Tea Parties and Terabytes : the Digital Library Revolution


Tea Parties and  Terabytes  : the Digital Library Revolution

Tea Party

A few months ago on Publib , I entertained the idea of replacing a brick and mortar library with electronic book readers and subscriptions.

Our local free library had spent about $8,000,000 on a library renovation / reconstruction employing grants, local taxes, donations and state funds.  Notably, it had started out being about a 4 million dollar project.   What would 8 million dollars along with yearly operating funds  purchase now?  Could the needs of library users be met with electronic book readers and subscriptions?  Could accessibility be expanded?  

Asking those questions met with sharp disapproval from the librarian in Rhode Island who had overseen the project. She characterized me as a tea bagger – (derogatory slang meaning Tea Party member) for daring to bring up the idea.   At least I think that was what she meant.  The Urban Dictionary has some other definitions that are not very nice.

I'm late !

Why would entertaining a simple idea of how  8 million dollars could have been spent create such a visceral reaction? Public libraries represent the most efficient aspect of local government.  Hardly any library system is a  beneficiary of public largess.  The entire loosely affiliated public library system in the United States is efficient because of internalized ethics, highly trained personnel and sharing.  Sharing resources means everyone benefits.  Sharing is something other public services have never done as well as public libraries. Are public libraries in such precarious shape that civil discourse threatens libraries as the bastions of civil discourse?  Is time running out? Are we too late?

Imagine no brick and mortar library exists.  What sort of digital book access could an initial 8 million dollar investment and a yearly operating  budget of $480,000  afford?  …

$8,000,000  could buy:

 Amazon Kindle . . . . . . . . 57,553 units retail    at $139 each or
 Sony eBook Reader . . . .  62,015 units retail    at $129 each or
 Barnes & Noble Nook . . . 53,691 units retail    at $149 each 

 A $480,000 operating budget could purchase:

Lots of electronic books. The cost of many titles through Amazon’s Kindle program is $9.99 or less. So, yearly new ebook accession could be greater than or equal to 48,000 titles. That seems like a fairly small collection to support sixty thousand ebook readers

The 60,000 ebook readers could also be shared within households. With  2.59 people on average per household – 155,400 people would be sharing only 48,000 titles.  That is less than 1/3 of a book simultaneously available to all readers at once during the first year.

But wait, there’s more, terabytes more:

Amazon also provides Kindle Popular Classics with almost instantaneous free access to over 15,000 books.

Project Gutenberg provides Free eBooks with over 33,000  titles.

The Internet Archive provides free access to massive collections .

The Google Books project also provides free access to terabytes of text and images and is partnering with major libraries around the world.

Digital collections such as the Perseus Project   and Lincolniana at Brown offer a vast wealth of specialized subject matter.

The United States Government along with State and Local Governments are providing more and more public information in digital format.

So, what does that mean?

60,000 households could each have immediately access to hundreds of thousands of free books and articles and increasing access to new books and articles. 

But what about catalogs and reader services?  Doesn’t everyone need catalog help? These collections are HUGE!

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the United States.  The Library of Congress Catalog is massive and serves as the expert resource for copyright.  The Librarians who staff the Library of Congress are some of the most highly compensated in the US. 

Which catalog is intuitively better?

Library of Congress Catalog search:

Here is the output in basic search for the word balliot:   http://bit.ly/fCXAnh

Select item 2 –  CONVAL Report:  http://bit.ly/ijNORk

Using the same search strategy in Google Books:

Here is the output in basic search for the word balliot:    http://bit.ly/faHnAT

Select item 1 – CONVAL Report:  http://bit.ly/gUPu1v

It is even intuitively easier to search within  Library of Congress collections using Google Books full text.  LC requires a copy submitted to them when they formally copyright.  

Full- text of the Copyright Catalog available within Google and not within the LC catalog:  http://bit.ly/gzJf7S  provides reference pointers to LC’s collection.

The HELIN  Library Catalog employs  III encore software and includes: Brown University, Bryant University, Community College of Rhode Island, Dominican House of Studies, Hospital Libraries of Rhode Island, Johnson & Wales University, Providence College, Rhode Island College, Roger Williams University, Salve Regina University, University of Rhode Island, and Wheaton College holdings.

Which catalog is more helpful? 

Here is  HELIN‘s output searching for the phrase Windows Forensic Analysis DVD Toolkit, Second Edition:   http://bit.ly/g8mOa0

Here is Amazon‘s output searching for the phrase Windows Forensic Analysis DVD Toolkit, Second Edition: http://amzn.to/gBpxkZ

Encore tells us that we should use other words and check our spelling. It offers no leads to additional material.  Amazon provided the book, the electronic version, reviews, shots of inside pages and related works.  Some library catalogs intergrate similar features in the user interface, but they are not leading the way.  They are merely following the examples of successful for-profit library catalogs that only recently began to market books.

