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Distributor Baker & Taylor have unveiled at recent ALA a prototype e-book distribution system jointly developed by ibooks and Digital Owl. It will be sold to libraries by B&T's Informata division and Reciprocal.
The annual subscription for use of digital library comprises "a catalog of digital content, brandable pages and web based tools for each participating library to customize for their patrons. Patrons of participating libraries will then be able to browse digital content online, or download and check out content they are most interested in. Content may be checked out for an extended period of time set by each library, including checking out eBooks from home." Still, it seems that B&T's approach is heavily influenced by software licencing ("one copy one use").
But, there is an underlying, fundamental incompatibility between Internet and library. They are competitors. One vitiates other. Free Internet access and e-book reading devices in libraries notwithstanding - Internet, unless harnessed and integrated by libraries, threatens their very existence by depriving them of patrons. Libraries, in turn, threaten budding software industry we, misleadingly, call "e-publishing".
There are major operational and philosophical differences between physical and virtual libraries. The former are based on tried and proven technology of print. The latter on chaos we know as cyberspace and on user-averse technologies developed by geeks and nerds, rather than by marketers, users, and librarians.
Physical libraries enjoy great advantages, not least being their habit-forming head start (2,500 years of first mover advantage). Libraries are hubs of social interaction and entertainment (the way cinemas used to be). Libraries have catered to users' reference needs in reference centres for centuries (and, lately, through Selective Dissemination of Information, or SDI). The war is by no means decided. "Progress" may yet consist of assimilation of hi-tech gadgets by lo-tech libraries. It may turn out to be convergence at its best, as librarians become computer savvy - and computer types create knowledge and disseminate it.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and searcheurope.com.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com