In this issue:
The New York Review of Books • March 11, 2010
Crisis at the crossroads. Veteran publisher Jason Epstein offers a wide-ranging discussion of the pros and cons of digitization that draws on his extensive experience in both the hard copy and digital publishing businesses. One tidbit: "That the contents of the world's great libraries will eventually be accessed practically anywhere at the click of a mouse is not an unmixed blessing. Another click might obliterate these same contents and bring civilization to an end: an overwhelming argument, if one is needed, for physical books in the digital age."
I have enormous admiration for Mr. Epstein and think his essays always worth attention. In this essay he takes on not only the tumult and change in publishing but worries sensibly about what we call "digital preservation." In that regard I commend to you the recently-released final report of the NSF Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access titled "Sustainable Economics for a Digital Planet: Ensuring Long-Term Access to Digital Information." My colleague, Brian Lavoie, was co-chair of the panel. They've delivered a much-needed and incredibly useful report that may unify our expectations and our vocabulary in managing this important responsibility. ( Michalko)
Der Spiegel • February 19, 2010
Click for culture. The German Digital Library (Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek) is amassing a collection of digitized books, audio recordings, images and films from more than 30,000 libraries, museums and archives with plans to become the central repository of German culture. This ambitious project points up the difficulties of dealing with large numbers of independently minded organizations, creating a robust yet flexible technical platform and establishing a sustainable funding model.
It seems imperative for the wealthier European nations to launch these kinds of national digital libraries. I understand the various political, cultural and linguistic motivations that underpin them but still find them as indicated in this article "overambitious and underfunded." Back when the French announced their intention to take on Google with a proper French effort, Marc Andreessen (he of Mosaic, Netscape, pots of money and a fair amount of sense) blogged the press release under this headline: "The Sound of 165 Million Euros Being Flushed." ( Michalko)
TechCrunch • February 16, 2010
Wake up call. There are many reasons to question the Google Books settlement, but antitrust lawyer Gary Reback says tech companies have the most to lose, because giving Google the go-ahead to become the predominant repository for digital books will also lock in its lead in search. The reasoning is that every user conducts a "long-tail" search once in a while, and the search engine that delivers the best results in that instance is likely to become the user's preferred one. Research libraries hold many of the resources required for "long-tail" research, so giving Google exclusive access to lots of information relevant to obscure topics confers an enormous advantage. Reback warns, "If Google can stretch its advantage even further and deny its search rivals the ability to integrate the same corpus of books, Google's lead in search will become insurmountable."
He may be right. It's an interesting perspective that moves the discussion from the control over the digital texts to why the control of those texts is important. It's not likely to have ever been tied up with revenues from printing those texts but leveraging their content to reinforce Google's core business. ( Michalko)
Seed Magazine • February 4, 2010
Paper, plastic or concrete? The Material ConneXion operates a library containing information on 5,000 innovative materials, categorized by composition, to help people track down the material with the properties required for their specific projects. For example, the 2009 material of the year is concrete cloth. Many of these materials have been developed as part of a DoD or other government agency project, and providing a clearinghouse once they are publicly available can help provide a much-needed shortcut to innovation.
It's selected. It's a collection. It's a library. They describe the items in their library by material composition—polymers, ceramics, metals, etc. I wonder if that will remain good enough, not just because the collection will grow, but because they have to respond to requirements like "I want it to convey a sense of warmth." ( Michalko)
Pew Internet & American Life Project • February 2010
In case you haven't seen it . . . The latest Pew survey on Internet use yields a fascinating mix of opinions from big names in the field addressing questions such as whether Google is making us stupid, whether information will remain free, and whether Big Brother will always be watching us on the Net.
Everything from this Pew Project is worth your time. This annual survey is one of the most fun. How accurate is it? Probably close. There's enough here to buoy up any opinions or wishful thoughts you might have about the future of the Internet. I for one want to believe that "by 2020 anonymous online activity is sharply curtailed." Anonymity contributes to the information anarchy mentioned in the next article. ( Michalko)
Live Science • February 17, 2010
Fact checking 101. We all have to be fact-checkers on the Web. Author A.J. Jacobs offers a quickie (and amusing) checklist to help you decide whether what you're reading has any merit. (Hint: beware ads for Acai berry supplements.)
And I'd add one of my own to the checklist: "If the user name for the contributor makes reference to a game or manga character subtract two reliability points." ( Michalko)