Today is World book and copyright day. UN mentions a lot about books and the diversity of values they bring along but very few words are written on copyright per se. It’s true that books are vectors of values and knowledge, depositories of the intangible heritage. But in a world progressively going towards digital books, it could be worth having a real debate about what type of knowledge we want to preserve for the next generations, in which formats, under what types of conditions.
I was in New York recently and I was happily surprised to see the number of people still reading something (real books but also magazines, e-books, and of course their e-mails). E-book readers are more and more common, especially in planes and other public transport. Every big book store on 5th Avenue has its own e-reader, even web-based book stores promote their own e-readers. Most if not all of those e-readers promote its own closed, freedom-depriving file format.
We’ve all in mind pictures of the Rose Main Reading Room of the NYPL Schwarzman Building, where the beautiful room is packed with people reading and their laptops. I was also surprised to see the amount of computers available in other rooms (like the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room above). Books – real ones, made of paper and cardboard – are consigned to the walls, very few people are actually browsing through them. We now look for books in electronic catalog ; these books are stored in more functional room for librarians to find them. We now expose our collection of books in “social bookshelves” like librarything.
It’s not a reaction of an old man (well, maybe …). It’s more that we should think about what we want to create and what we want to leave for the next generations. It’s good to have a business plan to allow customers to have the best possible experience while reading your e-books for the next 2 years ; it’s even better if you would allow the same customers to keep their library open, transparent and “sharable” with others. Gutenberg’s invention allowed books and knowledge to be widely shared ; don’t let the “digital revolution” take that freedom back!