Libraries and publishing’s Ice Age

From a recent piece in Salon, titled “Read it and weep“:

Who will survive publishing’s Ice Age? Undoubtedly, the companies that can command developments in the impending digital book revolution. Early next year, Amazon will release the second generation of the popular Kindle, and the Sony e-Reader currently has more than 300,000 users. But the biggest shift might happen on cellphones. Lexcycle has created an e-reader platform for the iPhone and iPod Touch called Stanza. Since the application debuted in July, it has built up 600,000 users. So far, Lexcycle has partnered with big publishers like Random House, Pan Macmillan and Harlequin, as well as self-publishing companies like Smashwords.

Anyone who’s been following big publishing news in the last few months has seen the trend:  hiring freezes, pension freezes, layoffs, and even freezes on acquiring MSS.  Which is sort of nuts–publishers publish.  It’s what they do.  If they decide they can’t afford to buy MSS any more, they’re basically deciding they can’t afford to exist.

Does this mean publishing is dead?  Maybe yes, a bit.  Maybe no.  Jason Boog, who wrote the Salon piece, suggests that smaller, niche-based companies and on-demand printing may be the future of publishing.  He also points to digital book readers (see above) as a major trend and a mission-critical strategy for publishers.

What does this mean for libraries?  How many libraries do you know that lend Kindles or similar devices?  How many have subscriptions or publisher deals that allow them to offer e-books on demand?  How many academic libraries are doing this?  And how many academic publishers may start looking to print-on-demand or digital publishing in the next few years, as traditional print publication becomes ever less feasible?

I know at least one person who got a Kindle for the holidays, and another who wants one (but can’t afford it yet.)  I’d love to have one but the price is way too steep.  I’d love the library to have one available to lend out to students, but so far the content seems pretty heavily oriented to leisure reading, not scholarly study.  E-book readers:  make a well-designed tool that sniffs local wireless (i.e. Touch), has a page-like reading experience (i.e. Kindle), and offers high-quality interactive color graphics so students can read, rotate, modify, and annotate drawings, plans, and graphs (i.e….?)  Make that, and let’s see if we can get past PDFs on laptops in the next few years.

Never waste a good crisis…

Return to posting: Designing from libraries

We’ve been snowed under in Portland for the last couple of weeks–work closures and the holidays have conspired to keep me from rolling up the garage door on the blog.  But now we’re thawing out (raining, actually) and I’m going through some of my Google Reader backlog to see what’s going on in the library-ish parts of the world.

Here’s a fun item from the New York Public Library (actually from Apartment Therapy and Design*Sponge, but NYPL is the sponsor.)

Design by the Book:  NYPL partnered with Design*Sponge to select and invite five visual artists to plumb the library collection, then create a work of art based on something they found that inspired them.  The NYPL then posted video interviews with the artists about their work.  Check it all out at the NYPL website (which isn’t loading for me right now, sorry.)

What a great example of something I’ve been thinking a bit about lately:  “activating” the collection.  That’s my own term, but I probably picked it up from somewhere else, since nothing is truly original.f  Every so often, in the midst of meetings and emails and drafting policy, it occurs to me that we’re sitting on these incredible collections, with really wonderful, mind-blowing stuff in them, and that the best way to reach out to our users is through that stuff.  Exhibits are great, but what are some other ways we can “activate” the collections to bring users in and remind them of the riches we tend and steward for the comomunity?  This is one terrific idea.

Middlebury students working in the field

As usual, the New York Times has some interesting news about higher education:  Middlebury College students are working to help the small town of Starksboro, VT preserve its historic community, monuments, and land use.  They’re interviewing residents about what they value most in their community, and in the process they’re learning about what really makes a small town tick.

This sounds like a terrific example of breaking down the gates that separate the ivory tower from the “real world,” whatever that is.  Service learning and community engagement always get me excited, and I’d love to see libraries participating and fostering this kind of work more often.  It’s good for students, it’s good for the community, and it’s good for the image and development of the university.  As higher ed struggles to redefine itself in a tight global economy, I think we need to find more ways to reach outside our labs and offices (and libraries) and start helping each other out.

Higher education costs

The New York Times reports that higher education may soon become unaffordable for most Americans.  The prognosis is from Measuring Up 2008, the most recent report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

College tuition and fees have risen 439 percent from 1982 to 2007.  Student borrowing has doubled in the last decade.  Anecdotally, I can say that among my circle of friends, in my income bracket, I can’t imagine how parents can pay for their children’s higher education.  The sacrifice it entails is incredible.  I honestly don’t know how people do it.

It’s seemed to me that we were tending this way for a very long time–in a sense, it’s refreshing to see someone put such a bald face on the issue.  We already have a system where social class and income are tied to educational opportunity (or lack thereof) in some very ugly ways.  If we don’t find ways to change the system, we’re going to face even greater problems.  For one thing, an undereducated workforce is not globally competitive.  For another, undereducated people tend to make decisions that are costly to themselves and to society.

I’ve seen the Measuring Up report described as the most important report on education this year.  It’s definitely sobering.