quarta-feira, 3 de março de 2010

Bibliotecas lideram a revolução dos livros eletrônicos / Libraries lead the e-book revolution

Have you read an e-book yet? Do you think it means the end of bookshops and libraries as we know them? Will book people have to turn into e-book people to meet the brave new world? It's all a bit early to say.

I haven't read an e-book and when asked by borrowers if I feel that my profession of librarian is under threat, I ask them if they themselves have used an e-book . No, is the consistent reply. But they know chapter and verse about the developments, usually from what they have seen on the internet. The new slimline gadgets can display everything a text maniac wants to get their hands on. Or so it seems.

Every day trucks cart away more of the university collections of Michigan, California Berkeley, and Stanford, to the Google digitisation factories. Nobody has the full data on progress, it's a secret, but millions of works are now being assembled in what is a monster digital library and bookstore. Google claims that this is all a service, making available works in e-form that are not easily accessible, and that it will all be for free.

This last claim brings out the sceptic in most of us, but more pressing for now are the claims from authors and estates that their copyright is being abused. Test cases are cropping up all over the United States and the Justice Department has started looking unfavourably at Google, in part for the very American reason that Google is creating a monopoly, thus stopping competition.

Digital is moving in, that's for sure. But will readers get what they want? I don't mean readers who ask for the latest blockbuster, but all of us who need those difficult-to-get books for study or personal interest, the ones Google says are not easily accessible. It is the same librarians who remind the digitising deliverers that inter-library loan can get the requested print version at next to no cost and in short time.

Far from sidelining academic and special collections, the digital libraries of the future make easy and free access to print-libraries even more of a priority: there is no way of predicting the price tag for that rare thesis or out-of-print title in its downloadable form. This is an issue that more academics and specialists need to be questioning now, especially as they are the ones often making the decisions about their libraries, and not the librarians.

Actually, libraries have a large measure of responsibility for the Information Revolution. Libraries must be super-sensitive to any form of information production and retrieval: it's their job. In the early '80s, when I was at library school, there were students who already resented being called librarians or library managers — we were Information Managers. Some heroic individuals had these words painted on their office doors when they went into the workplace. When you remind librarians that their title comes from the Latin root for book, they are much too busy figuring out how the translation button works on a research site to worry about a dead language.

Indeed, the fourth century shift from the scroll to the codex is being used as a comparison to the present transmogrification. I tend to believe that we are seeing the early technology of the e-book. In five years the e-book will look, feel, sound, smell and gesticulate in very different ways from its iPad and Kindle prototypes. iPad will look as cute as a cassette tape.

As usual, libraries are quietly ahead of everyone else. At universities there are library departments dedicated solely to the acquisition of e-materials for students and lecturers, while public libraries make e-books available and train the staff in their use, anticipating the demand before the e-books themselves are even on the market. But neither are libraries in a hurry to drown their books and make the sea change.

I imagine that the e-book and the book will thrive together. The real question is usability. Will people quite simply prefer one over the other? If everyone goes mad over the e-book then it will place publishers in a very interesting situation. It is in the lap of the gods and, like the laptop before it, the gods are fickle. The ancient technology of the codex book succeeded because it was practical and pleasurable.

I will still be reading the print perfect, easy-to-manage, hard bound book when it is no longer fashionable or profitable to do so. But I also know that when it comes to one of my favourite pastimes, browsing the entries in Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, it is more comfortable to do so on a compact plastic screen than it is to lug the leatherbound volume (40 cm folio) onto my peak-hour express train.

Philip Harvey is President of the Australian and New Zealand Theological Library Association.

Fonte: Eureka Street

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