At the weekend there was an interesting article in the NYTimes about the increasingly wary reaction of libraries to the Google Book Search proposition. Major research libraries are looking for a more open distribution model, without Google proprietary restrictions, and supporting the OCA (Open Content Alliance); and more are realising that they can do their own thing.
Interesting comments on this article from Michael Cairns at PersonaNonData, and from Peter Brantley at O’Reilly. Interestingly different, but they both highlight the idea of Digital Interlibrary Loan.
But I am not sure that the concept of Digital Interlibrary Loan really holds up. Well it works fine if digital libraries are composed of Books-as-files, since you can of course loan and track a PDF file; but if digital libraries are databases of searchable books and manuscript collections, where the book lives by virtue of being searched with and linked to other books, the concept of an interlibrary loan is redundant. Consider this question: how are you going to find this rare out of print book which might be available to you through digital interlibrary loan? Before you can borrow a book you need to know that it exists. So you are going to search for it in the complete library catalogue which provides full text searching as part of the catalogue, and then offers you Google-style snippets of the content. That is roughly the way things are going to work in state of the art libraries in 2010. The catalogue you are searching is in a library on another continent. And yet the book looks really good so you want to have it on interlibrary loan…..
But, but hold on a minute, you have been searching it and snippeting it and its already ‘on’ the server where you are searching the catalogue, so having it available to read digitally is just a matter of being able to access, search and read every page. Its just a matter of access and of lifting up the snippeted grid that stands between you and the book in all its veridical, full text, scanned image, glory. There is nothing to be loaned, its just a matter of providing access. Once books are searchable through the web, the idea that they need to be loaned is otiose. Before we get to digital interlibrary loans we are going to have campus to campus digital walk-in access……