Friday, October 10, 2008

What Role Do Libraries Play in the Digital Age?

Many have asked what the role of the library will be in the new digital age? For some it’s about funding, for others information access and other preservation. The relationship between private enterprise and public funding is ever changing and this introduces further new challenges in this digital age.

Richard K Johnson has written a paper ‘Free Our Libraries’ which was commissioned by the Boston Library Consortium with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for last month’s Universal Access Digital Library Summit in Boston. The paper raises the thorny issues of ownership, investment and the current land of the public domain works by the omnivores who are scanning for ownership.

Public domain is that public domain and we must think hard before we open the vaults and let the scanners in on their terms. Some would argue its too late the doors are wide open, the treasures taken and the libraries stand like giant warehouses full of books and cost whilst the traffic moves onto the virtual world.

The other issue not touch in this excellent paper is that of the ‘grey area that sits between public domain and in print. Who decides what book sits where, what can go and what is still in copyright?

The final issue is defining the role of the library in terms of its digital marketplace and relationship with commercial retail. If a library can give free access to digital content why would you buy it elsewhere? In the physical world you had to go there, the book you wanted could be out or unavailable and you had to take it back. Today you just need to register, log on and download. Perhaps we could stagger the release dates such that libraries only can issue new titles after 6 months but that hardly addresses the issue which isn’t going away.

We may not agree with all its thinking and conclusions but it is a paper we recommend you to read.

1 comment:

Alain Pierrot said...

A very actual issue when one considers Google's agreement with the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon and the tender from the British Library for digitizing its periodicals.