1 July 10 | Chad W. Post

I do have one final, semi-serious Future of Reading post to write, but I’m caught up in a few other things and will have to put that off until tomorrow . . .

Now although libraries weren’t a huge part of the discussion at the RIT conference the other week, they obviously play a huge role in the future of book culture. I know that I fell in love with reading thanks to my local library (we didn’t have a bookstore in Essexville, Michigan, so thank god, thank god) and loved scanning all the various shelves for hidden treasures. Unfortunately, librarians don’t get nearly enough love when we talk about the future of reading, books, book culture, etc., despite the fact that libraries have been dealing with readership and community issues for years now.

There were a couple news pieces earlier this week related to libraries that I think are worth pointing out. First off, over at Art Beat, the blog for NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Jeffrey Brown continued his “Next Chapter of Reading” series by talking with Camila Alire, president of the American Library Association, which held it’s annual conference this past weekend (more on that in a minute):

Camila Alire: [. . .] I’ve talked to library school students all over the country this year and I tell them this is the most exciting time to be going to library school, to be coming into the profession, because these students are tech savvy, you know, they know everything about library 2.0. They know everything about the different mobile devices and all their capabilities. They know that they can just click on a mobile device and get to specific information. They come in, they are part of the solution in terms of thinking broadly and thinking ahead and thinking how we could incorporate the best technological advances in our libraries. Our public libraries listen to their communities. They do community analysis, and when they hear the community say we want more access, you know, 24/7 access. We want more electronic databases; they try to respond.

Jeffrey Brown: Well, you know, you’ve talked about new devices, you talked about the e-book, something we’ve talked a lot about here is the future of the book, the form it will take, who reads it and what do they read on and how do they read. How much is that discussion affecting your world as you think about the library of the future?

Camila Alire: Well, it’s interesting because I think the lay person spends more time wondering about the future of the book than the librarians do. We want to be able to provide what our communities, what our customers want. E-books are really popular and they are getting even more popular now. In 2007 our public libraries provided about — 38 percent of their collections were e-books. That rose to 55 percent in 2009. The challenges in the readers and, also you know, I was just in a session yesterday where one of the librarians reported that people can just download a particular title, an e-book title onto their device, and then they have it; they don’t have to come in to the library. They check it out virtually. We’ll still have the printed words. But, you know, libraries have transformed. We have changed for a long, long time. I mean, we first only provided the printed the word. Then we were hearing from our communities that they wanted it on visual resources, so we did that. And they were saying, well, you know, we would like more online databases. Most people love the catalog. I am sure you can remember the card catalog, but you know there aren’t a lot card catalogs around anymore.

And speaking of ebooks and libraries, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week on an Internet Archive project through which a group of libraries will make a slew of public domain and contemporary ebooks available to readers:

To read the books, borrowers around the world can download and read them for free on computers or e-reading gadgets. Software renders the books inaccessible once the loan period ends. Two-thirds of American libraries offered e-book loans in 2009, according to a survey by the American Library Association. But those were mostly contemporary imprints from the last couple of years—say, the latest Stephen King novel.

The Internet Archive project, dubbed Openlibrary.org, goes a step further by opening up some access to the sorts of books that may have otherwise gathered dust on library shelves—mainly those published in the past 90 years, but of less popular interest. [. . .]

With its latest project, the organization is making inroads into the idea of loaning in-copyright books to the masses. Only one person at a time will be allowed to check out a digital copy of an in-copyright book for two weeks. While on loan, the physical copy of the book won’t be loaned, due to copyright restrictions.

The effort could face legal challenges from authors or publishers. Paul Aiken, the executive director of the Authors Guild—which challenged Google’s scanning efforts—said “it is not clear what the legal basis of distributing these authors’ work would be.” He added: “I am not clear why it should be any different because a book is out of print. The authors’ copyright doesn’t diminish when a work is out of print.”

Mr. Kahle said, “We’re just trying to do what libraries have always done.”

This plan—which may well work—brings together a few of the issues facing libraries today: how to reach readers who live digitally, and how to work within shrinking budgets. Jeff Brown brought up budget cuts in his conversation with Camila Alire, and they talked about reduced hours, closing on Sunday, etc., etc. That all sucks, but makes sense in our economic climate. What doesn’t make sense is FOX News Chicago (surprise, surprise!) and this piece (thanks BoingBoing) on tax money and libraries:

They eat up millions of your hard earned tax dollars. It’s money that could be used to keep your child’s school running. So with the internet and e-books, do we really need millions for libraries? [. . .]

But keeping libraries running costs big money. In Chicago, the city pumps $120 million a year into them. In fact, a full 2.5 percent of our yearly property taxes go to fund them.

That’s money that could go elsewhere – like for schools, the CTA, police or pensions.

Knowing Illinois like I sorta do, I can only imagine the ways in which politicians could embezzle and/or misuse this $120 million. (And while we’re talking about FOX, this Onion article is brilliant. “ ‘Our very way of life is under siege,’ said Mortensen, whose understanding of the Constitution derives not from a close reading of the document but from talk-show pundits, books by television personalities, and the limitless expanse of his own colorful imagination.”)

And while this is all devolving into a series of jokes (man, it’s almost Friday, right?), I wanted to come back to the ALA conference for a second. I was there on Saturday afternoon to participate in a really interesting panel on translations. Alane Mason of W.W. Norton and Words Without Borders spoke, as did the very impressive Edwin Gentzler.

That’s all fine and good—the ALA is a wonderful conference, with very interesting panels, thousands of cool libraries, etc., etc. But really, the best reason to go to the ALA is the Book Cart Drill Team World Championships. I have no idea who won this year (should’ve delayed my flight!), but I really hope it was “Gett Down With Your Funky Shelf”:


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