Who Knows What a Digital Library Will Be – NOBODY!


Recent developments in the world of digital libraries have made it evident that nobody knows what a 21st Century digital library will be – NOBODY!! According to Library Journal, June 21 Post:

The state librarian of Kansas, with the backing of state attorney general’s office, is planning to terminate the Kansas Digital Library Consortium’s contract with ebook vendor OverDrive and is asserting the bold argument that the consortium has purchased, not licensed, its ebook content from OverDrive and, therefore, has the right to transfer the content to a new service provider.

Jo Budler, the state librarian, said she is in negotiations with other platform providers, and that the state consortium will become a beta tester of 3M’s new Cloud Library eBook lending service, which will debut this week at the American Library Association’s annual conference in New Orleans. (3M announced today several other beta testers as well.).

Budler is asserting ownership of all the consortium’s content on OverDrive’s platform, which represents a $568,000 investment from December 2005 to June 2010, with one exception: the MaxAccess subscription it has with OverDrive for audiobooks. Budler refused to sign a renewal contract with OverDrive not only because it would have raised fees nearly 700 percent by 2014 but also would have rewritten the clause upon which Budler is basing her right to transfer content.

If that doesn’t spell court battle, I don’t know what would. So, ownership rights of digital materials is anybody’s game at this point. The court decision on digital ownership will have as much impact on the future of digital libraries as the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of Wal-Mart will have on the workplace.

My June 21 Post regarding the unlikelyhood of a national digital library in this digital native gneration’s lifetime elaborates on the embryonic debate over what a digital library will be.

As the models for digital libraries develop, even the advice of consultants and prolific authors like Joe Matthews, will need to be constantly revised and updated as the environment changes. In his new book The Digital Library Survival Guide, he gives some excellent advice.

• The future is digital and libraries must prepare for it.
• Digitizing unique materials in a library’s collection will improve access to that material.
• …
• Add value to digital content by encouraging crowdsourcing. [Blogger’s Note: User input of tags, comments, corrections, etc. as the National Library of Australia Digital Collection has done.]
A library’s budget is increasingly being constrained as licensing (renting) access to eResources (rather than ownership) assumes a more prominent position in the budget.
• Cooperative efforts with other libraries and other organizations will become an important strategy for a library.
• Digital resources – particularly cloud-based services – require new, standards-based tools and services for description, access, use and preservation.

While all of this is excellent advice for local libraries to get started, it appears that the “rent vs. own” issue is still up for grabs. I was all in favor of the shift From Ownership to Access, but maybe I was premature. Or, not everybody is as ready to transition.

Developments in search engines, searching algorithms, users’ preferences and other aspects of Internet and digital resources use are constantly evolving. Technology is a moving target that will not be nailed down. Nobody knows what a 21st Century National Digital Library will be – if and when it becomes reality.

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