged to lend.
Post by Default User
Brian
But you do have to worry about buying a new license after every 26
lends. Publishers can not do much about lending libraries now but they
can make sure that e-books stay under their control.
At least copyright expiration is finally happening again!
--
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What's not in Columbia anymore..
Quadibloc
2019-07-05 14:10:50 UTC
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Post by Magewolf
But you do have to worry about buying a new license after every 26
lends.
I see you're not making this up:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/74043-harpercollins-hoopla-to-offer-multi-user-e-book-access-to-libraries.html

John Savard
Default User
2019-07-05 21:10:26 UTC
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Post by Magewolf
Post by Default User
I think it's tricky extrapolate from small samples. For example, the St. Louis County library system, which is probably middling-sized, has a large number of Michener books in ebook. I didn't check paper. Most of the books are wait-listed, so people are definitely reading them.
In fact I think the increasing selection of ebooks in libraries will improve availability over time. You don't worry about the book being lost, stolen, or too worn or damaged to lend.
Brian
But you do have to worry about buying a new license after every 26
lends. Publishers can not do much about lending libraries now but they
can make sure that e-books stay under their control.
That's one model, at least with Overdrive, called metered access. The other is the traditional model, you buy X copies, and can only lend them out one at a time. That's called "one copy/one user".


Brian
J. Clarke
2019-07-05 21:20:16 UTC
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On Fri, 5 Jul 2019 14:10:26 -0700 (PDT), Default User
Post by Default User
Post by Magewolf
Post by Default User
I think it's tricky extrapolate from small samples. For example, the St. Louis County library system, which is probably middling-sized, has a large number of Michener books in ebook. I didn't check paper. Most of the books are wait-listed, so people are definitely reading them.
In fact I think the increasing selection of ebooks in libraries will improve availability over time. You don't worry about the book being lost, stolen, or too worn or damaged to lend.
Brian
But you do have to worry about buying a new license after every 26
lends. Publishers can not do much about lending libraries now but they
can make sure that e-books stay under their control.
That's one model, at least with Overdrive, called metered access. The other is the traditional model, you buy X copies, and can only lend them out one at a time. That's called "one copy/one user".
There's also a time-limited model and a few others. The publishers
seem to be trying things, in the same sense that a Groaci teenager is
at a trying age.
Default User
2019-07-05 22:02:10 UTC
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Post by J. Clarke
On Fri, 5 Jul 2019 14:10:26 -0700 (PDT), Default User
Post by Default User
Post by Magewolf
Post by Default User
I think it's tricky extrapolate from small samples. For example, the St. Louis County library system, which is probably middling-sized, has a large number of Michener books in ebook. I didn't check paper. Most of the books are wait-listed, so people are definitely reading them.
In fact I think the increasing selection of ebooks in libraries will improve availability over time. You don't worry about the book being lost, stolen, or too worn or damaged to lend.
But you do have to worry about buying a new license after every 26
lends. Publishers can not do much about lending libraries now but they
can make sure that e-books stay under their control.
That's one model, at least with Overdrive, called metered access. The other is the traditional model, you buy X copies, and can only lend them out one at a time. That's called "one copy/one user".
There's also a time-limited model and a few others. The publishers
seem to be trying things, in the same sense that a Groaci teenager is
at a trying age.
I will say that I think the libraries are interested in these new models. I read a bit from a library discussing the "bestseller problem". When Gone Girl came out, they had 1000 holds. So they bought a bunch of copies. Then when the popularity passed, they had all those copies they'd paid for (according to them, it's more costly for a library to buy one than for you and I). They didn't reach their desired 20:1 lending ratio.

This would allow them to get a large number for a shorter period.


Brian
Quadibloc
2019-07-08 11:40:53 UTC
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Post by Default User
I read a bit from a library discussing the "bestseller problem".
This has raised an issue I hadn't considered. When I read about having to buy
the book over after 26 lends, I had thought that was just horrible greed on the
part of publishers.

But despite the first-sale doctrine on physical media, which makes libraries
legal, I can sympathize with publishers feeling that libraries have no business
being in the business of lending out best-sellers. A library should be a place
where you can borrow books from a wide selection of books that have stood the
test of time, not a substitute for buying a copy of the latest popular best-
seller - at least, that is what could be argued.

So there is another side to this.

