Monday, August 13, 2012

The Digital Library

I enjoy trying to stay ahead-of-the-curve on certain subjects;however, on this one I’m in the Stone Age. Recently, my son asked me for an e-book reader. I’ve always felt a certain comfort,sitting quietly and reading a nice traditional book. So, I responded “what’s the matter with a good old book son?” Nothing dad, he said. It’s just that e-book readers are so much better. He had done his due diligence, reading up on various offerings and decided on the brand he wanted. How’s it feel to want, I quipped? All sarcastic kidding aside, we went onto visit the store so I could put my hands on one, to see what all-the-rave was about. I learned you can do all kinds of cool things with e-book readers, like highlighting, annotation, bookmarking a page, change the background shade, adjust the brightness, change the font,its size, and much more. I had to admit to myself, that searching for my readers and suitable source of light to read in, now seemed a bit archaic.

Driving home, while pondering my silent interest in getting one of these puppies for myself, I couldn’t help but wonder: What personal rights and privacies are being unknowingly compromised by participating in this technology? I now feel that e-book readers, by and of them selves, are great.
It’s the manner in which we receive the content, and the companies that control the digital book service industry, that is of concern. Let’s face it; privacy in today’s surveillance society is all but non-existent. And now, our ability to read privately and anonymously with free thought and inquiry, which is afforded us with the traditional book, is vanished with the advent and adoption of the digital book.

Assuming that we choose to adopt the technology and purchase the reader, we now have to populate it with a good book. So… do we own the digital book after purchasing it, or are we just renting it? One would logically think that purchasing a digital book would imply ownership. But we’ve learned that in the case of the digital music revolution, this was not so. And what about disclosure? There were no notices of disclosure near the pretty little display at the store. After all, they are only selling the reader, not the book. Regardless, I still feel that certain disclosure about usage should be communicated to the consumer at the point of sale because the reader is worthless without content. And, if that content is going to be tracked, stored and distributed, I’d like to know. The personal information some of these digital book services can harvest is considerable and sale-able. With a traditional book it is fairly simple to understand and be comfortable with the consequences of buying, selling, reading and disposing of a book. Unless you buy it with a credit card,there is virtually no personal information a book retailer can gather from you. Not the case with the digital variety.

The ability to purchase a traditional book, enjoy it, pass it on to a friend, or even resell it, has been commonplace in society. And, there are many people who supplement their income by selling used books. Will our future digital librarian recognize these rights or will we be denied these basic rights as we’ve witnessed in the digital music industry? Speaking of librarians, what will happen when you visit your local library only to discover that a certain title of great works is now only offered in digital format? How do we ensure that all of society will have access? Will digital book companies offer kiosks in public libraries without a cost, or will there be a form of checking out a tablet with the book loaded? I don’t know. It’s daunting. How are DRM, ACTA, SOPA, PIPA and the like, going to impact society’s basic enjoyment of reading a good book and passing it on to a friend? Will some see jail time, as in the music world? Just what will these digital book service entities do with the ability to collect, disclose and sell your personal information and reading habits? The short answer: Whatever they want, unless we stay informed, educated, and take a stand.

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