Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Three Things to Watch for in 2010

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Three Things to Watch for in 2010

Article excerpt

It's a new year, and as I write this I'm deep in the thick of "best of lists from last year. I'm a music junkie, so every "best music of 2009" list is a chance for me to find records I might have missed or to see my own favorites reflected in the taste-makers' lists as some sort of odd validation. It's one thing if I just like something, but, oh! to see it in print: "See, I told you!"

Doesn't that sound funny, though? "To see it in print." It came out of my fingers just as fast as it came out of my head, but I should know better, right? Let's be honest. Most Top 10 lists I read during this end-of-year season aren't in print--they're online, on the web. "Best of lists are a great way to look back at the recent past, but I'll let you in on a little secret: "things to watch for" lists are even better, because few people will remember what you predicted or go back to find it a year later. I bet few of you will think to flip back to this issue and this column in another year's time--there it is again, "flip back," the presumption of paper--but if you do, I bet that along with tight budgets and the maturation of the open source library vendor marketplace, "realizing we're really reading online" will be the biggest change well notice in 2010. And few of us will keep saying things like "in print" and "flip back" instead of "online" and "click to."

Rereading Reading

Sometimes I'm right about something that matters. I attended a few meetings about ebooks in the late 1990s, when I was still a newly minted librarian, and when ebook hype was growing. I remember seeing the great author Harlan Ellison berating a whole roomful of eager ebook content and device vendors at a meeting at NIST for their motive of "wanting to make money off of all the bits we're moving around," and he was right--that is what everybody wants to do. Those early devices weren't very practical, though, and despite the rapid growth of the web and all of us quickly spending most of our time on it or thinking about it, we librarians still engaged in debates about whether the coming wave of ebooks was really coming, what it meant, and whether we would really ever start reading most of what we read online. You could point to the failure of those early devices as some sort of proof of the superiority of the printed book, but if you wanted to write about it, you'd probably do it online, wouldn't you?

In fall 2005, I saw that a company pioneering the "E Ink" approach to reading online (with charged-particle displays like those found in the Kindle, Nook, and Sony readers) was offering its first "developer kits" for sale for a few thousand dollars. For that low cost, I noticed, any eager vendor could hack out a series of prototypes over the next year or two and have a lousy product on the market within 2 years (the Kindle appeared in fall 2007). I also figured that within a year or two of product revisions and competitors arriving on the scene, these E Ink readers might be pretty good by 2009 (the Nook sold out early this holiday season, and Kindle 2 seems to be popular too). But the kicker, I thought--making reading something more of us do with a device than with paper--would be a new competing product brought to market by a company that really gets design--and I figured it might be Apple (rumors all told, a lot of people expect Apple to release its "tablet" in 2010, though they're still just rumors).

I wrote all this down in a blog post in late 2005 (thankfully you can still find it via www.archive.org), and that post led to some interesting discussion, partly because I claimed that my imagined 5-year horizon would lead to changes in our users' behavior: "They'll want to read everything on them." Five years ago, I didn't think we'd be ready for that in libraries, and now that we're almost there, I'm not sure. On one hand, there's a strong market force toward web standards, in that all the popular smartphones and even the available readers can browse and use the open web to some extent. …

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