The Rise of Electronic Information

A new documentary called “Out of Print” by director Vivienne Roumani debuted April 25 at the Tribeca Film Festival. It chronicles the mass rise of ebooks, and what it means to the print book and human development, in general.

One of the positives about the mass digitization of traditional print material is that "[t]he advent of e-books has made reading more efficient and affordable for many and has increased access to and acceptance of self-publishing."

As a librarian, I applaud greater access to information, but it is disconcerting because we are in such rapid transition. We still have libraries full of wonderful resources and knowledge, but many scholars (from teens writing term papers to law professors writing law review articles) use the most convenient information found on Google. While Google is an amazing resource and has changed the way that we view the world, it also has its limitations. There is no one vetting the information on Google, so we find ourselves relying haphazardly on second-rate information when we can generally find superior knowledge in print through a library.

Because of the current limitations of electronic resources, I find it imprudent to rely solely on them.  However, I also feel that it is the role of today's librarian to bring good information to people in a format that they will use (i.e., convenient) -- which means user friendly databases, more inclusive licensing agreements, and to continue the movement toward open access.

Robert Darnton, the director of the Harvard University Library points out another important consideration for electronic material, "that while printed books can endure for hundreds of years, e-books pose new challenges for preservation, particularly because software and hardware become obsolete so quickly."  If preserved properly, a book can stay intact, in hand, for hundreds of years. We are not at a risk of losing the information because of digital rot.

Society is not at a point where we are able to say that we can rely solely on the Internet and other electronic resources for our information.  Although I am not above thinking that it could happen in my lifetime, we all need to proceed with caution.

PBS Article -- 'Out of Print' Doc Examines The End of Print Books and What It Portends.


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