Friday, November 19, 2010

A National Digital Library

David Rothman, a writer and founder of Teleread, has called for the creation of a National Digital Library (NDL). In fact, he first made this call in 1992, so he’s been arguing the case for NDL for quite some time now. His arguments are compelling, particularly in our increasingly digital world. First off, concerns over the way DRM, digital rights management, restrictions are implemented have made many nervous that if the ebook industry continues developing the way it has it will be difficult to impossible for libraries to be much of a player in the ebook world. While some libraries offer downloadable ebooks, and Austin Public Library hopes to in the near future, libraries cannot offer any content whatsoever to users of the Amazon Kindle, one of the biggest names in the market, largely due to DRM restrictions. Additionally, companies like Amazon usually have restrictions on each book you download stating that you may not loan it to anyone (though, there is reason to believe this may change soon). Now consider the (so far) less than favorable to libraries Google Books Settlement and the (so far) iffy legality of libraries purchasing ebook readers themselves to loan out to people and a happy, user-friendly future for ebooks in libraries may seem distant.

With the plethora of restrictions preventing individual libraries from building significant digital collections (particularly ones that they actually own rather than essentially rent from a vendor), a national digital library including bestselling books, reference materials, journals, magazines, multimedia, and more is appealing. If this library were available digitally to people nationwide, this could have a big impact on literacy and the preservation of culture in digital format. Not only this, but the NDL could be an education center geared toward helping people get the training they need to get a job, prepare for an exam, or write a research paper. It could be a place where users just like you and me could add our own content, such as photos or family recipes, as well as comment on and/or interact with any of the content found in the NDL. Imagine a digital repository with video, images, audio, and more that isn’t actually a repository at all because anyone can add to, manipulate, and enhance the content. Imagine the preservation of the intellectual creations of a society by an impartial body content to preserve and share rather than profit. Imagine a digital library where your imagination can run wild and education has no limits.

In the immortal words of John Lennon, “you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”


Can We Create a National Digital Library?
An article by Robert Darnton who also would like to see a National Digital Library; his view is more of one as NDL as repository rather than it being anything people can actually interact with or add content to.

A Conversation with David Rothman about the Need for a National Digital Library System in the U.S.
Just this Wednesday, David Rothman held a conversation about NDL that you can listen to for free via this webpage.

The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools
A report that reflects the significant economic impact of not putting a priority on American students’ education. In Rothman’s argument, a National Digital Library would help American students and teachers by putting a mass amount of educational content freely available and accessible 24/7 in their hands.

Information Stimulus Plan
David Rothman’s idea for an Information Stimulus Plan – “how iPad-style tablets could help educate millions and trim bureaucracy – not just be techno toys for the D.C. elite.”

Why We Can’t Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library
David Rothman’s recently published article in The Atlantic calls for a National Digital Library – a compelling and passionate argument.


Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership
“The question of how our cultural commons, our shared store of art and knowledge, might be made compatible with our modern age of stringent copyright laws, intellectual property rights, and restrictive patenting is taken up with considerable brio by Hyde.” (see two full reviews here)

The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future (or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)
“It’s an irony so commonplace it’s become almost trite: despite the information superhighway, despite a world of knowledge at their fingertips, the younger generation today is less informed, less literate, and more self-absorbed than any that has preceded it. But why?” Bauerlein seeks to tell us (read more reviews here)

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empire
“According to Columbia professor and policy advocate Wu (Who Controls the Internet), the great information empires of the 20th century have followed a clear and distinctive pattern: after the chaos that follows a major technological innovation, a corporate power intervenes and centralizes control of the new medium--the master switch.” (see more reviews here)


Anonymous said...

Hello There! I really enjoyed this post. Thanks! Karen

Anonymous said...


I also noticed that you are the graphic novel buyer for the library. What graphic novels have you enjoyed recently?

Thanks, Karen

Lisa Kilian said...

GREAT post! I wholeheartedly agree that a national digital library available to anyone in the country could do wonders for information sharing.

Just the thought of being able to check out ANY material from a library of that size and caliber -- from the comfort of my own home -- gives me chills.

Let's embrace the future and all it has to offer!

Lisa Kilian
(Frisco Public Library)

Alex Shrugged said...

Many Great Books are available for the Kindle for free already so no need for a library to carry ebooks of them. See

They claim 33,000 e-books for free.

I read the article on the Kindle considering a 14-day lending period and while that seems to fit into a librarian niche, it does so barely. But of course this is the same problem Apple had with distributing music through its iTunes store. There was initial resistance not from Apple (the manufacturer of the iPod) but rather from the publishers of the individual works. Only last year did Apple gain access to the rights for the Beatles.

It will take time. The NetLibrary service available through the library has similar issues to the Kindle... and frankly... CD audio books the library carries has the same "rights" problem. "Rights" is not the real problem. The problem for the publisher is ease of availability and ease of copying. The problem for the library is complying with copyright and assuaging the fears of publishers... after all... with the invention of the copy machine some books were copied but most books are bought and/or lent.