Saturday, June 5, 2010
Media, Access, and Libraries
Isn't it weird that new media (blogs, digital downloads, etc) often seem to be striving for attention from old media? Bloggers frequently want to write books, for example. Musicians still crave record deals. People making home movies still dream of attracting the attention of studio executives. Sometimes I wonder if we're in a brave new world at all, or just in an expanded one, where the preeminence of certain institutions is as great as ever. It may be true that content creation and distribution have been radically democratized, but in many cases old media still choose when to allow mainstream recognition. Conversely, old media are feeling threatened by new media's effect on their bottom lines.
Relating this to libraries, an interesting tidbit I heard at the e-book symposium a few weeks ago is that when libraries provide access to e-books, their overall circulation of physical books increases as well. This is consistent with what I observed when I worked in a large interlibrary loan office -- interlibrary loan requests were increasing over the years, probably due to the internet enabling researchers to discover more sources than ever before. Maybe it's that long tail thing in action.
And I can't help but picture web-based forces, such as online social networks, creating a new channel into the world of serious scholarship and academic information. This sounds stunningly obvious when I put it this way, but the alternative view is that a widely accessible internet signals the demise of libraries. I disagree with the latter: Traditional institutions and old media are certainly changing, but when all is said and done they will continue to have a role, and they will have new media to thank.