Readers consume publisher’s products many hours every day– and consume on publisher’s terms. Publisher’s framing on our screens, publisher’s business models, publisher’s flow and pacing. Yes, there are many publishers now, but we are, mostly, locked into their presentation forms. We check into their black box theaters and consume as intended.
Libraries have always bought publisher’s products but have traditionally offered alternative access modes to these materials, and can again. As an example let’s take newspapers. Published with scoops and urgency, yesterday is “old news,” the paper it was printed on is then only useful the next day as “fish wrap”– the paper piles up and we felt guilty about the trash. That is the framing of the publisher: old is useless, new is valuable. This has carried into social media– flip up to read on. Scroll through your “feed” (gosh, the word “feed” is illustrative, what happens after “feed” is “fed”? Well, it comes out the other end in a way we do not cherish 🙂 ).
But a library gives old news a new life, not a commercial life, but a life that encourages reflection, perspective, critique, analysis. In a word– “History”. The library keeps the former “news” and offers it in new ways in a new framing, with new tools– not just flip flip flip. It can be quoted, placed side by side with other publisher’s news and enable researchers to inject commentary.
This capture, representation, searching, rethinking is not a crime– it is thought, it is memory and our history– it builds to become our culture. It has been supported, nurtured, taught.
But the library is in danger in our digital world. In print, one could keep what one had read. In digital that is harder technically, and publishers are specifically making it harder. Technical enforcement measures and laws are making remembering difficult, and worse, a crime.
Libraries live to offer new ways to see published works that were often produced for a different purpose. But this is difficult in a digital world.
Digital newspapers sometimes disappear from their web presence. App-based newspapers can not be pointed to with a citation or URL. Archives, sometimes available, are segmented into each publisher’s platforms.
Similarly, digital books live in proprietary digital book readers that disappear the books. If “cut and paste” functions at all, often just inside that “platform.” Annotations are stored with the vendor, with their terms and conditions.
A personal library now means a purchase list on a website.
Libraries and publishers have lived together throughout the paper era, not always peacefully, but libraries were possible because of paper technologies, laws, and funding. Multiple copies were kept in different libraries ensuring preservation and creating different access modes for different communities.
Once publications became electronic, preservation and access became harder. Radio and television did not fit into the library mold. Early tele-text, Lexis-Nexis, Westlaw, and AOL really did not work as library collections in traditional libraries. Academic journal publishing shifted to digital and libraries moved to serve as customer service departments for leased database access.
Some of us helped build the Internet so digital works could be archived and “libraried”. And then made archives of Web pages and created services around them.
But it turns out that few of us did this, and the biggest, Google, did it privately and for profit. The Internet Archive was created to help and has archived billions of Web Pages, millions of hours of TV and radio, millions of books, records, movies and software.
Most traditional libraries have done little to preserve digital materials. The Internet Archive is quite unique in focusing on this mission and I would say under supported. Encouraging, however, is that 100,000 individuals a year now donate to support the Internet Archive’s public services. Hope is there.
We need libraries of digital materials, tools to use these libraries, and ways to protect them, fund them and integrate them into schools and our lives more generally. This way we can remember, think, and build on the past.
With so much in digital form, and storage and communication so easy, it should be the librarian’s day! It can be the library user’s day…
Let’s build that world… of preservation and access, of reflection and critique, with confidence that what happened actually happened so that our histories can rely on immutable evidence.
Libraries do not command the world, but libraries are necessary in the functioning of a thoughtful world.
Thank you for supporting the Internet Archive.
Viva la Library!