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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
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— Neko Case, Margaret vs. Pauline
November 4, 2005
What is a Library?

This news from the BBC today is interesting, in the face of opposition to Google’s similar plans.

Microsoft scans British Library
Microsoft’s digital library plans are separate to Google’s

About 100,000 books in the British Library are going to be scanned and put online by software giant Microsoft.

The books, which are out of copyright, will be digitised from 2006 and put online as part of Microsoft’s book search service next year.

Microsoft is already working with the Open Content Alliance (OCA), set up by the Internet Archive, to put an initial 150,000 works online.

A separate global digital library plan by Google is also under way.

What makes Bill Gates good and Google bad? And what is a Library exactly?

For starters, this plan includes copying materials are out of copyright only. while Google is attempting to justify posting copyrighted materials and claiming that the project is substantially similar to a physical lending library. Google’s argument has some validity, but you can guarantee that people will use the data to create unpaid for illegal copies of materials. I watched someone once print several hundred pages of a Harry Potter novel - pointing out that the paper he was using would cost more than buying the book, not to mention the several hours of time (including the imposition on other employees, who needed to use the printer) that were being wasted. Mass produced books are relatively cheap, really.

The notion of a library hasn’t changed much over the decades. While many search online catalogues to find books and the old notion of a card catalogue seems quaint, we ultimately still trudge our way down to a building with books on huge lengths of shelves to pick things up. We browse, aimlessly wandering aisles and whisper in hushed tones to other people as we do it - apologizing for brushing up against people in voices so quiet they can’t be heard.

Libraries are repositories of knowledge, but they are also managed repositories of knowledge. This is where the Internet and libraries divide. The Internet is a self managed system, while libraries are actively managed. This editorial function is key - the Internet isn’t even a self organizing system - there is no organization, and this chaos causes no end of problems.

There’s nothing wrong with removing the physical aspect of visiting a library - it’s the knowledge that’s important. I personally can’t wait for the day that I can browse the British Library from home. This is a privilege that I would have been denied, were it not for technology. While I’d rather be in the building browsing it’s shelves, it’s the flow of knowledge from generation to generation that’s important, not the way it’s done.

At one point, knowledge was transfered by carving it into stone - we’ve long since moved to a model that uses paper and ink, paper and carbon and now bits and bytes to do it. We still carve stone, but it’s not as important as it once was.

These bits and bytes carry much power though.

Posted by skooter at 8:18 AM This entry is filed under Technology.

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