Digital Content: What’s Next

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Today, the American Library Association (ALA) released Digital Content: What’s Next? This new report, ALA’s third American Libraries Digital Supplement on digital content issues, focuses on the opportunities and “Faustian bargains” of ebooks. I had the privilege of serving as guest editor of the report. As I can only describe a few highlights here, I hope that you’ll take a look at the full report.

In a previous post, I talked about a new phase with respect to the Big Six, now that they seem to be on track to fully offer ebooks to libraries (we’re counting on you, Simon & Schuster, to go forth beyond New York City). This new phase focuses on the myriad contract terms, from pricing to preservation.

In the report, Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, focuses on the library’s roles in society to preserve the cultural heritage, provide accommodation for people with disabilities, and protect individual privacy—and how the ebook status quo gravely threatens libraries’ ability to fulfill these roles. Lynch also provides some overall thoughts about the current state of library ebook lending—which he characterizes as “appalling.”

In “The Unpackaged Book,” Peter Brantley, director of scholarly communication at, uses Snow Fall, an interactive online narrative published by the New York Times, as a counterpoint to current ebooks from major trade publishers. In libraryland, our focus is on ebooks as intact products with definite boundaries. Thus, we can still think about them as things to acquire, collect, lend out, and preserve. Brantley raises questions about how libraries will need to reconceptualize “library ebook lending” as ebooks become more like living websites rather than information containers.

We read in Digital Book World and elsewhere about the rapid growth of self-publishing fueled through the rise of digital publication. James LaRue, in his article “Wanna Write a Good One?” urges libraries to consider a role as local community publishers and how community members themselves could be involved in deciding which ebooks are made available by libraries.

There is much more—take a look! Also, several of us ALA folk will be at Book Expo America next week, including Maureen Sullivan (ALA president), Keith Michael Fiels (ALA executive director), and me. In particular, Maureen will be on a panel organized by the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) that includes Steve Potash (OverDrive), Paul Aiken (Authors Guild), Jack Perry (38enso Inc.), and Ginger Clark (Moderating for AAR), in the Javits Convention Center, Room 1E10, May 30, 2013, 3:30–4:20 p.m. Hope to see you at this session or in the hallways!

Expert Publishing Blog
Alan S. Inouye

About Alan S. Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is director of the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) of the American Library Association (ALA), based in Washington, D.C. Since 2011, he also serves as the program manager of ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Initiative. Prior to ALA, Alan was the coordinator of the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President for three years. Earlier, Alan served as a study director at the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academy of Sciences for seven years. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.


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