Libraries Forge New Roles in Digital Content Ecosystem, New Report Says

As the digital publishing landscape evolves, public and school libraries are striving to redefine their roles while shoring up their missions. Today, they’re beginning to find ways of achieving that balancing act, according to a new report published by the American Library Association.

The report is a compilation of insights from some of the library world’s best thinkers.

Sometimes their pursuits are surprising. One contributor to the report points out ways libraries are acting as facilitators — not to say vendors — in the self-publishing community, offering resources as well as distribution points giving readers to access self-published content.

Libraries are also carving out new roles in local communities, providing digital services to patrons who, according one observer citing recent Pew research, are uniquely active in other areas of their communities. Demand for those services appears to be on the rise.

School libraries aren’t exempt from these transformations, either. Many have access to distribution platforms and interactive content that public libraries don’t. As models for retailing digital content to continue to evolve industry-wide, so too will the methods school libraries find to deliver that content to the educational system.

[Press Release]

New American Libraries supplement examines major trends in digital content

Washington, D.C.—Leading library visionaries and experts discuss trends in digital content technology and the current state of library ebook lending in “Digital Discoveries,” a new digital supplement from American Libraries magazine.

“There is some reason for optimism,” said Alan S. Inouye, guest editor of the digital supplement and director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). “However, there remain many formidable challenges and exciting opportunities for libraries within the digital content realm in the coming years.”

Developed by ALA’s Digital Content Working Group (DCWG), the digital supplement examines the ways that public and school libraries are defining their roles in the evolving digital publishing environment in a variety of new and interactive ways. The digital supplement also details ALA’s progress in advocating for equitable access to ebooks produced by the world’s largest book publishers.

“Each change in the publishing ecosystem has helped us gain a better understanding of what might be coming,” said Molly Raphael, former ALA president, in an article that provides an overview of the existing ebook lending landscape. “Much work remains to be done, but we can say that ALA has made a difference in helping libraries and librarians find solutions for working in the digital world ecosystem.”

“We are on the cusp of beginning to see the full impact of the internet on the book business, and it will sweep away much of what we understand today about publishing,” said Peter Brantley, director of Scholarly Communication for In “Beating the Odds,” Brantley discusses how libraries can insert themselves into the budding self-publishing industry by connecting authors to readers and assisting the publishing process by assembling tools and services for writers and editors, for instance.

In “School Library Ebook Business Models,” library ebook lending experts Christopher Harris, Ric Hasenyager, and Carrie Russell discuss optimal ebook licensing models for school libraries. According to the authors, school libraries—unlike public libraries—have the option to access content from major publishing companies via online retailer platform models, such as Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble.

Roger Rosen provides a publisher’s perspective on the value of school libraries in the digital era. In “Digital Resources in School Libraries,” he explains how libraries are the “go-to destination for digital empowerment, training, and discovery” and how librarians are those that he “trust[s] the most to separate the music from the noise.”

In “Ebook Discovery,” Larra Clark, director of the ALA Program on Networks, explores ways that libraries can better connect readers to new ebook writers and titles. Libraries are currently increasing ebook exposure and expanding their digital services in a host of ways, including partnering with ebook distributors, developing mobile apps for readers and increasing engagement with social media technology.

Pew Internet Project researchers Kathryn Zickuhr and Lee Rainie provide perspectives based on three years of Pew reports on the rise in digital services in libraries in “A New Way of Looking at Public Library Engagement in America.” According to research cited in the article, Americans’ connection—or lack of connection—with public libraries is part of their broader information and social landscape. The authors reference research showing that people who value and utilize public libraries most heavily tend to be active in other parts of their communities.

The digital supplement concludes with a futuristic perspective on emerging digital technologies in “Through the Google Glass, Dimly,” written by Roger E. Levien, president of Strategy and Innovation Consulting. Levien focuses on how to conceptualize the revolution in digital content, which facilitates envisioning where libraries fit in the reading ecosystem. Robert J. Rua of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library provides a case study of a newspaper transitioning to the digital era and its collaboration with the local library.

The supplement Digital Discoveries is the fourth American Libraries magazine supplement on ebooks and digital content. For more information about the ALA’s digital content activities, visit the American Libraries E-content blog. Read the full report:

Join the ebook discussion at the 2014 American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas. At the session “ALA and Moving Ahead with Digital Content,” a panel of leading library and publishing experts will discuss ALA ebook activities and detail important digital content trends, including key policy issues that impact libraries. Print copies of this supplement will be available at the conference. The ALA Digital Content Working Group will host the session on Saturday, June 28, 2014, from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. in the Las Vegas Convention Center, room N255/257.

About the American Library Association

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 57,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.


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