The Role of the Library in the Future of Reading

A popular topic coming across my radar screen is the future of reading, and more specifically the role of libraries in the future of reading. Much of commentary seems to have been inspired by the announcement of the Apple iPad device, but it isn’t necessarily limited to that. Here are three exemplars, in no particular order, followed by some of my own comments.

Joshua Kim, senior learning technologist and an adjunct in sociology at Dartmouth College, posted a commentary called Popular Nonfiction, Academic Libraries, and Audiobooks at Inside Higher Ed. Joshua does an interesting comparison of the availability of “popular nonfiction” in paper and audio book format. He took his list of 197 audiobooks from Audible and cross-referenced them with availability of paper copies in his academic library. To his delight, he found that the library had paper copies of nearly three-quarters of them. It was his second question, though, that got me thinking: “Should academic libraries supply borrowers with the book format that matches their preferences and learning styles (paper, e-paper, or audio)?”

On How Physical and Electronic Differ for Library Materials

I’m reading the notes from the Atlanta OLE Project regional workshop and right up at the top are these two statements that struck me as insightful. The first gets to the heart of how physical items in a library are different from digital items with respect to library service commitments:

With print items, we’re trying to give people access; with electronic trying to keep them out.

This stems, undoubtedly, from the first sale doctrine in copyright law; the library has purchased the item and chooses to lend it to others for a period of time. With electronic items, though, we typically agree to licenses, which — as contract law — trumps the rights given by copyright; those license are more restrictive in what we can and cannot do with the digital versions.

ALA Annual Goes Social

The American Library Association annual conference is getting more social each year, and as a long-time member of ALA and often a critic of the, well, un-togetherness of ALA’s electronic capabilities, it is nice to see the trend continuing this year. Take, for instance, the Blogger’s Room. Initially just a LITA thing, it is now being promoted as an association-wide service. As I write this, that page has about two dozen entries for individual and group blogs that say they will be covering conference events.

Riding the Waves of Content and Change

Waves of change are crashing on the shores of the library profession. New media, new tools, new techniques, and new expectations collide to cause excitement, anxiety, confusion, and concern. It may be difficult to determine where we are and where we are going. At our present crossroads, it is useful to view the pressures and effects of change on our services as a matrix of commercial versus local on one axis and physical versus digital on the other. Interesting observations about the nature of content and our reaction to it can be made at the intersections of commercial and local with physical and digital. This essay uses these intersections to examine the waves of content coming to the library and our ways of managing it.

A Note to ILS Vendors: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

In the course of putting together the JISC/SCONUL Library Management Systems Study, the authors interviewed the four major vendors of integrated library systems in higher education in the U.K.: Ex Libris, Innovative Interfaces, SirsiDynix and Talis. Among the “who are you” and “what do you do” questions were two that get to the heart of what many of us are clamoring for from our vendors:

  • How do your products interoperate with products those from other LMS/ERM vendors?
  • Do you have partnerships with other LMS/ERM vendors?

Since three of the four are also leading vendors in North America (and I’m betting the fourth would like to be one as well), I think it is instructive to look at how these four vendors answer these two questions.1

A “Vision for Development” — Excerpt from the JISC/SCONUL Study

As our profession re-examines itself and the services we provide to users, we seem to spend a great deal of time concerned about the way our “web front door” looks and operates. That is, we expect web users to come through the front page of our website and so we agonize over the features as well as the look-and-feel of our portal of information. A section of the JISC & SCONUL Library Management Systems Study1 released last month suggests a different path for our information environment: one where the content is not bound to the confines of our web portals. This is the first in a series of posts over the next few days and/or weeks that explore this and other observations and commentary found in the JISC/SCONUL report.

Selling Placement in Library Search Results

This morning’s Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus blog has a story with the title “Should Colleges Sell Ads to Pay for New Technology?” that links to a blog posting by Martin Weller of the Open University in the U.K. As it happens, a colleague and I were talking about a strikingly similar topic at lunch yesterday: not just that advertisements could pay for new technology but that ads could pay for content in the libraries. I felt strangely uncomfortable with the concept, and I still do, so (in jester fashion) what better way to explore the discomfort than in a posting here on DLTJ.

“We are scanning them to be read by an AI.”

Towards the end of the last chapter of his book, Nicholas Carr relates an anecdote about the visit of a guest speaker to the Google headquarters (emphasis added):

George Dyson, a historian of technology…, Freeman Dyson, was invited to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, in October 2005 to give a speech at the party celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of von Neumann’s invention [of an electronic computer that could store in its memory the instructions for its use]. “Despite the whimsical furniture and other toys, “Dyson would later recall of his visit, “I felt I was entering a 14th-century cathedral — not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built. Everyone was busy carving one stone here and another stone there, with some invisible architect getting everything to fit. The mood was playful, yet there was a palpable reverence in the air.” After his talk, Dyson found himself chatting with a Google engineer about the company’s controversial plan to scan the contents of the world’s libraries into its database. “We are not scanning all of those books to be read by people,” the engineer told him. “We are scanning them to be read by an [artificial intelligence engine].”

Passion Quilt Meme: Take Time to Wonder

Image of a girl closely examining a caterpillar crawling on a white gate.  Image has the caption 'Take time to Wonder'

I found this meme via Karen Schneider’s entry. Although I wasn’t explicitly tagged, I thought it was interesting enough to add an entry to the meme’s Flikr pool.

With all due respect to Karen — and I agree that a love of reading is important — but it is a sense of wonder that encourages a love of reading and all sorts of other critical character traits. This is a picture of my daughter when she was about three years old. She is on the back deck of our Connecticut house watching a caterpillar crawl up our gate. She loves to read (and now three years later is reading scores of books on horses and dolphins from the elementary school library), and as her father I hope the same sense of curiosity will sustain her love for reading, arts, sciences, and life.