E-Library Economics

Comment to “E-Library Economics” in Inside Higher Education at:

There are so many topics to discuss in this article, that it is difficult to begin, but I want to focus on the relationship to libraries. First, I would like to point out one quote: “This is largely due to the fact that e-readers have not managed to replicate certain aspects of the traditional book-reader’s user experience: “You can do a lot with a print book: photocopy or scan as many pages as you like, scrawl in the margins, highlight passages, bookmark pages, skip around, read it in the bathtub, give it to someone else, make art out of it, etc.,”

Different groups doubtlessly will respond in different ways. The publisher will say that you have never been able to photocopy or scan as many pages as you like legally, and now with digital materials, they can finally regularize a situation that has been out of control since the introduction of the Xerox machine.

A librarian will say that you had better not scrawl in the margins, highlight passages, dog ear pages of a copy of a book that belongs to the library.

If I lend someone a book from my own collection, they had better not read it in the bathtub where the humidity will warp the binding and they might drop it in as they start to fall to sleep, and if they make art out of it or give it to somebody else, they had better be ready to pay to replace my copy. So a lot of these concerns deal only with personal copies, not library copies.

Also, about browsing the shelves, it must be accepted by everyone that browsing is a pleasant activity but has ceased to be a reliable way to find information for a long time. Now that almost every collection annexes some materials, almost every collection has multiple locations and/or multiple classifications, there are materials scattered in journals and conference publications and collections that are shelved far away from where you may be browsing, and now there is so much worthwhile information available only electronically, browsing the shelves guarantees that you will find fewer and fewer of the materials that you need. Librarians need to be forthright in saying this, even though it may dismay many researchers. It is simply a statement of fact. The task before librarians and other information professionals is to create tools that let us navigate these resources as simply and as clearly as possible.