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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Clifford Lynch on the promises and failures of e-books

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.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


1 Comment

  1. Cliff doesn’t hold back 🙂

    Sadly, ebooks have not only failed to deliver on much of their promise, they have become a vast lost opportunity. They are becoming a weapon capable of considerable social damage; a Faustian technology that seduces with convenience, particularly for those who consume a great many books, but offers little else while extracting a corrosive toll on our social institutions and norms. The failure here is not primarily one of technology but of the way that rights holders have chosen to apply the technology, and perhaps even of the legal and public policy frameworks that have allowed this to take place.

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