Sunday, February 14, 2010

Digital LibraryWorld Part 2: The Public Library Landscape

What is the current landscape of the digital LibraryWorld and it challenges and opportunities?

Today it is possible to sit anywhere in the world, log onto your public library, authenticate yourself and borrow a digital download of an ebook. The download is protected from being copied and printed and once the lending period has expired so does access to the copy of the book. No need to ever go near the physical library. Some libraries are even considering lending you the reading device too! The reading experience is free and there are no second-hand bookstores with used books with those library stamps inside!

Why wouldn’t public libraries embrace such a model?
Why wouldn’t readers embrace such a model?

The digital shelf is no longer restricted and can be virtual and may be national or even global. The library may not even have to buy the stock but merely pay for it on demand. Inter library loans can become virtual with no waiting for the transfer to happen. The library can be open 24x7 with every digital book ever produced on its digital shelf and available.

Why wouldn’t public libraries embrace such a model?
Why wouldn’t readers embrace such a model?

The current prime Library real estate could be released and resources reduced. Why wouldn’t any governing body in today’s economic climate embrace such an opportunity?
What we have described is not a vision of the future it is here in many different examples today. The New York Library is just one of many thousands who operate a virtual library based on a valid library card. Across Europe many are following the model driven by local digital service providers and content. We have ourselves supported the operation of leading players such as in Denmark, which today is widely used across the country by libraries. We have seen the rise of library digital suppliers such as Overdrive who have a very strong growing digital library service in the US and now are bidding to capture the UK. The US giant,OCLC library service, who own the digital division NetLibrary, claim in their January OCLC Newsletter to support 1,212,383 libraries world wide, handle 166,041,975,140 transactions a year, or 5265 transactions per second and are therefore clearly in a position to help many go digital. We then have the Google Book Settlement and although currently confined to the US libraries they clearly would like to extend it.

Why wouldn’t public libraries want to embrace digital and adopt proven models?
Would readers care whose model was adopted?

We then have libraries around the world with either joint initiatives to share their collections of rare books, maps, films, manuscripts and recordings online for free. These may not compete with the High Street and retail models but can provide an added value layer. Initiatives such as the World Digital Library will function in 7 languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish and including content in additional languages. Its objectives are to promote international understanding, to expand non-English and non-western content online, as well as to contribute to research and education. The EU is developing its Europeana, an online archive of European culture from more than 1,000 European national libraries, museums and institutions content. Its launch attracted 10m hits an hour and this even temporarily overwhelmed the service. The British Library has announced that it is to make 65,000 19thcentury works of fiction available for free downloads by the public in 2010 and allow readers to order print on demand copies via

Why wouldn’t readers embrace free digital archives from national libraries?

The thorny issue of commerce is now central. Do borrowers get digital free or pay to rent? Do digital rentals relax the restrictions on the physical model? Do we enter the world of library buying consortia and are collections bought, rented or paid for on demand? Do libraries have the funding to go digital and is it supplemental or substitution to the physical? How can bookstores compete with a ‘free’ model offered by public funding from public libraries who still own prime locations? We thought the charity shops were offered an unfair commercial advantage but some would argue that even they could be at a disadvantage in the digital LibraryWorld.

Having defined the public library and now looked at the landscape we will next look at the digital publishing and supply opportunities.

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