Clifford Lynch's new article in American Libraries examines how e-books have failed to deliver on much of their promise. He says that, worse than just failing to provide us cheaper, better, greener reading experience, e-books have become "a weapon capable of considerable social damage" and "a Faustian technology that seduces with convenience." He says e-books are "extracting a corrosive toll on our social institutions and norms" and notes that the failures of e-books are not primarily technological.
Here at FGI we agree strongly with many of his conclusions about digital preservation. For example, he says that "it is neither reasonable nor wise to place all our hopes for preservation of the cultural record on any single library" and we have long advocated digital collections of digital depository information in FDLP libraries because we believe it is unwise to rely on GPO alone to preserve this information for us. He also notes that "The survival and the stability of ebooks are also tethered to the survival, continued interest, and good behavior of the providers." We worry that for FDLP libraries to rely on the "good behavior" of Congress in providing continuing, long-term preservation and free access is a huge mistake. The only way that FDLP libraries will be able to guarantee free access to government information is if FDLP libraries select, acquire, preserve, and control that information that they wish to guarantee.
By examining the promises and failures of e-books, Lynch provides us an analogy to the promises and failures of library practices and policies with regard the preservation of digital government information. He notes that digital preservation must be a concern of all libraries: "Responsible libraries of all types must consider the preservation issues thoughtfully, even if they ultimately conclude (as many public libraries may well) that preservation isn't the library's mission."
- Ebooks in 2013: Promises Broken, Promises Kept, and Faustian Bargains, by Clifford Lynch, [PDF extract of the article from the American Libraries e-content supplement, "Digital Content: What's Next?" (June 2013)]. The complete supplement with other articles is also available.
The essential series Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), published by the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State, presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity. The Office of the Historian has apparently finished its pilot project with producing FRUS in e-book formats (ePub and Mobi). It now is offering 108 publications during its current phase releasing e-books.
- Historical Documents > E-Books Edition, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian.
Hat tip to infoDOCKET!
Does your Kindle track what books you search for? Does your Nook monitor what you're reading after you purchase an e-book? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been digging into the license agreements and technical capabilities of e-book readers to find the answers to these and similar questions since 2009. Their newest report is now available:
- Who's Tracking Your Reading Habits? An E-Book Buyer's Guide to Privacy, 2012 Edition
As we've done since 2009, again we've taken some of the most popular e-book platforms and combed through their privacy policies for answers to common privacy questions that users deserve to know. In many cases, these answers were frustratingly vague and long-winded. In nearly all cases, reading e-books means giving up more privacy than browsing through a physical bookstore or library, or reading a paper book in your own home. Here, we've examined the policies of Google Books, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, Sony, Overdrive, Indiebound, Internet Archive, and Adobe Content Server
This year will probably be remembered (among other things!) as the year of the e-book-reader device hype. We've seen new Kindles, the B&N Nook, the FBReader, applications for book reading on iPhones and other handheld devices, and more. And, of course, there is the elephant-in-the-room of the Google book scanning project. (I find it so odd that so much of the popular press refers to the Google "Library" when it is clearly a Google book store.)
It will be a while before we know if the digital age will turn into the end of sharable books (see: Welcome to the library. Say goodbye to the books), but we certainly should be tracking the development of the advantages and disadvantages of e-books and e-book readers.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is helping us track how these developments affect privacy:
- An E-Book Buyer's Guide to Privacy, Commentary by Ed Bayley.
EFF has created a first draft of our Buyer's Guide to E-Book Privacy. We've examined the privacy policies for the major e-readers on the market to determine what information they reserve the right to collect and share.
Emily Walshe, a librarian and professor at Long Island University in New York, writes about the Kindle e-book reader.
- Kindle e-reader: A Trojan horse for free thought, by Emily Walshem, Christian Science Monitor, March 18, 2009.
In our rush to adopt new technologies, we have too readily surrendered ownership in favor of its twisted sister, access....
You're not buying a book; you're buying access to a book. No, it's not like borrowing a book from a library, because there is no public investment. It's like taking an interest-only mortgage out on intellectual property.
...the founder of the Internet Archive explains what has driven him for more than a decade. “We are trying to build Alexandria 2.0,” says Mr Kahle with a wide-eyed, boyish grin. Sure, and plenty of people are trying to abolish hunger, too.
It would be easy to dismiss Mr Kahle as an idealistic fruitcake, but for one thing: he has an impressive record when it comes to setting lofty goals and then lining up the people and technology needed to get the job done. “Brewster is a visionary who looks at things differently,” says Carole Moore, chief librarian at the University of Toronto. “He is able to imagine doing things that everyone else thinks are impossible. But then he does them.”
This is probably my favorite quote:
“Come back when you have a warrant,” reads the floor mat underneath his office recliner. It was a gift from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (an activist group on whose board Mr Kahle sits) after Mr Kahle refused to hand over information about one of the Internet Archive’s users to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2007.
I only wish more interviews with Brewster would discuss the plethora of government documents that are in Internet Archive. It's a valuable resource and it keeps growing!
Cory Doctorow, co-editor at boingboing.net, Fellow for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and contributor to Wired, Popular Science, the New York Times, etc., has published a book called Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future and it's available for download on his website...for free! Cory is an advocate of the Creative Commons organization, using some of their licenses for his own books.
Here is an excerpt:
Back in 1985, the Senate was ready to clobber the music industry for exposing America’s impressionable youngsters to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. Today, the Attorney General is proposing to give the RIAA legal tools to attack people who attempt infringement.
Through most of America’s history, the U.S. government has been at odds with the entertainment giants, treating them as purveyors of filth. But not anymore: today, the U.S. Trade Rep is using America’s political clout to force Russia to institute police inspections of its CD presses. (Savor the irony: post-Soviet Russia forgoes its hard-won freedom of the press to protect Disney and Universal!)
How did entertainment go from trenchcoat pervert to top trade priority? I blame the “Information Economy.”
No one really knows what “Information Economy” means, but by the early ’90s, we knew it was coming...
And now a cautionary tale: Neil Gaiman -- who wrote the incredible Sandman graphic novel series -- and his publisher, HarperCollins, has put up his novel, "American Gods" online for free reading from the HarperCollins Web site.
Cool, right? Well not so fast. As Cory over at boingboing points out, the book is only viewable using HarperCollins' BrowseInside system which loads pictures of the pages from the printed book, one page at a time, with no facility for offline reading.
And this, dear reader, is the cautionary tale. Online content is *great* for access; but it *needs* to be open and usable, not locked up within a proprietary system with poor quality scans.
The whole thing runs incredibly slowly and is unbelievably painful to use. I think we can be pretty sure that no one will read this version instead of buying the printed book -- but that's only because practically no one is going to read this version, period.
The fact is that the full text of American Gods has been online for years, and can be located with a single Google query. I managed to download the entire text of the book in less time than it took me to get the Harper Collins edition to load the first page of Chapter One (literally!). The "security" that Harper Collins has bought with its clunky, kudgey experiment is nonexistent: pirates will just go get the pirate edition.
Unfortunately, the "security" has also undermined the experiment's value as a tool for getting better intelligence about the market. This isn't going to cost Neil any sales, but it's also not going to buy him any. We take our books home and read them in a thousand ways, in whatever posture, room, and conditions we care to. No one chains our books to our desks and shows us a single page at a time. This experiment simulates a situation that's completely divorced from the reality of reading for pleasure. As an experiment, this will prove nothing about ebooks either way.