[Web4lib] Shouldn't Libraries be Technology Hubs, instead?

Michael Schofield mschofield at neflin.org
Thu Oct 28 13:56:51 EDT 2010

After reading the Kindle Lending thread.

I wonder what draw there is in assuming [nostalgically] that libraries are 
about books. I've been willing to shred that idea when I started digitally 
archiving civil war stuff for my college library, and especially now that 
I've "grinded" through workshops and core graduate-level courses about 
collection development. I just can't hop on the bandwagon.

There is an excellent, if deeply buried, article in the latest WIRED 
magazine--which ironically wrote on its very profitable website, last month, 
that the internet was dead--about notions of ownership in a market favorable 
for "rentership." Of course, libraries have been all about renting/lending 
books, but that is only because libraries had the resources to acquire 
massive collections and distribute them for membership fees and tax dollars. 
Now that everyone increasingly has the resources to acquire massive 
collections, it seems obvious that libraries should--well--stop being about 
Collecting. Books shmooks.

Now, libraries *do* have the resources and--as members of local 
governments--the responsibility to dole out digital access, which others 
haven't. Denver just opened a Community Technology Center, You know, just 


Michael at BCPL

-----Original Message-----
From: Tim Spalding <tim at librarything.com>
To: Robert Balliot <rballiot at gmail.com>
Cc: web4lib at webjunction.org
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 2010 11:20:23 -0400
Subject: Re: [Web4lib] Kindle Lending

I at least mentioned the longevity argument only as a publisher or
bookseller understands it--for the medium-term. People who sell books
to libraries know that books don't last forever. They get damaged over
time and have to be thrown out. Ebooks don't have that disadvantage.

I think the nut of my disagreement with Mr. Balliot is actually not
about principles, but about degree. More, as is sometimes said, is
different. When it comes to network goods with network effects, "more"
can become dominant or an effectively monopoly. And monopoly, while on
one level just "more," is in reality a very different beast. When that
intrudes upon key aspects of libraries' mission, there is cause for

That is, if:

* ebook stop at 25% or whatever
* everything is available in both formats
* libraries continue to collect everything in both formats, rather
than paper becoming a secondary format, like "large print"
* bookstores stay healthy
* publishes continue to exist, with Amazon and so forth just middlemen
* there continue (?) to be many viable platforms
* libraries can participate in the ebook revolution

then everything will be fine. But I see ebooks rising far above 25%,
and reversing every other bullet above. In world where ebooks are
dominant, publishers and booksellers, disappear and ebooks are
virtually a one-company monopoly, things change.

But perhaps I need to convince people that this future is plausible or
likely--I'll get to work on a blog post!


On Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 11:04 AM, Robert Balliot <rballiot at gmail.com> wrote:
> Acid free paper and ink books certainly have great *potential* longevity 
> the right environment. A digital representation of a scanned book may be a
> copy. But now most books start out as bits. Even most of the
> graphics.  Paper and ink representations of books become derivatives of 
> original digital files. They are the copies.
> So, are paper and ink copies superior to the original?  That seems to be
> more of an environmental and functionality question.  Is there 
> Are there devices that allow digital books to be read?  Is there high
> humidity, bugs, or single copies and a risk of fire or flood?  Is there a
> risk of electromagnetic pulse?  Is the sun particularly active?  Is there
> room for a collection?
> R. Balliot
> http://oceanstatelibrarian.com
> On Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 10:31 AM, Laura Krier <laura.krier at gmail.com> 
>> Thinking through how making digital copies of our own books might
>> legally fall under copyright: Tim mentions that digital copies are
>> superior to the original in that they don't get old, can be used
>> anywhere, etc. I actually am not sure it's that straightforward.
>> Digital copies DO get old, and in fact, in terms of preservation, are
>> generally understood to be inferior to print books. A great deal of
>> attention has to be paid on a day-to-day basis to all those digital
>> copies to ensure the formats stay usable, the bits and bytes don't
>> degrade, and medium on which their stored stays relevant and
>> accessible. They aren't the same, as in exact copies, but I wouldn't
>> say they're superior.
>> We can create digital copies that mimic print copies in how they are
>> used in library contexts: They can only be used by one person at a
>> time, they are loaned for particular periods and should be returned or
>> renewed, etc. I think there are a lot of people (to be honest, myself
>> included) who thinks that's a bummer option, and that it would be nice
>> to take advantage of the benefits of digital, but from a legal
>> standpoint, I think we'd have a better chance if we made files that
>> mimic our current lending models.
>> I guess my main point, though, is that we really should be talking
>> about how we can make the growth of ereaders work for us, instead of
>> bemoaning that we've been left out of the distribution channels, or
>> that current ebooks services are problematic, or trying to shoehorn
>> existing ebook services into our service models.
>> Just my $0.02.
>> Laura
>> On Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 12:48 AM, Tim Spalding <tim at librarything.com>
>> wrote:
>> >
>> > Frankly, I don't think it will hold up. Copyright is quite literally
>> > the right to make copies. Making copies that are superior to the
>> > original--ie., don't get old, can be used anywhere, etc.--is going to
>> > fail the standard legal tests. If Congress wanted to allow libraries
>> > to lend physical books out by making them digital, they would have to
>> > write a law for it.
>> >
>> >
>> --
>> Laura Krier
>> http://www.lauraek.net
>> http://kitchenilliterate.wordpress.com
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