Disruption in Publishing

Last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education Review had an opinion piece by Kate Wittenberg, director of EPIC (Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia) with the title “Beyond Google: What Next for Publishing?” (subscription required). An excerpt from the beginning:

While we have been busy attending conferences, workshops, and seminars on every possible aspect of scholarly communication, information technology, digital libraries, and e-publishing, students have been quietly revolutionizing the discovery and use of information. Their behavior, undertaken without consultation or attendance at formal academic events, urgently forces those of us in scholarly publishing to confront some fundamental questions about our organizations, jobs, and assumptions about our work.

Librarians as Gatekeepers

The plenary session of JCDL this morning was Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard Law School and University of Oxford) entitled “Open Information: Redaction, Restriction, and Removal.” This was so good that I couldn’t stand to stop and take notes. I did write down one bit: “Libraries are the best hope…for the controlled release of information.” His point was that the library profession is a trusted gatekeeper — librarians have a track record of providing orderly access to shared information resources and taking seriously the responsibility to provide access to those resources under the terms with which they were acquired. (Although there was a great deal of humming in the room at one key point of the presentation — those that were there know what I mean.) Can publishers entrust content to us such that the library controls the DRM that protects the content? Would publishers be willing to give the library the content in an unrestricted form with the promise, in the form of a legal agreement, that the library will apply the appropriate DRM at the appropriate time? Could that be a new role for libraries in this new DRM-happy society?