“Over the past decade, Silicon Valley’s tech behemoths have discreetly and methodically tightened their grip on American schools, and the pandemic has given them license to squeeze even tighter. By 2017, tens of millions of students were already using Google Chromebooks and apps for reading, writing, and turning in their work. Google Classroom now has more than 100 million users worldwide—nearly seven times the number reported in The New York Times three years ago. When we emerge from the pandemic, schools will be even more reliant on such systems. Industry is bolting an adamantine layer of technology onto the world’s classrooms, in what amounts to a stealth form of privatization….
But in practice, this convenience comes at a staggering cost. Billion-dollar companies like Follett and EBSCO are renting e-books to schools each year, rather than selling them permanent copies. By locking school districts into contracts that turn them into captive consumers, corporate tech providers are draining public education budgets that don’t have a penny to spare….
So why not shop around for a better deal? She can’t. Just as you can’t use iPhone apps on your Android phone, a school district’s choice of software providers locks administrators into a tangled web of agreements, training, and financial and organizational investments that publishers exploit to their advantage. California requires providers to sign a privacy agreement promising not to sell student data, further limiting options, Woodcock said, because not all providers are willing to sign….
Woodcock proposes what is surely a fair deal: Schools should be able to purchase e-books outright, rather than having to rent them. “I buy it, I own it. It doesn’t go away.”
Another obvious way to relieve the pressure on schools would be to expand the use of free public resources like the Internet Archive’s Open Library, which lends e-books on traditional library terms (you can’t download books from the Open Library; you can only borrow and read them). Early in the pandemic, the Open Library made waves by creating a temporary resource, the National Emergency Library, dropping restrictions on the number of people who could access a given title simultaneously. With bookstores, libraries, and schools closed all over the world, Internet Archive staff reasoned, students needed emergency access to books.
The suit seeks to destroy the Open Library altogether. But what publishers truly want is the end of ownership. If they win, books will someday become like movies on Netflix—something that schools, and all of us, will have to keep paying for forever….”