Thursday, 17 June 2010

Radical, hi tech libraries

Stemming from discussion of cutbacks comes discussion of how to deliver services more cheaply - and one such service is libraries. Many people suggest having commercial coffee shops in libraries, as the object seems to be to get people in the libraries - it seems not to matter why. Some of the money made selling coffee would be paid in rent to the owner of the library buildings, one presumes. this is not really running libraries more cheaply, but a form of privatisation.

Nay, nay and thrice nay. It's hard to choose where to start. What are we trying to achieve? Access to the books we want people to read, possibly. All books published recently must surely be in electronic format - all the others just need digitising. So do that, then put all the books electronically on the internet, preferably in one file format (the different formats are only for commercial advantage). The book could be 'pushed' onto the e-reader the next time it connects to the internet, though it could be more or less continuously connected if everywhere had wireless internet. Certainly every home should have an internet connection down which information can be pushed as well as pulled.

Then everyone has an e-reader (which can hold thousands of books). Then they just download the books they want onto their e-reader. In many cases people will know which book they want, so they just need the means to find it, which they can do on the internet if not on the e-reader itself. Something like Amazon should do the trick.

For the more library like experience, there could be a virtual library, possibly based on digital images of the actual library, through which people could walk in virtual reality, touching a book spine to open it and browse it.

Some people won't be able to use this technology? Hmm. Some people can't read, either, so we teach them. Ultimately, there could be a human in real time voice/video call helping people to access all the information that comes down their internet connection, but we already have You Tube with videos showing you how to do practically anything you can imagine, so why not how to work your e-reader, or any other thing you need help with? And others more adept at e-reader operation would be on hand to help.

I don't know how many would object that they want the physical feel/smell of the paper. I don't know if that has to be from the book they are reading. I daresay haptic technology can already simulate the feel of paper (or parchment, papyrus, slate, clay tablets or whichever archaic technology people want) , but these elements are secondary to the actual words and information. If people want to read their e-book whilst drinking coffee, they can go anywhere there is coffee and a chair.

All the hoohah about libraries being silent could  be solved by having silent coffee shops, bars, restaurants or whatever - assuming people want to sit with others.

I suppose there is a way of monetising all this, but that is not what books and libraries are really about.

Of course all this would have start up costs in our current system, but we have to ask what it is we're trying to achieve. Where human input may be best deployed could be on grading the material on the internet to show what is educational, and to what level of difficulty - and what quality delivery, etc. There's no reason why the e-reader should be limited to books.

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