Novel Conversations

Digitisation and the changing library.

Libraries are not about books, rather the thoughts and knowledge that is borne from them. Maintaining this intellectual content is at the very core of digitisation.

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The digitisation process has been described as “a series of collaborative activities that transforms analog materials into a digital format”.  In libraries this is most often understood as the scanning of books into electronic files, kept on servers and digitally retrieved when needed. However, digitisation efforts are currently in place to collect images, sound, and audiovisual data around the world. Projects such as Google Books push the boundaries of copyright and public domain. Generally the need for digitisation is to improve sustainable access and preserve materials by reducing their handling. The ultimate goal is for digitised materials to be searchable on the Internet, thereby sharing the collection with a wider audience. These two needs aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Rare books that are digitised for preservation may also find new life as more people are able to view the resource digitally. It is this global connectivity, the prospect of getting local information to individuals searching from anywhere in the world, that will continue to drive digitisation projects into the future. With each passing year new digitisation vendors have emerged creating a competitive marketplace which institutions are taking full advantage of. Libraries of all sizes are now contemplating, planning or engaged in some sort of digitisation initiative.

The core of library service is still essentially facilitating access to information and a key part of that chain in the analog world has been the Interlibrary Loans Scheme (ILLs).  However, studies have found that the cost of an item loaned through ILLs was approximately ten times the cost of an ordinary loan item; by any standard, a premium service! One solution is in the digitisation of library collections. E-books now serve as texts in some of the most fundamental classes taught in universities. However, largely due to issues surrounding copyright and licensing, the ability to share e-books with patrons via interlibrary loan has predominantly been ignored by publishers and libraries alike. Observers however note that an e-book interlibrary loan program would be “in spirit and in practice” the same process currently used for physical items by public and academic libraries globally. Furthermore, as there is no such thing as a lost e-book, shipping or replacement costs would be non-existent. Furthermore, it could be lent many times instantaneously (and simultaneously, if licensing allows) increasing access to users who would be able to download the e-books at their convenience on their own device.

Through digitisation the landscape of library services is changing rapidly. As it becomes more affordable, libraries will increasingly initiate their own projects, their collections becoming available as e-books. The “Discovery to Delivery” process remains at the heart of library operations and core services such as the interlibrary loan scheme can be applied to benefit both user and library while new technologies make the process more and more convenient.