Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Second Day of Future of the Research Library in the 21st Century Symposium

The second day was just as impressive as the first. Much longer with alot more input. I have pages and pages of notes to read through and digest. I'll post more on this after I've done that, but for now, for me the most important things I took away from the symposium is that people are definitely thinking about this and very seriously. The best and brightest are on top of it. The people with the most experience are at the helm of the ship and they are very aware of the challenges they face. They are not sitting idly by.

And it's not all talk. There are good examples of innovative decision-making that takes libraries off beaten paths and into the future. But when we talked about some of the practicalities "off-line" during breaks, the braking power of politics, of decentralized decision-making, of the unweildy beast that a single research library within a single university can be, to say nothing of the entire research library community, well, it became crystal clear that this is not going to be easy, even if it is inevitable.

I also got a very good feel for the quandry we are going to face of trying to do this on a state library's budget. Without partnerships with the for-profit world, like publishers, google, etc., it will not get done at all. But there is that looming sense of dread that we'll make another faustian bargain, for example with Google (or whomever down the road), that will drastically limit our options in the future. The problem with the publishers' holds on us is that they have an unnatural monopoly in copyright, and it lasts for nearly forever. Handing a key player a monopoly over a key asset is a big mistake. We should not repeat that mistake. I wonder if we're poised to do just that with Google? It's not copyright this time, but a contractual limit on what we can do with what they give us in return for our contribution to their database. It can be understood in very down-to-earth ways: if they give us a copy, they don't want that copy "out there" for anyone to use commercially, b/c that would compete with their services potentially. But that asks us to tie up public domain works in ways that run completely counter to what we ought to be doing with public domain works. When google makes its copy available on the web, do they restrict what someone can do with it? Is it just restricting the use of large chunks of the pd works, or even a single work? I have to get at this idea. I don't think we ought to sign onto something we'll regret.

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