The new librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, should push for a national digital library endowment, writes Corilee Christou.
Christou is a columnist for the Web site of Information Today, a major publication for information professionals. She quotes some of TeleRead’s commentary from July 13 and says an endowment approach would help in an era where adequate library funding could be dicey.
As part of her to-do list for Carla Hayden, a well-regarded professional librarian, unlike Dr. Hayden’s technophobic predecessor James Billington, Christou urges the new librarian of Congress to think beyond the standard corporate and foundation givers.
Digitizing precious material in the LC’s collection is another priority, one already acknowledged by Hayden, who plans to seek “corporate sponsorships and philanthropic contributions to aid these efforts,” according to The Washington Post. This may be more challenging than it seems. In 2014, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation surprised much of the world by announcing it would stop offering grants to libraries globally over the next few years. Even worse, also in 2014, the House of Representatives’ Committee on the Budget (then led by current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) recommended eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which is the primary source of federal funding to libraries. Both of these groups were also sources of funding for the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). The LC is rumored to be planning to join the DPLA, and Hayden is a former board member.
However, it would seem to make more sense for Hayden to instead champion a national digital library endowment rather than simply pursuing private fundraising. David Rothman, founder of TeleRead, believes that “a full-fledged endowment, perhaps run in partnership with other organizations, could accomplish so much more. Rather than just confining itself to support for tech and content, [it] also could help pay for education, hiring and professional-development of public and school librarians for the digital era. …”
Christou herself earned an MLS degree from Simmons College and has worked in public, high school, and academic libraries.
Publishers of all kinds may be interested in knowing that she has also worked in the past for such companies as LexisNexis and Reed Business Information, where she was VP, New Media Licensing and Brand Development. Reed at one point owned Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.
As I’ve written in the past, the well-being of society at large should be the main focus of the digital library endowment by far, and I’m confident Christou would agree with me. But along the way, content providers of all kinds could do quite well since the proposed endowment would not just provide for fair compensation of content providers but also work in a truly major way to expand the universe of regular readers.
Other people quoted in the Christou column made wonderful points on such issues as the need for the Library of Congress to serve the entire country, not just Congress, and American Library Association President Julie Todaro called Hayden a “people’s librarian.” But in terms of specifics, the quoted librarians focused mostly on the needs of sophisticated researchers.
The endowment vision is much broader. Public libraries need to get online far more of the copyrighted popular-level content that dominates the public library scene today.
Oh, the gaps in the OverDrive collections of local and regional systems! And the issue goes beyond content: libraries need enough resources to promote books and other offerings in the media and online and also address issues such as family literacy and ebook literacy.
Certainly I agree with research-oriented people about the need for the Library of Congress to help encourage wider dissemination of reports from the Congressional Research Service. And I can appreciate the good intentions of Vika Zafrin, digital scholarship librarian at Boston University, in calling for the Library of Congress to be officially regarded as “officially recognized as the United States National Library.”
But while the Library of Congress could be involved in one way or another and resources should be shared, we really need intertwined but separate national digital library systems—one public and one academic—since the needs of their patrons can vary so widely.
Everyone could still be free to use either system, perhaps even through an optional joint catalog, and public libraries should offer much more academic content than now.
But scholarly monographs must not compete too directly in budgets with such content as popular-level fiction.
Whether certain academics like it or not, typical taxpayers regard local libraries as a form of recreation, and in some cities, such as Westminster, Colorado, libraries are even in the same municipal departments as parks are.
Take away the bestsellers as digitization grows, and taxpayers’ support of local libraries will diminish (beyond the fact that good librarians can use popular-level works to encourage patrons to read more ambitiously).
Granted, the endowment’s funding would enable the public national digital library system to offer many thousands of bestsellers and other books, but local librarians would still be help patrons discover and absorb the right books for them.
What’s more, local libraries would still be free to purchase books directly, paper or digital.
In addition, national site could offer co-branding, so people could access them while still seeing the names of their local systems at the top of the page. Local libraries could even embed national offerings into their Web pages.
The endowment could also make grants to them directly and match local donation, as one of the grant models, to leave room for local initiatives.
Related: How the Hernandez family will benefit from two well-stocked national digital library systems and a digital library endowment.
Image credit: Here.