The Digital Library Revolution

 $8,ooo,ooo in construction expenditures and a $480,000 yearly budget represents the real-world costs of operating a public library in a community with about 22,000 residents and a fairly small collection.  Using the revolutionary digital library model presented here, the same funds would support 155,400  people in 60,000 households while providing instant access to terabytes of digitized collections.
The digital library revolution is a radical departure from the way that library materials are contained, published and distributed. Instead of allowing public libraries to disappear from the conversation,  civil discourse should continue that includes public libraries as significant partners and facilitators in the evolution of this digital library revolution.  It is not too late.

 “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.” ~ Lewis Carroll


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10 Responses

  1. Raising funds for new construction isn’t a piece of cake but compared with raising funds for personnel, materials or equipment (except possibly for possibly very cutting edge tech) it’s doable. Donors and funders want to see something solid for their money and what is more solid than a new building. A friend of mine with a lot of experience raising funds – in the public and private sectors referred to this phenomenon as the “Edifice Complex.”

  2. I use the LC catalog and a host of other catalogues to find metadata for my personal book collection (10,175 titles) but when I really want to find a book (to buy or consult at a library) I get on the phone and talk to a librarian, more often than not.

    The LC catalog is a tool for librarians working at LC and the librarians working at LC primarily serve Congress, and not US citizens. Other catalogs are also meant for library professionals. Woe to the citizens who try to find books without the help of a local librarian. I have an MLS and even I have troubles with library catalogs.

    If you want to save money by getting rid of municipal brick and mortar libraries you’ll have to change the laws governing LC and add a lot more staff and money there or maybe outsource the reference function to India.

  3. Judy has an excellent point–where are we going to put all those brass plaques, both large and small–if there is no building and no furnishings? On the ereaders?

    The current model for purchased ePUB books–compatible with the Nook, Sony, Kobo, Android devices, and iOS devices–does not allow for true sharing the way the physical book does. It can be done, but the technology makes it very tedious. We could circulate the devices themselves, with some devices holding the “Dan Brown collection,” others holding the “Mystery” collection or the “Romance collection.” The Nook allows you to “loan” a book to a friend with another Nook, but only once. Other readers will probably have similar features soon.

    With most devices except the Kindle, we can truly loan books for a limited time. So every family receives one or more e-readers and an Adobe ID, and we’ll assume they already have at least one computer station on which to run OverDrive Media Console or a future competitor. In my small town, we’d still need a building to have a place to hold meetings, watch movies, have storytime, computer classes, and the occasional author visit, but it wouldn’t have to be nearly as large as the current building.

    I think you talked me into it. This could very well be the library of the near future.

  4. […] Tea Parties and Terabytes : the Digital Library Revolution « Best of Publib – Public Lib…, on February 18, 2011 at 8:13 pm said: […]

  5. Interesting concept, but what are you going to do for the library users who still do not have computers with internet access in their homes? In order to download digital copies to some eReaders, users must have a PC and Internet access. Is the library’s former budget going to be used to run broadband to every house? Who’s going to provide IT assistance for Internet access to users who have trouble double-clicking a mouse? In case you haven’t been made aware of it, there are still a LOT of areas in the US that do not even have stable Internet service. But those places do have libraries! With books, magazines, and computers for public use.

    And, I agree with Sharon’s comments about having a building for uses other than storage for books–public meetings, library programs, and a gathering place for our citizens–these are all just as important as the books on the shelves!

    Sure, it is lovely to imagine other uses for that money, but realistically, we are not at the point yet where it can be said that we should just give everyone an ereader to replace print materials.

  6. Katie – Kindle works with Wifi and/or 3G – so the limit to downloads would really be cell phone coverage, not wired internet access. If people are able to leave their houses to get to a library, they would also be able to leave their houses to get to a Wifi hotspot.

  7. @KatieK, you’re right, we’re not at this point yet. But in another generation–that is, 20 years–we may very well be. The oldest generation will have passed away. Just like every American who is a live today knows how to use a telephone, in 20 years every American will know how to use a mouse and keyboard–if indeed such primitive things still exist by then. I saw a statistic recently that said that 90% of Americans own a computerized gadget. That includes actual e-readers and devices that can serve as e-readers, like computers, smartphones, iPads, and Android tablets. It’s coming, oh yes.


    • Sharon – I wish there were 20 more years to intergrate these changes, but I think it is more like a five year window.

      • Well, to tell you the truth, I’m also thinking it’s more like 5 years, too. Unfortunately that coincides with retirement age for a lot of the people who make the decisions, and I don’t know if there are going to be any pieces left to pick up. I think maybe a lot of communities are going to have to reinvent the whole concept of an informed citizenry.

  8. […] you have WiFi, and thousand of books and videos available – represent a big price drop from just a few months ago. And, the new Kindle Fire may potentially become the dominant streaming media […]

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