Thursday, March 31, 2011

ebrary thinking about downloadable e-books

Libraries have been providing access to e-books for more than a decade now, but until the advent of the Kindle the model has largely been browser or at least online, web accessible e-books. You had to be tethered to the network to use the book.

The mental model users had of e-books changed in 2007 with Amazon's release of the Kindle. Now with multiple readers available readers are demanding not only online access but also the ability to download titles to their reader (or other mobile device) of choice.

Vendors for the academic market like EBSCO and ebrary are responding, if a little later than trade publishers and services like Overdrive for public libraries. So ebrary wanted to know form librarians what users were asking for in terms of downloadable ebooks.

We suggested being able to download to a wide variety of devices, making sure search, navigation, and annotation etc. features were all available and avoiding the 'check out' model, which just annoys digital users. Instead think about non-linear limits upon use (like EBL's 325 uses) whether they happen simultaneously or over time.

We should see some early versions this summer. there are lots of technical and intellectual property issues to deal with.

ACRL 2011 Conference

I am in Philly for the Association of College and Research Libraries 2011 National Conference and will be blogging various interesting stuff. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What happens next to Google Book Search?

Mary Ellen Davis just reminded me that ACRL has a flowchart (developed by Jonathan Band) of possible outcomes in the Google Book Search Settlement issues. Here is an updated version. Although it looks complicated, it is actually a simplified version of the options available to actors in this drama. It leaves out Congressional action, and continuing developments in the commercial space.
So you need to imagine a multi-dimensional dynamic -- albeit very slow moving -- version.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A response to Will We Endure?

This is my response to Bob Moore's recent post on his blog Culture World 21C.

Bob's piece grew out of a discussion of the nuclear crisis in Japan, its impact on the industry in the US and specifically the storage of nuclear waste and how to ensure that society retained and communicated the information about such storage over the very long term -- 10,000 years.

For an optimist like Bob this is easy because of, "widespread literacy, replicated texts, both electronic and in duplicable hard copies, and an international political/economic system that has apparently eliminated the kinds of catastrophic wars that in the past routinely toppled civilizations (e.g., Sumeria, Rome, Ming China). It is, after all, wars like these that resulted in the trashing of the information of the deposed civilizations making them largely lost to future generations. (I did not get to make all of these points last night, but they are still very, very valid.)"

Let's set aside for a moment the idea that, "catastrophic wars ... routinely toppled civilization" and instead address the issue of widespread literacy and replicated texts.

Obviously, as a librarian this is what I am most concerned with. We have developed robust systems for the preservation and replication of texts over the last 500 hundred years since the invention of printing in Europe. In some part as a result of printing, but also with the Protestant Reformation, and later the Industrial Revolution, we have also developed widespread literacy. I am confident that, as we continue to migrate texts and communication to the digital environment, we will continue to develop robust systems for the preservation and replication of texts and literacy will become even more widespread. But even within this single era -- let's call it the Gutenberg Era -- we have irretrievably lost significant bodies of work. The one that come to mind most readily is early film. I understand that we no longer have copies of about 50% of the films produced before 1930. That is just eighty years ago, in a medium we still use, during a period of unprecedented economic growth, in a society which makes a fetish of preservation. So I am not optimistic that all texts (and information) that future generations regard as important will be available to them.

10,000 years include twenty 500 year periods (and 125 eighty year periods.) It is also twice as long as the whole of human history since the invention of writing, so I am very dubious that we can preserve anyting for that long. In the meantime, let's look for some lessons over longer time periods than 500 years, but shorter than 5,000.

Again, taking the European experience, if we go back to the manuscript era before printing we again see systems of text production, replication, and preservation (and far less widespread literacy.) If these systems seem less robust from our perspective we should remind ourselves that they were developed and maintained over a thousand year period from the end of the Roman Empire in the west in the 5th and 6th centuries to the development of printing in the 15th century, which is pretty damn robust. Many manuscripts survived into the first two centuries of the Gutenberg era, but in the 16th and 17th century we also saw a wholesale deaccessing of manuscript volumes from European libraries and archives in which a lot of information was lost.

The same situation happened during the transition from scroll to codex in the 2-4th centuries of the common era and this transition, which more or less coincided with the decline of the Roman Empire in the west, was a more significant transition for our purposes. This is because it coincided with a a massive economic collapse and reordering of society. An urban, international society with well-developed systems of text replication, a robust and long lived medium (the papyrus scroll), many great libraries (both public and private), and a high degree of literacy (for its time) gave way to an agricultural society, largely illiterate, with small text collections, with a system of values so radically different from the Roman Empire that preceded it that huge numbers of texts were lost, either permanently (Aristotle's second book of Poetics on comedy) or for many hundreds of years ( Menander's plays, admittedly perhaps not as great a loss.) Scrolls, were not preserved (except in garbage dumps or by being lost in dry climates) and the contents of scrolls were not preserved through copying into codices unless they were seen as valuable by the struggling Christian societies of the west.

Luckily much of great value was preserved and replicated in Byzantium and in the Islamic societies to the east and south of Europe.We may not be so lucky next time, our next collapse may well be global.

This is how our society will collapse, not with a bang, but a whimper. And the first things to go will be highly complex systems contingent upon complex and wealthy economies -- systems like libraries, and the Internet. The survivors in the wreckage, like the citizens of Rome will flee to the safety of strongmen and warlords with little thought to the culture they leave behind.

Which brings us back to Bob's contention that catastrophic wars topple civilizations. I would argue that the collapse of societies leads to, amongst other nasty things, wars; and that those wars, in an era of declining economic activity and societal collapse become catastrophic. Part of that catastrophe can be the destruction or abandonment of the, now unsustainable, rich cultural tradition of the previous era.

So, is there a way for human beings to somehow preserve and communicate the knowledge of the invisible danger of radiation to the pastoralists and hunter gathers who will be wandering near Yucca Mountain (or wherever we decide to put this stuff) in 10,000 years?

One more thing. There are three books I would recommend if you want to think more about these issues.

Matthew Battles. Library: An Unquiet History.
James O'Donnell. Avatars of the Word.
Iain Pears. The Dream of Scipio

Google Books: latest news

Judge Chin just rejected the settlement and Google is now, "considering its options."

I have written about Google Books Search settlement many times on this blog. Most recently, during the 2010 ALA Conference I wrote,

"any definitive decision in the Google Book Search settlement is a long way off and when it does come the outcome will be more limited and lead to less radical change in library service than I had hoped. In the meantime we have to proceed to provide access to those Hathi Trust public domain titles, and pursue digital book access via licensing with individual packages and unify the search experience for users via services like Summon."

In the early news  reports the comments are trending mostly against the settlement, and for Chin's decision. It was the safe one after all. But I am not happy about this. I had hoped this settlement would be a huge leap forward in access to digital books post-1923 as libraries pony-ed up for the "institutional subscription." But it seems we will be sticking digital collections together with spit and baling wire as usual.

Even Chin recognized the huge potential benefits of the settlement for readers. "The benefits of Google's book project are many. Books will become more accessible. Libraries, schools, researchers, and disadvantaged populations will gain access to far more books. Digitization will facilitate the conversion of books to Braille and audio formats, increasing access for individuals with disabilities. Authors and publishers will benefit as well, as new audiences will be generated and new sources of income created. Older books -- particularly out-of-print books, many of which are falling apart buried in library stacks -- will be preserved and given new life."

I can't help but think authors and publishers, and our society at large, have missed a huge opportunity here. However, Judge Chin does (in a classic judicial response to copyright) lay the orphan works issue right back at the feet of Congress. Perhaps this will lead them to finally act on orphan works.