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All the World's Libraries on your iPod
Alex Steffen, 15 May 06

Worldchanging ally (and book contributing writer) Kevin Kelly has a terrific piece in this week's NYT magazine about the implications of the digitization of the world's libraries' collections, why copyright as currently enforced is crazy and why the business model for creative industries is bound to change:

"This is a very big library. But because of digital technology, you'll be able to reach inside it from almost any device that sports a screen. From the days of Sumerian clay tablets till now, humans have "published" at least 32 million books, 750 million articles and essays, 25 million songs, 500 million images, 500,000 movies, 3 million videos, TV shows and short films and 100 billion public Web pages. All this material is currently contained in all the libraries and archives of the world. When fully digitized, the whole lot could be compressed (at current technological rates) onto 50 petabyte hard disks. Today you need a building about the size of a small-town library to house 50 petabytes. With tomorrow's technology, it will all fit onto your iPod. When that happens, the library of all libraries will ride in your purse or wallet — if it doesn't plug directly into your brain with thin white cords. Some people alive today are surely hoping that they die before such things happen, and others, mostly the young, want to know what's taking so long. (Could we get it up and running by next week? They have a history project due.)'

"Bill McCoy, the general manager of Adobe's e-publishing business, says: "Some of us have thousands of books at home, can walk to wonderful big-box bookstores and well-stocked libraries and can get to deliver next day. The most dramatic effect of digital libraries will be not on us, the well-booked, but on the billions of people worldwide who are underserved by ordinary paper books." It is these underbooked — students in Mali, scientists in Kazakhstan, elderly people in Peru — whose lives will be transformed when even the simplest unadorned version of the universal library is placed in their hands."

"Turning inked letters into electronic dots that can be read on a screen is simply the first essential step in creating this new library. The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages. ... When books are digitized, reading becomes a community activity. Bookmarks can be shared with fellow readers. Marginalia can be broadcast. Bibliographies swapped. You might get an alert that your friend Carl has annotated a favorite book of yours. A moment later, his links are yours. In a curious way, the universal library becomes one very, very, very large single text: the world's only book."

"As copies have been dethroned, the economic model built on them is collapsing. In a regime of superabundant free copies, copies lose value. They are no longer the basis of wealth. Now relationships, links, connection and sharing are. Value has shifted away from a copy toward the many ways to recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer and engage a work. Authors and artists can make (and have made) their livings selling aspects of their works other than inexpensive copies of them. They can sell performances, access to the creator, personalization, add-on information, the scarcity of attention (via ads), sponsorship, periodic subscriptions — in short, all the many values that cannot be copied. The cheap copy becomes the "discovery tool" that markets these other intangible valuables. But selling things-that-cannot-be-copied is far from ideal for many creative people. The new model is rife with problems (or opportunities). For one thing, the laws governing creating and rewarding creators still revolve around the now-fragile model of valuable copies."

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Too many intellectual property laws have slowed down the progress of humanity. Let us look over the idea of property for a moment. Once you have something, you most likely need it for only a certain amount of time. Today's world looks like a joke, when you have guards in front of property that sit around for most of their lifetime. Does that look like a progressing world to you? When visiting the dump, I see millions if not billions of dollars worth of information and material go to waste simply because someone did not need it. To what are we proving when we keep our things with no task?

Posted by: James Orman on 15 May 06

So if we digitize all those books we can recycle the paper into papercrete for emergency housing or non-live spaces to store more of our stuff. We could build a whole village every year with the yellow pages we throw away in the US. As copies lose their value we need organized leaders who know how to make good use and recycle materials.

I'm amazed at what some people consider to be useful tools.....most people become packrats because they hold sentimental attachment to some thing instead of thinking about its practical use. Not enough of us are encouraged to think about new uses for items because we never see where our trash goes and how it piles up! It's a fundamental disconnect, a gulf that will hopefully improve as we learn to collect digital bits instead of paper, ceramic and metal.

Awesome article...spent hours reading after this post. Thanks for posting this.

Posted by: evonne on 15 May 06

I agree that it's an awesome prospect. Unfortunately, there are still a few roadblocks; not least of which is entrenched thinking in certain libraries (and those all too willing to take advantage of it). See this Groklaw article: The British Library - "The world's knowledge" DRM'd and for a price

Adobe was once lambasted for creating an electronic copy of 'Alice in Wonderland' with such stringent copyright conditions that you basically had to read it in silence before leaving your brain at the console. Bill McCoy's remarks suggest a change of heart. Hopefully, a similar change will occur at the British Library!

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 15 May 06

Wow, great article and very strong case / introduction to copyright issues. Thanks.

Posted by: Corinna on 20 May 06



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