John Savard
Default User
2019-07-08 17:14:27 UTC
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Post by Quadibloc
But despite the first-sale doctrine on physical media, which makes libraries
legal, I can sympathize with publishers feeling that libraries have no business
being in the business of lending out best-sellers. A library should be a place
where you can borrow books from a wide selection of books that have stood the
test of time, not a substitute for buying a copy of the latest popular best-
seller - at least, that is what could be argued.
So there is another side to this.
The publisher side is greed, of course. They'd prefer that library paid for every lend. The libraries are funded by the taxpayers so the library should be designed the way the people paying prefer, not the publishers. There is no other side.


Brian
Robert Carnegie
2019-07-08 18:30:38 UTC
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Post by Default User
Post by Quadibloc
But despite the first-sale doctrine on physical media, which makes libraries
legal, I can sympathize with publishers feeling that libraries have no business
being in the business of lending out best-sellers. A library should be a place
where you can borrow books from a wide selection of books that have stood the
test of time, not a substitute for buying a copy of the latest popular best-
seller - at least, that is what could be argued.
So there is another side to this.
The publisher side is greed, of course. They'd prefer that library paid for every lend. The libraries are funded by the taxpayers so the library should be designed the way the people paying prefer, not the publishers. There is no other side.
Writers.

But there's no shortage of people willing to write.

Not always people that you'd want to read.

And even the people whose writing you don't want to read,
would like to get money for their work... when it becomes
work rather than pure self-entertainment; when producing
a completed work of any quality stops being fun.
Joe Bernstein
2019-07-08 21:02:30 UTC
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Post by James Nicoll
The Sad But Inevitable Trend Toward Forgotten SF
https://www.tor.com/2019/05/24/the-sad-but-inevitable-trend-toward-forgotten-sf/
Since it's summer, I have limited access to the computers I usually
use these days, which block most .com addresses, so while looking at
Google Groups I actually followed this link.

For any as *haven't* followed the link: The OP found a list of <New
York Times> bestselling books for the week of his birth, and noted
which his local public library had. It was a depressingly short list,
six books out of sixteen.

Many of the comments featured the lists for the weeks of the
commenters' births. I was interested by one aspect of this: while
your oldest commenter may be older than the oldest person here, you
had *lots* more Gen X and even Millennial commenters than I'm aware
of here.

In another aspect, though, the comments were deficient. Nobody, I
think, did what you had done, and ran their lists past either the
Kitchener Public Library or their own.

So I decided to.

Everyone can play along if y'all want to. To download a week's list
start here:

<http://www.hawes.com/[year]/[year].htm>

for example for me

<http://www.hawes.com/1967/1967.htm>

So here's my list, only ten books:

1. <The Arrangement> by Elia Kazan. It had been 1st the previous
week too, and had been on the list for 31 weeks. *
2. <The Chosen> by Chaim Potok. 2nd, 18. *
3. <Night Falls on the City> by Sarah Gainham. 5th, 6.
4. <The Eighth Day> by Thornton Wilder. 3rd, 24. *
5. <Washington, D.C.> by Gore Vidal. 4th, 19. *
6. <A Night of Watching> by Elliott Arnold. 7th, 8.
7. <The Plot> by Irving Wallace. 8th, 16.
8. <Rosemary's Baby> by Ira Levin. 6th, 16. *
9. <An Operational Necessity> by Gwyn Griffin. 10th, 3.
10. <A Second-Hand Life> by Charles Jackson. 9th, 3.

The asterisked books are those Worldcat claims the Seattle Public
Library owns, and as an added bonus, SPL actually still owns all
five. Its copy of <The Arrangement> is on a closed shelf, though, so
only accessible to someone who thinks of looking for it. In contrast,
its several copies of <The Chosen> are all in use, possibly because
SPL has decided that this is a YA book. Some copies of <Rosemary's
Baby> are also in use. Anyway, I think 5/10 is clearly better than
6/16, but see also below.

Some notes on the list: It does nothing for this list's credibility
that the only change from the previous week is some musical chairs.
Was publishing this episodic in the 1960s, new books coming out only
one week per month, so this would look believable?

The people whose decisions affected the list seem to have liked books
about Jews (2, 3, 6) and about the Third Reich (3, 6, 9, but not,
despite its remit, 5).

It is unusual for the decades I think of as "mid-century": it has a
speculative novel on it. It's also usual for those decades: several
of the plots clearly aimed to be just sexy enough to sell, but not
enough so to get censored, a moving target back then.

OK, so am I really able to read only half my list? No. SPL may only
have that many, but SPL is not the extent of my resources. The King
County Library System - the libraries of King County, Washington,
minus Seattle and a couple of hamlets - has *nine* of these ten books,
and the University of Washington, in the form mainly of the library
within which I sit typing this, has eight. KCLS and UW between them
cover the whole set, but there are also copies of several at Seattle
University (5), North Seattle College (4), Seattle Central College (2),
and Seattle Pacific University (5), to name only libraries I've used.

