Internet Librarian: The Ghost in the Machine

Article excerpt

So." That's the first word I heard--the one Seamus Heaney chose for the Old English opening word hwaet in his luminous translation of Beowulf--while sitting in the Midwinter Meeting exhibit hall in the very crowded (and peculiarly configured) convention center in Boston.

I was basically wandering around loose, looking (frankly) for a column idea. I'd already discarded several for this month, including the internet's multiple roles in the tsunami disaster and its aftermath, and the response of ALA leadership to the Google/library/digitization thing, each remarkable in its own way.

So I'm meandering around and ran across a sign that said "Downloadable Audio Books." New to me, so I sat down to listen to a presentation, and a quite interesting one at that.

The idea is pretty straightforward, so I won't bore you with the details. It's a good one, though, and a natural extension of a number of existing technologies and services. Apparently, similar library circulation models for music and video are on the horizon; I imagine these will all be popular. I'm ready, I can tell you that.

There are already at least two major players in the library market; and while the basic concept is easy enough, a number of serious considerations are involved in offering a competitive service: an attractive pricing model, of course; a reasonable and comprehensible circulation strategy; copyright and rights-management protections (recognizing the understandable squirrelly-ness of publishers who don't want their audiobooks whizzing around for free); technology and standards; and so on. Nobody seems to be iPod-friendly yet, which is apparently a target-demographic thing; downloads can be sent to other digital music devices and players, though.

Market decisions

So I can now borrow "books" from anywhere; in the library, of course, but also at home, sitting in my neighborhood bakery, in a hotel room--anywhere I have good internet access. There appear to be two different approaches to circulation models: one-book-one-borrower or buy-a-block-of-circs-and-do-whatever; that will likely be a market decision. We could also reignite the access vs. ownership debate here, the contours of which are by now quite familiar, so let's take that as read, shall we?

A few other things occurred to me. This service could also raise once again the "what is the building for?" question. …