The Home Guard
by Barbara Quint
What would you do if you had a personal home library
numbering in the thousands or even hundreds of thousands
of books? Hire a librarian, right?! Well, that’s
just what every Web user has as the mammoth book digitization
projects by Google, the Open Content Alliance (OCA),
Microsoft, Yahoo!, et al., open up their public domain
collections. Project Gutenberg has offered tens of thousands
of such texts for years. The U.S. Government Printing
Office continues to load documents born in public domain,
promising eternal archives for them. The open access
movement has put masses of scholarly content, similar
to what one would expect to find in an academic library’s
periodical collection, into the line of sight of Yahoo!
Search, Google Scholar, Scirus, and other free Web search
engines. And that’s only the material that resembles
the traditional content formats that people expect librarians
to handle — books and magazines. Then there’s
all the content out there on the open Web from authoritative
or semi-authoritative or hit-or-miss Web sites. How is
a user to tell the wheat from the chaff, the plums from
the prunes, the true from the false? Hire an information
Well, we know they need us, but do they? We need to
establish turf for our profession, to make it clear
to patrons or potential patrons everywhere exactly
what we do and why they cannot do without our services
except at great personal risk. But to prove our worth,
we must go where the problems are now and where they
will arise tomorrow. The problems are not walking into
traditional libraries and standing in line at reference
desks. The problems are not even in the public access
computer rooms (though some of the solution centers
may start there). The problems reside in every individual
user’s collection of downloaded texts or, in
the case of "only-while-connected-to-us" Google book
displays, user browser landings. If we information
professionals, we librarians, want to serve users,
we have to bring our services to where and when the
user needs us.
And problems abound. In-copyright material has the
obvious problem of limited and contentious delivery
options. Amazon begins its offer of per-page pricing
for copyrighted content this year, but maybe users
would do better buying a print copy with a small surcharge
for electronic access. Hmm. The user might even donate
the printed book to the library and then just rely
on the electronic version for their personal use. (Hmm.
I wonder if offering users donation certificates for
their tax deduction records would encourage generosity.)
Or maybe the books that users want — or even
better ones — are already available through the
library’s licensed book vendors such as NetLibrary
or eLibrary. (We have to find some way to intercept
their requests by publicizing these offers. Maybe we
should add an online ordering link to our library Web
site for books and have the link first check library
holdings, both in-print via our online catalog and
electronic for our licensed content.)
Come to think of it, maybe we should be making more
direct relations with vendors. After all, look how
wonderful it is to have an OCLC Open WorldCat link
available for all the books coming into Google Print
via arrangements with five major research libraries.
What a convenience! What efficiency! All the work librarians
have done through the decades to contribute bibliographic
data and holdings information to a common union catalog
now puts our services into the line of sight of all
those millions of Google and Yahoo! searchers. Well,
almost all of them. Turns out that if a book comes
into Google Print from a publisher connection — and,
despite the copyright lawsuit by the Association of
American Publishers, Google Print claims direct relationships
with a significant majority of publishers — then
the link to OCLC Open WorldCat does not appear.
To find library holdings information for Google Print
for Publishers content, users of http://print.google.com have to trek back to the main Google service and re-enter
the request for the book information ("Find in a Library").
What a drag!
Naturally one would hardly expect the giant bookseller
Amazon.com to carry library holdings information. Hmm.
Wonder how we could get Amazon to do so? We’d
need some leverage. How could we make it to their advantage
to help us find users who have already "bought" the
book with their tax dollars or their student fees or
their corporate employment? Well, offering them — or
their competitors — links to people who want
to buy books direct might work. That’s one lever.
And that tax deduction donation idea, that might be
another. If we could work out arrangements to assure
Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Alibris or whomever
that buyers who donate book purchases to libraries
after reading the books would have tax deductions available
to free up, potentially, more book purchasing money — well!
that could motivate a lot of accommodations. Of course,
it would take a fairly detailed plan and complex support
system to start. Hey! No problem! That’s why
God made library consortia and OCLC, right?!
Well that takes care of moving the acquisition librarian’s
services into the new desktop/laptop library venue.
No, wait, what about selection? The new Open Content
Alliance, with its commitment to hassle-free copyright
policies, promises to produce a platform of accessible
books that can be integrated with other collections
and augmented by advanced features. Guiding lights
at OCA, such as Daniel Greenstein of the California
Digital Library, rhapsodize about a future filled with
value-added versions of files, some worth money, some
worth restricted access, some still available to all.
The open access movement in scholarly material already
challenges catalogers and indexers with multiple versions.
Looks like the "versioning" problem is about to explode
into the online book world. Only solutions to versioning
problems can guarantee that users get the best available
and/or the best they can afford.
And then there are all those other functions that
librarians perform — reference, cataloging, periodical
collections, instructional services, ready reserve,
management, community centers, etc.
Let’s start with three basic principles and
one overall goal. Principle One: Our solutions operate
on Web time and in Web calendars, i.e., 24/7/365 (366
in leap year). Principle Two: Our solutions conserve
our time, energy, and expertise by solving problems
as Web-wide as possible. Principle Three: Moving a
vendor to provide a solution constitutes a successful
solution for us. Goal One: We need to get credit for
our solutions, if only in order to get enough influence
and resources to make more.
Time to roll up our virtual sleeves and get to work.
Ready? Set? GO!!!
Barbara Quint's e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.