I got all this, of course, from Worldcat. Worldcat also shows that
many of these have been reprinted since the 1960s. Latest reprints:

1 - 1985
2 - 2016 (50th anniversary hardcover)
3 - 2012 (in Britain, where the author lived).
4 - 2014 e-book or 2011 Library of America
5 - 2000
7 - possibly the 1980s in the UK, but Worldcat's relevant records
look dodgy; otherwise 1973 Canada
8 - probably 2019, possibly 2018, certainly no earlier than 2017
9 - 1999 (in Britain, whose citizenship the author held)

Fewer appear to be held at Worldcat in electronic form, but I didn't
investigate how many Amazon, for example, offers.

Much of the plot summary of 8 looked familiar, but my book catalogue
claims I haven't read it. (I'm quite sure I haven't seen the movie.)
I owned that and 4 until 2016, both as mass market paperbacks; I got
4 and also a copy of 2 as stripcovers circa 1980 when I took out a
bookstore's trash, for what that's worth, but can't date the
paperback of 8 anywhere near so well. I've read other books by the
author of 4, but not 4; ditto 5; the authors of 3, 6, 9 and 10 were
unknown to me; everyone else was in between.

Half these individual *titles* have English Wikipedia entries (1, 2,
4, 5, 8); all the authors do. Most aren't their authors' most famous
books (the exceptions are 2, 3, and 8); more are by authors past
their prime than by new ones (same list, plus 5). The <Kirkus>
reviewer of 7 commented "The publishers are featuring this as
Wallace's longest book. It certainly is." (7 and 8 are the two the
UW doesn't own; 7 is the only one no library in Seattle admits to
owning, the only one for which I'd have to go to a suburb. 10 is the
one KCLS doesn't own, the one a suburbanite would have to come into
town for.)

So from where I sit the impending doom of mid-century literature is
very much unproven. I suspect, however, that my situation is as much
an outlier as the OP's (who claims to have no access to inter-library
loan [1]). Without someone in an arguably more typical situation -
most obviously someone in the suburbs of a less bookish city, with
less of a research library, but with access to ILL - pitching in, we
can't get very far on this. But cross-checking may help.

So how many of my list are at the Kitchener Public Library?

2, 4, 5, 8. 40%, near enough the 37.5% of the OP's list. The eight
years between us don't seem to make a difference to the KPL.

And to how many of his list do I have access, and where?

SPL - 1, 2 (e-book only), 3, 4, 5 (print only), 6 (print only), 8,
10 (print only), 15 (print only). 9/16, slightly *better* than
my 5/10, but more are in closed shelves.
UW (print by default) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (in storage), 7 (and yes, in
the Latin), 8, 10, 11, 12, 14 (in storage), 15, 16. 14/16, again
slightly better than my 8/10, but again more in storage.
KCLS - 1, 2 (print only), 3 (e-book and audio only), 4, 5 (print only),
6 (print only), 7 (print only), 8 (e-book only), 11 (print
only). 9/16, *far* worse than my 9/10.
NSC (print by default) - 2, 4 (also audio)
SPU (print by default) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7.
SCC (print by default) - 1, 3, 4
SU (print by default) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 13, 15, 16.

This leaves 9 (<Pomp and Circumstance> by Noel Coward) un-found; it
looks like I'd need to go to a university in Tacoma for it, Note
the role reversal in the religious Seattle schools: the Catholic
one has Taylor Caldwell's <The Listener>, while the evangelical
Protestant one has <Winnie Ille Pu>.

So this cross-check does make something of a case for entropy; KCLS
isn't the only library that did worse, and one of your books did fall
through the cracks.

I wanted to give this post more than Ira Levin for on-topicness,
by running similar analyses on Hugo-nominated novels for 1959 and
1967 (as the nearest thing we have to a spec-fic bestseller list
that far back). But I'm out of time for today.

