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Digital Libraries

October 6, 2008

What is better on a Monday than talking about the latest paper to be causing a stir in the library world?

By now, you’ve probably heard about the “Free Our Libraries!” white paper by Richard K. Johnson commissioned by the Boston Library Consortium. Lots of valid points are raised in the paper, but if ideas had been presented more clearly we probably could have avoided some of the confusion the paper has created. So I’ll put in my 2 cents on this Monday morning.

First, no, it’s not the libraries fault that everything is not available online and I do not think that Johnson is blaming the libraries for upholding copyright. Many people agree that copyright is broken. It takes so long for anything to come into the public domain that creativity is hindered instead of expanded and inspired as was one of the original goals of copyright. And yes, in this litigious society, there are many threats to the public domain and fair use. Simply check out Chilling Effects to learn more about challenges to fair use in the online environment.

Second, Johnson’s paper would have been much stronger had it compared anything to the Google Book Project. The Open Content Alliance is the most well-known competitor with the Google Book Project. Google is not the first and last word on digitization, yet.

Third, and this is the omission that always annoys me, there was no mention of archives and archivists. Honestly, do librarians think they are the only ones grappling with these issues? Really, we cannot afford to be that insular. Archivists are creating digital archives and digital libraries as well, and archives know all about preservation and preservation metadata. Do you know what a PDF/A is? Do you know why it is important? An archivist can tell you. We can do so much more if we collaborate and share our knowledge instead of reinventing the wheel in our own small part of the world. It annoys me to no end that archivists and librarians do not collaborate more often and there seems to be little understanding on either side of how the other could help.

Finally, to end on an upbeat note: check out Brewster Kahle’s talk on TED about digital libraries. It is possible to have digital libraries, respect copyright, and still have access. Let’s start working on it.

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