Magazine article Information Today

Contemplating Our Digital Future

Magazine article Information Today

Contemplating Our Digital Future

Article excerpt

Unless you have been in a deep sleep like Rip Van Winkle, you know we are in the middle of a serious digital revolution that is affecting most aspects of our lives. The explosion of digital content, new digitization efforts, the disruption of publishing models, licensing concerns, the eruption of social media, proprietary platforms, and consumer expectations for digital access on mobile devices--these are issues confronting many of us in the library and information fields. Two recent reports provide some insights into what is happening.

Gadget Ownership and Access

A recent report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project noted that tablet and ebook reader ownership nearly doubled during the holiday gift-giving period at the end of 2011. The number of Americans owning at least one of these digital reading devices jumped from 18% in December 2011 to 29% in January 2012. This was understandably followed by a surge in ebook sales. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, told MSNBC that the findings "have major implications for every media company, especially book publishers, everyone in a knowledge business, and key community institutions like libraries. They show how radically the tectonic plates of information creation and dissemination are shifting under our feet."

Libraries are particularly challenged to provide digital services for new device owners who are clamoring for ebooks. Fearful of losing sales, many major publishers are now blocking libraries' access to the ebook forms of all of their titles or their most recently published ones. Many also have the distinct feeling that Amazon, Apple, and Google are actually calling the shots, not publishers or librarians. Amazon's free lending for its Amazon Prime customers looks like direct competition to public libraries. The next year will be crucial to see if librarians have a voice in the discussion.

Last fall, the American Library Association (ALA) established a Digital Content and Libraries Working Group (DCWG) and an associated initiative. It is working to provide support for the library community, as well as communication and advocacy with the general public and other key stakeholders such as publishers, other information intermediaries, and government agencies. The group, which held its first meeting at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in January, had meetings already set up with top executives from Simon & Schuster Digital, Macmillan, and Penguin Group. …

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