Every time I think about how to get libraries into the future, my head begins to hurt. Part of that, of course, is that I keep looking for ways I can get a job out of it, but in this case it’s a relatively small part. I’m puzzling little pieces that have to be worked upon, and each one is a case of ‘the tools are there, sorta, but they need modified for libraries.’ Here’s one.
Pretty much nobody is going to challenge libraries for physical delivery of materials, so that part of the access model works for them once they cross the cost barriers mentioned before. The fighting part is over electronic media. That’s of particular pain as e-media starts being transmittable.
Pause a moment to consider the cost of maintaining both servers and bandwidth. The library has a handful of options, none of them pretty and all requiring more than a little programmer work.
There’s the wrapper model. You get your package attached to a wrapper. That wrapper is date-cued (and maybe requires other cues, such as the library card number). After the “checkout” period it expires and the file becomes unreadable. There are two options for unreadable here. Option one is a simple ‘unviewable’ envelope which can be overcome by setting the system date to the valid window. Option two would be to literally scramble the file, which risks scrambling OTHER data as well. Still, its relatively safe and is a valid option.
There’s the streaming model. Though streaming is an inappropriate term for books, it’s still basically a case of the item remaining on the library’s server and the viewer gets a short-term pipe to view it. There are client-reader programs out there now which accomplish this which could be applied. A unique weakness is that it requires a LOT of bandwidth and processing capacity in the library – or at least to this (these) server(s).
Both carry the additional risk all e-media carries: copying. Regardless of what security you use it’s possible to record what’s “viewed”. The nature of it all is such that any copy is as good as the original — and it’s a heck of a lot easier to copy than copying hard-copy materials. Personally I think the cost is relatively minor but it DOES exist.
For what it’s worth, I think either model is workable. My preference would be to enable all of them – let the specific model meet the user’s needs and capabilities. I think that in all cases it’s also possible to insert a bit of protection as well. Specifically, I think adding a digital watermark is quite possible. I know it’s possible to insert a digital watermark that is also different in each copy. Thus a library could include not only a “this was obtained from OUR Public Library” mark, but also a “by user [card number]” string as well. Sophisticated and knowledgeable experts could still extract and clear the marks, but for most uses it would be sufficient as it stood. The advantage of this is that should a copy be found “in the wild” it could be traced back to where the copy was made.
But all of this costs money and effort, things that for libraries are already in high demand with limited availability. As noted in the previous post the difficulty isn’t really the money, it’s convincing those who have the money that this is a good and necessary thing given the probable future of information access.