Cory Doctorow has written a love song to libraries everywhere in his latest YA novel, Pirate Cinema. No, his book isn’t about a group of super-smart hacker librarians who save the world through information literacy and the biblical codes hidden in the Dewey Decimal System, although that would make for some captivating reading. (Get cracking on that one, Doctorow...) Pirate Cinema is about the consequences of denying people free and equal access to information, the prime directive of libraries. Trent McCauley is a teen filmmaker who remixes other people’s films to create his own movies. Trent is an artist, but in a country that forbids downloading, he is a criminal. When he is caught for the third time, his network access is suspended for a year. This has disastrous results for his family. His father relies on the computer for his job. His mother cannot sign up for her weekly disability benefits. His sister cannot do her homework without the Internet. As the source of his family’s ruin, Trent flees to London to start anew and joins the movement for free speech and content creation. He becomes a leader in the movement that resists the efforts of wealthy media corporations to silence them. In a dramatic speech, Trent says, “The greatest library of human knowledge and creativity ever seen, ever dreamed of, and all these fools can moan about how they can’t figure out how to stay rich if kids go around downloading rubbish pop music without paying for it. They think that the Internet’s power to make sharing easy is a bug... but I know that sharing is a feature, not a bug. It’s brilliant, it’s wonderful ... how many lives will we destroy before we take up and realize what we’ve got is worth saving – worth celebrating” (336-337). In Trent’s world, which certainly mirrors our own, the Internet is treated like a fringe, an added entertainment device like cable television or central air conditioning, when it is a necessity. As Cory Doctorow pointed out at his recent book tour stop at Evanston Public Library, these laws are not fictional but have been used to punish people like Trent. But people cannot function in today's world without access to the Internet.
And here’s where Doctorow rallies his troops for libraries. Throughout the novel, he points out that libraries, which were once a save haven for those on the ‘digital divide,’ are no longer available to them. Trent’s brilliant sister, Cora, risks failing her classes since “our nearest library closed at 5:30 and was only open four days a week thanks to the latest round of budget cuts” (18). But it is not only the Wi-Fi connection that Doctorow values, as Cora points out, “There’s always some gobshite at the council meetings saying, ‘what do we need libraries for if everyone’s got the Internet?’ I keep wanting to shake them by the hair and shout something like, ‘Everyone except me! And what about all the stuff librarians have to teach us about using the net?’ “ (201). Libraries not only offer access to information, but provide expert staff to teach people how to use it safely and effectively. Librarians make a difference in people’s lives by providing them with the tools to navigate the world. For this reason, no matter the technology or interface, librarians will always remain, as Sarah McIntyre artfully pointed out, a powerful search engine with a heart. Because librarians care about people and the stories they have to tell - and will fight relentlessly to make sure these stories are heard. And As Trent says, “Once you put it into the world, it’s the world’s – it’s part of the stories we tell each other to make sense of life” (118).