Joe Bernstein

[1] The OP says he no longer has access to inter-library loan; it's
more complicated than that, but the claim is substantially true. See
<https://www.kpl.org/request>.
In particular I call attention to the page's emphasis on reciprocal
borrowing arrangements; I wasn't sure those existed (let alone had
the same name) north of the US border, but that's what allows me to
borrow from KCLS. For most things I research, these arrangements
don't make much difference to me, but they make a huge difference in
K-dramas where I live, and evidently in English-language fiction old
but in copyright. Without more work than I care to do, I can't sort
out how many of the OP's list, or even of my own, would be accessible
to him via such arrangements. NB, KCLS is *not* the only arrangement
I can take advantage of, just the most convenient; SPL seems to have
deals with most of Western Washington, and some of its partners seem
to have deals with most of the state.
--
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>
James Nicoll
2019-07-08 21:19:30 UTC
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Post by Joe Bernstein
[1] The OP says he no longer has access to inter-library loan; it's
more complicated than that, but the claim is substantially true. See
<https://www.kpl.org/request>.
The state of ILL is changing over time. I don't recall exactly when
I wrote the essay but there was a window after Ford killed ILL and
before libraries found a work-around.
--
My reviews can be found at http://jamesdavisnicoll.com/
My tor pieces at https://www.tor.com/author/james-davis-nicoll/
My Dreamwidth at https://james-davis-nicoll.dreamwidth.org/
My patreon is at https://www.patreon.com/jamesdnicoll
James Nicoll
2019-07-09 13:14:18 UTC
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Speaking of how once famous works can become forgotten:

https://twitter.com/Hugo_Book_Club/status/1148275900066099200
--
My reviews can be found at http://jamesdavisnicoll.com/
My tor pieces at https://www.tor.com/author/james-davis-nicoll/
My Dreamwidth at https://james-davis-nicoll.dreamwidth.org/
My patreon is at https://www.patreon.com/jamesdnicoll
Joe Bernstein
2019-07-09 18:04:36 UTC
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Post by James Nicoll
Post by Joe Bernstein
[1] The OP says he no longer has access to inter-library loan; it's
more complicated than that, but the claim is substantially true. See
<https://www.kpl.org/request>.
The state of ILL is changing over time. I don't recall exactly when
I wrote the essay but there was a window after Ford killed ILL and
before libraries found a work-around.
Um, don't sell yourself short. As I read the page, your options for
obscure academic books are now pretty much limited to U of Toronto [1]
- no McGill or UBC for you. This is the main reason why, despite the
continued availability of something *called* inter-library loan, I
think your claim that you don't have access to ILL is "substantially
true" even now. What does the "work-around" actually do for anyone
who already has a U of T borrower's card?

Something similar *may* apply re rare spec-fic works, but I won't
pretend to know anything about library sources in Canada for those.

[1] Yeah, yeah, I've actually worked online with someone at the
University of Waterloo, and etc., but still.

-- JLB
James Nicoll
2019-07-09 18:45:26 UTC
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Post by Joe Bernstein
Post by James Nicoll
Post by Joe Bernstein
[1] The OP says he no longer has access to inter-library loan; it's
more complicated than that, but the claim is substantially true. See
<https://www.kpl.org/request>.
The state of ILL is changing over time. I don't recall exactly when
I wrote the essay but there was a window after Ford killed ILL and
before libraries found a work-around.
Um, don't sell yourself short. As I read the page, your options for
obscure academic books are now pretty much limited to U of Toronto [1]
- no McGill or UBC for you.
I may have been unclear. I have access to two systems, academic and
public.

Academic: I have a library card at the University of Waterloo, which give
me borrowing priviledges at Wilfrid Laurier and U Guelph. To use it, I need
to go to UW, WLYU or UG libraries in person.

Public: I have cards with both the Waterloo Public Library and Kitchener
Public Library (which are different organizations thanks to long standing
rivalries between Kitchener and our lesser neighbour to the north). In the
past, I could request books from any public library in Ontario and in most
cases, ILL could eventually deliver them to me.

Doug Ford defunded the means by which ILL between public libraries was
carried out. It took a while for public libraries to arrange a replacement.
--
My reviews can be found at http://jamesdavisnicoll.com/
My tor pieces at https://www.tor.com/author/james-davis-nicoll/
My Dreamwidth at https://james-davis-nicoll.dreamwidth.org/
My patreon is at https://www.patreon.com/jamesdnicoll
Quadibloc
2019-07-09 18:29:10 UTC
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Post by James Nicoll
The state of ILL is changing over time. I don't recall exactly when
I wrote the essay but there was a window after Ford killed ILL and
before libraries found a work-around.
I knew Gerald Ford refused to bail out New York, but I didn't realize he did
anything bad to Illinois.

Oh, this is Ontario Premier *Doug* Ford, and he deprived Ontario public
libraries of the ability to offer inter-library loans! However, it took whole
milliseconds to process this.

John Savard
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