Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Digital LibraryWorld: Please Whisper As You Order Your Skinny Latte

‘The books will be delivered by post. We want to change the mindset that books can only be borrowed at libraries and to provide better knowledge services… The library sector needs to be proactive in studying issues facing the community by creating new ideas to make our libraries world class... Books could be returned by contacting Pos Malaysia or by sending the books to selected post offices.’

No this isn't the latest quote from the UK government's review of libraries, but from the Director-General Raslin Abu Bakar of the National Library of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur talking about their initiative to provide online borrowing from July

So what about the UK review of public libraries?

Margaret Hodge, has delivered the UK government's 'The Modernisation Review of Public Libraries’.

As expected it proposes sweeping changes to UK libraries that go far further than Malaysia and many others.These include; proposing that membership should be not restricted to one library but provide access to all libraries, Starbucks and other franchises should be promoted within libraries, Sunday opening encouraged and free internet access enabled in all UK libraries by 2011. Hodge also intends to merge the existing library bodies into one and providing the capability for the Secretary of State to intervene in closures.

Importantly Library members should have the right to order any book, be it an out-of-print edition or an ebook.The government will impose a statutory ban on libraries charging for ebooks and also extend the public lending right to non-print books. So as expected we will see the head on clash between 'pay to read and own', versus 'free to loan from your armchair'.

Hodge repeats her new spin she used on Newsnight, "With more branches than McDonald's or Boots, and more visits to libraries than shoppers in London's West End, the public library network is a triumph of infrastructure and branding."

However, libraries face the real prospect of cuts and the review proposes more partnership working, and also suggests that libraries will need to depend on more volunteers. How will libraries fund any change and how will success be measured? Will ebooks offer the huge new opportunities sought or merely be starved of cash? Will PLR finance be raised or remain the same? How will authors fair out of these changes?

Ironically, The Times of India also reports today on their National Library of India’s programme to Offer eBooks and Other Electronic Resources. Currently, users have to wait for more than two hours to get a book, but now they will simply do it online. Their entire catalogue of 24 lakh of books would be available in the digital format online and includes rare published in the 17th and 18th centuries and also some 9,141 books published before 1900 in English and Indian languages.

So libraryworld is changing everywhere, membership and shelves are becoming virtual, and library's digital content service is being delivered to the home. The impact on these radical changes on publishing, authors and resellers has still to be understood and debated. However there is now a question of whether industry debate too late and change is already in motion?

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