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Interview with Marilyn Deegan and Simon Tanner
Interview with Marilyn Deegan and Simon Tanner
Marilyn Deegan (email@example.com) and Simon Tanner (S.G.Tanner@herts.ac.uk) are the authors of the recent book Digital Futures: Strategies for the Information Age from Library Association Publishing (2002). Deegan is Digital Resources Director of the Refugee Centre at Oxford University, and Tanner is Senior Consultant for the Higher Education Digitisation Service at the University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom.
LHTN. In the triangle of scholarly publishing do librarians have less power than scholars and publishers, so will have less ability to influence the future?
MD & ST. We think that disintermediation has reduced any individual library's power to influence the future as opposed to that of the scholar and publisher. However, if librarians continue to work together as a coordinated group both regionally and internationally then this will give them more influence. We also think that libraries are natural community centres for access to scholarly publishing in electronic formats and could act as the arbiter between scholars and publishers in this new medium.
LHTN. Over the last few years, have you noticed a significant change in attitudes towards e-journals?
MD & ST. It is our belief that if the journal is a reputable refereed publication from a known publisher then the format is now almost irrelevant. We do not feel that it is possible to speak for the wider academic community as a whole, but our subjective observation would suggest that in the hard sciences, such as physics, speed of publication and access is so important that the new medium is welcomed and exploited (by pre-print archives etc).
LHTN. Have you personally used an electronic book and what did you think of it? If e-books are to become more widely used, what will be the key market for them?
MD & ST. I [Marilyn] have used the RCA e-book reader and I like it very much. However, I find the process of obtaining books more difficult than in the analogue world, and more expensive (given that I buy a lot of books second hand). It is also odd if you want to loan a book to a friend – you have to loan them the reader as well because the digital files are locked to one physical reader. So the supposed freedom of exchange and erosion of boundaries in the digital world is impeded by commercial imperatives to the degree that some things have become more difficult rather than easier. We think the only thing really holding e-books back technically is screen technology, and as we point out in chapter 3 (Developing collections in the digital world) of Digital Futures, the advent of e-ink and e-paper may lead to better take-up. We hope that the next revolution will be in interface technology because until the digital resource becomes easier to carry around and read than paper-based resources there will always be a barrier to take-up.
LHTN. On the crucial matter of copyright law, have national governments the interest and the stomach to enact legislation that recognises the new realities of publishing in electronic formats?
MD & ST. The key problem here is the entertainment and media lobby which is very powerful, and is skewing the marketplace and thus creating problems for libraries. Derek Law points out, for instance, that it was lobbying by the Disney Corporation that was a key factor in the extension of the US copyright law for 20 years "thus saving Mickey Mouse from the horrors of the public domain" (Law, 2000, p. 1). This is skewing the marketplace, because of course the law relating to entertainment is then applied to other copyright scenarios that detrimentally affect a library's ability to provide untrammelled access to resources. Clearly the US government bowed to the pressure (according to Law), which suggests that any legislation they enact will have the interests of the publishers rather than the users at heart.
LHTN. And the same of legal deposit laws for digital materials?
MD & ST. They will almost certainly enact the legal deposit laws, but the crucial question here is whether they will then provide the copyright libraries with adequate funding for the long-term preservation of the materials deposited.
LHTN. You say in your book that by providing personalised services in their portals, libraries can reassert their authority against competing services. Can you explain where the competition will come from, and why new services such as personalised portals will help libraries resist the challenge?
MD & ST. We firmly believe that the library is the best place to focus attention on core information needs. The Web in its "raw" state appears to provide solutions to information needs, but is in fact part of the problem of information overload. So the competition the library is faced with is in fact one for attention rather than a straightforward race to gain financial predominance. Personalisation is about grabbing and maintaining the attention of the user, by giving the services that are of most immediate benefit to that individual. People want a personal service to focus on their personal information needs and do not want to spend time wading through the irrelevant. If libraries can deliver this then they have a big opportunity to develop a loyal and attentive user community.
LHTN. You discuss the ever-increasing speed at which we can access information. When will this exceed our ability to process what we find and tell whether we are looking at quality information or misinformation?
MD & ST. Now! We are already there, and librarians are the key to the solution. In chapter 5 (Resource discovery, description and use) we quote Rennie (1997) saying, "At some point the Internet has to stop looking like the world's biggest rummage sale. For taming this particular frontier the right people are librarians, not cowboys. The Internet is made up of information and nobody knows more about how to order information than librarians".
LHTN. Will the digital divide inevitably grow?
MD & ST. This is inevitably bound up with economic and political issues, in particular across the developed/developing world divide. A large proportion of the world still doesn't have access to computers or adequate telecommunications. However, there are encouraging initiatives to help bridge this, some of which we discuss in chapter 10, such as the WHO initiative to provide free access to medical and scientific journals in the developing world that was announced earlier this year. Libraries have always been about bridging the information divide and thus should take a forward role in helping to bridge the digital information divide.
LHTN. Since you completed writing the book, what have been the developments in digital libraries that you would have liked to include if you could?
MD & ST. There are so many that we are editing a whole series of books called "Digital futures" for Facet Publishing (the new name for Library Association Publishing) – the first will be published at the end of 2002 and will look at current digital library projects and developments in more detail than we were able to. Later volumes will cover preservation issues, infrastructure, and all the myriad topics of vital importance in digital library development. If any readers are interested in contributing to the series or to an individual topic they should contact us.
Law, D.G. (2000), "The Mickey Mouse world of humanities scholarship", in DRH99, Selected Papers from the Digital Resources for the Humanities conference 1999, (Eds), Marilyn Deegan and Harold Short, Office for Humanities Communication Publications (13), King's College, London.Rennie, J. (2001), "Civilizing the Internet", Scientific American, Vol. 276 No. 3, p. 6.
Philip Calvert is based at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.