LITA President's Program (take dos)

Digital Searching to Digital Reading
Speaker: Michael Lesk author of Understanding Digital Libraries

Are people really going to read books online? Do they want to? These are the opening questions that Michael Lesk posed to the audience. People want things electronically, but they do not necessarily want to read it online. Many do not take digitization and digital delivery of books very seriously, but there is a history of people not taking seriously the things which we now hold in places of honor. Lesk talked about Shakespeare, talking films, and languages. In my head I think about the world being flat and the sun revolving around the earth.

Are digital libraries useful? Few evaluations have been made of current digital libraries. Lesk did a quick comparison of Google and some common scholarly digital resources by doing some sample searches. He found that Google does give more general things, but an undergraduate may actually prefer this. Google can do everything that a scholarly resource can do, though the content will be different. I am left wondering if this is really a bad thing that Google can answer people’s questions. Is it Google’s fault that they answer questions with seeming ease while it takes a library catalog or database much longer in a convoluted system?

The Million Book Project –
People do not want to lend their items. It typically takes one year from start to finish.
Copyright restrictions – Lesk provided a URL, which I of course wrote down incorrectly. Oops.
Accessing the results is difficult
Coordination is bad resulting in duplicate scans
Cataloging – the people who scan the books are not really trained in OCLC

Lesk discussed Gorman’s quote from the LA Times (December 17, 2004) in which Gorman stated that online reading of texts is bad because people take things out of context and only read snippets instead of the entire body of work. Lesk made the point that people have always taken things out of context and the web does not make that truth any different. I think that some of Gorman’s views on scholarship are a bit old fashioned. When doing research, I often read snippets to find what I need and rarely read every publication on a subject before I consider myself learned in that subject. Call me crazy…

Browsing will work differently online then it does when people can simply go to a shelf. Currently, we have no technology that really solves this problem, but there have been some that have tried. Lesk displayed some different interfaces, but they are lacking in applicability that would make sense to all users.

Michael Lesk’s final word: The result of many books being online will not be that libraries close. There will always be a need for libraries.

I could not agree more.