Demise of the Local Library? – Probably!

You be the judge. But probably so, according to a New York Times article published January 8, 2011, Playing Catch-Up in a Digital Library Race by Natasha Singer.

Singer sets the stage for the national digital library topic by citing several examples of existing ones.

the National Library of Norway has been a global early adopter. In 2005, it announced a goal of digitizing its entire collection; by now it has scanned some 170,000 books, 250,000 newspapers, 610,000 hours of radio broadcasts, 200,000 hours of TV and 500,000 photographs. And, last year, the National Library of the Netherlands said it planned to scan all Dutch books, newspapers and periodicals from 1470 onward.
The libraries of the nearly 50 member states in the Council of Europe, meanwhile, have banded together in a single search engine, And the European Commission has sponsored Europeana, a portal for digital copies of art, music film and books held by the cultural institutions of member countries. It currently contains scans of about 15 million artifacts.

OK, that’s Europe, you say. Well, right here in our own back yard, or maybe front yard, we have …….

Last month, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard said it would coordinate a planning program for public and private groups interested in creating a “digital public library of America.”

The idea, says Robert Darnton, the director of the Harvard University Library and one of the project’s originators, is to link the electronic resources of participating university libraries and cultural institutions like the Library of Congress and make them accessible through a single portal. The hope is to create “a gigantic digital library that would make the cultural heritage of the country available to everyone,” he says.

The project would also widen the audience for the kind of historical out-of-print books, manuscripts, letters, images, films and audio clips that have typically been the province of scholars.

[Emphasis added.]

“No way!” you exclaim. There is no way a single common database could accommodate all that material.

The idea for an American digital public library was prompted in part by the work of Google. In 2004, the company started a digitization project, Google Books, that has since scanned more than 15 million books. Many of these are out-of-print books lent by institutions like Harvard, Cornell and the University of Michigan. “Google came along and woke everyone up and showed the world what could be done in a short period of time,” says Maura Marx, a fellow at the Berkman Center.

[Emphasis added.]

Is there anyone reading this Post that does NOT believe that Google is MAJOR competition for libraries? If not directly through their products, then Google’s efforts are indirectly making local libraries irrelevant with their Internet-based materials. 15 Million books scanned in six years. Does anyone imagine that they are scanning obscure, self-published novelettes? NOT HARDLY!

People can read out-of-print items at no cost on Google Books, if those works are no longer subject to copyright protection. But if a judge approves a settlement between Google and copyright holders, subscription fees to access scans of out-of-print books still covered by copyright will have to be paid by universities and other institutions.
A SPOKESWOMAN for Google says the company would be happy to participate in the proposed American project.

[Emphasis added.]

SERIOUSLY? Google will be happy to participate in the project? Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to be a part of the greatest cultural evolution in digitally recorded history! Especially when it includes everything ever recorded.

“What’s sort of missing is digitization of the accessible literature,” like the popular novels and biographies readers seek at brick-and-mortar public libraries, she says. A few institutions, like the National Library of Norway, are already venturing into this area, via novel arrangements with copyright holders.

“It would be nice to conceive of something bigger that has more to do with the public good than with the academic side of the equation,” Ms. Cousins [the executive director of Europeana] says.

Again, you can say you read it here first. Google is going to make local libraries obsolete! It’s a dog-eat-dog global digital world, and only the biggest and strongest libraries will survive. What can small, rural local libraries do to survive?

OH WAIT! I KNOW! We’ll let ALA find a solution for all of us. ROTFLMA

1 Comment

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One response to “Demise of the Local Library? – Probably!

  1. Just sub’d through RSS. Some good reads here.

    “Is there anyone reading this Post that does NOT believe that Google is MAJOR competition for libraries? ”
    -that’s a great and personal favorite of a big and serious question.

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