The Ultimate Digital Library: Where the New Information Players Meet

Peter Limb (Michigan State University)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




Limb, P. (2004), "The Ultimate Digital Library: Where the New Information Players Meet", Online Information Review, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 316-316.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Andrew Pace, who has worked in both the tertiary library and vendor (innovation interfaces) fields, deftly outlines in a highly readable style the form and substance of library‐vendor relations, adding many practical insights into both worlds. The book consists of eight chapters. The first, “Strange bedfellows”, discusses the history of library‐vendor relations and shifting patterns of information products and corporate mergers. The next three chapters analyse, respectively, the “dot‐com competition” between Google and other companies, business challenges to library practices, seen in commercialisation of services and how libraries adapted, and business models for digital library services. The final four chapters survey complex library‐vendor interactions and how they share expertise, possibilities for modifying library school models, the role of library consultants as “double agents”, problems of licensing and fair use, the “ownership versus access” paradigm, and dangers to user privacy. The conclusion proposes concrete ways to help libraries survive in the digital era. Appendices list major vendors and the author's vendor survey, with a useful bibliography and accurate index completing a well‐crafted book.

Pace's relatively unusual dual experience in these “worlds apart” makes him receptive to business models. He suggests, for instance, that closer ties between vendors and library schools may help make libraries more responsive to industry demands. However, he also is acutely aware of the distinct needs of libraries He believes libraries should use the expertise of corporations to improve search, retrieval and delivery of information. He throws down the challenge: libraries can be viable alternatives to failed Internet companies such as NetLibrary, as libraries are expert in adding value to information through subject expertise and collection development; they also bring ethical and professional values to bear that commercial companies may not. The author's firm grasp of technology and experience with vendors allows him to demystify for librarians their corporate partners and the dazzling array of recent digital developments.

Better vendor relations certainly can help libraries improve their viability and user services, and entrepreneurial spirits within libraries may thus be stimulated to exploit library information treasures via, for example, digitisation projects. At the same time a wholesale shift to closer reliance on business risks compromising both basic ethical principles of librarianship and, with even greater corporate control of information pricing, these very services. One danger in such a direction is the possibility of eventual privatisation of libraries, or units within libraries. Libraries have experimented with various commercial options for several decades now but have also vigorously defended their independence and ethics. If vendors sell information best, is it not best to let them to do this and let librarians get on with what they do best? As the “new information players” meet in the “ultimate digital library”, librarians should therefore continue to balance carefully commercial and public imperatives. It is a practical and ethical responsibility of library managers and staff, as well as information scientists, to think through these dilemmas and propose viable solutions. Pace is aware of these questions and boldly suggests some probable future directions. This is an important and timely book deserving wide readership among all “players”.

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