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Library Of Congress Will Not Digitize Books 485

ATKeiper writes "Science fiction writers, like Neal Stephenson in his classic Snow Crash, have written about a future where all the Library of Congress's works are available online. In an underreported lecture late last week, the Librarian of Congress said the Library will not put its books online. But his argument for not putting books online - even books with expired copyrights - is that there is something 'mindless,' 'isolating,' 'lonely' and 'arrogant' about reading online."
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Library Of Congress Will Not Digitize Books

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Because reading a paperbook is such a group effort

    Well, yes it is. Since the book is in Washington D.C. and I'm in California, it does indeed take a great number of people all working together (pilots, reservation clears, rental car employees, bankers [travel costs bucks], etc.) to get me to that book. Sure, reading the real deal is more cozy, but puting the library online will open it up to millions who will never go to D.C. or simply *can't* afford to go to D.C.

    This is the gov't telling the poor and the non 31337 that they have no right to knowledge. Sad. Sad and utterly pathetic.

  • While it would be expensive, it can be done slowly, and the value to every local library in the US would be immense.

    In 1990 or 1991 when I lived in Gomel (USSR, then Belarus), all I had were some PC-AT (286) boxes and two 2400 bps modems. I have decided that it sucks that in the whole city (that had about half a million people at the time -- comparable to San Francisco) there is no public-accessible network, and that it will be a good idea to join Fidonet (that was the only thing available without insane fees) as a "point", open a BBS on it and maintain it. I did that, then "point" became a "node", some other people joined, and soon it turned into Net 2:452 of Fidonet. With cheap and primitive equipment, flaky phone lines, DOS software (that I had to rewrite to adapt to conditions where it was sometimes impossible to complete mail packet download between having the carrier lost and redialing for half an hour to some overloaded node), it supported reasonable speed of netmail (Fidonet equivalent of email, with store-and-forward routing) and echomail (newsgroups very similar to early days of Usenet), people started using "freq" (file request, an equivalent of FTP transfer, but as opposed to FTP and HTTP, it was queued as a "special" mail message, so it could be delayed until long distance discount hours, recovered from failure, etc.) to get things on remote servers, send files as "attachments" (as opposed to MIME attacments those were kept in original format, weren't routed and were processed separately from message to preserve precious bandwidth), use search-engine-like "robots", etc. -- all that using few 2400bps modems. The amount of information that can be found by Fidonet wasn't, of course, comparable to LoC, but it made a huge difference in the lives of a bunch of programmers that operated and used that network, including myself. Forgive me, Borland/Inprise/whatever, I had Borland C++ 3.1 available for download -- my excuse is that you certainly didn't lose any profits from people whose monthly salary was equivalent to $30 or less, and the nearest store with your products was way beyond their reach.

    It was done by people with no money at the time when Internet (or any network) access really was hard to obtain, and it still worked.

    Now almost a decade passed. Neither in Gomel nor anywhere in US it's necessary to deal with 2400bps modems or 286. Even poorest of the poor, if they want to access the Internet, can buy some used 386 box with 4M of RAM ( => capable of running DOS or Linux) with at least 9600bps modem -- I know, I did that in 1994 after arriving here, and I had literally no money then -- it certainly didn't become harder now except that p166's replaced 386dx-25 as the most likely throwavay item. Even the worst school in US with the dumbest technician in the world can find some mac and subscribe to some cheap-ass dialup. And the poorest library still can find 2-3 computers and modems. Heck, a library can put one Linux box and all other boxes can be 286 with NCSA telnet. Someone who wants to get "enterntainment", will be very disappointed by all mentioned solutions, but a person who needs to get some particular book, especially if LoC will make it available in plain text, will find those ways of accessing it through the Internet extremely useful.

    So, it's not some "rich elite" that will be able to access digitized books, it's precisely the same set of people, whom libraries are supposed to serve. Library's primary function is not to serve as a place for conversations, waiting, "looking smart" or visiting a public bathroom -- it's to allow people to find and read books, and accessibility through the Internet helps to perform it.

  • I found his comments about the internet rather vaccuous and snotty, but beyond that, the man is in need of a cluestick to the crotch.

    As many pointed out above, reading on-line is not the best visual experience - RIGHT NOW. What about advances in technology Mr. Librarian of Congress? Don't you think that starting the digitizing process for books now in preparation for future use might just be a good idea?

    I like books - I spent a lot of time in libraries in college; heck, I even worked in a largish public library for four years. But, with the way technology changes - web tablets w/ decent resolution as someone else pointed out - wireless becoming more and more workable - why not start the preparations now for digital access?

    Maybe Mr. B has been spending too much time at the crt himself; thus his short-sightedness is explained!
  • Is it preferable to have the Library of Congress innaccessible to the majority of the country? Most people can't afford, time or money-wise, a trip to D.C. to read a book. It would be idiotic not to digitize the books. It's not like we'll be tossing the originals out when we're finished. They'll still be there, but now the rest of us will be able to do the research we want to do without having to come up with the time or money to make a trip to D.C.

  • And I would have if I'd known that I'd be hit with a hail of gross generalizations. You must be exposed to a different sort of company than I work for.

  • wrong.

    the LoC's resources are contrained. if they spend 20% of their money, time, space, on digitizing existing content, they would have 20% fewer resources to apply to the first two priorities.

    You assume that resources must somehow be divided and allocated specifically to each 'priority'. Also, you assume that digitizing the content will not have a positive impact on the first two priorities.

    Both of these assumptions are false.

    1. THE FIRST PRIORITY of the Library of Congress is to make knowledge and creativity available to the United States Congress.

    This is a blanket priority that is fulfilled implicitly by all the other priorities.

    2. THE SECOND PRIORITY of the Library of Congress is to acquire,

    Moving the library into a digital format makes acquisition of new materials far easier. No longer do physical books have to be printed, transported, indexed, and tracked.


    Do I need to address the organizational advantages of digital information? Instant content retrieval, plaintext searching, automated indexing, cross-linking across different volumes, remote access, etc., etc.

    preserve, secure and sustain [knowledge] for the present and future use of the Congress and the nation.

    Paper is a relatively fragile medium. Books that are only a hundred years old are effectively impossible to use. Ongoing maintenance means having to continually reprint material, a process as if not more expensive than digitizing it. Digital information can be copied and backed up an infinite number of times at near zero cost.

  • Levar hosts Reading Rainbow [], an excellent kids' show about reading.
    Oh, no ... the theme song is back in my head .... "Butterfly in the skyyyyyyyy! I can go twice as hiiiiiiigh!!"
  • With the information electronically, we'll print it when we need it--and then toss it. Need it again? print it again, toss it again.

    A bound book is less likely to be tossed in this manner.

    And, no, I don't think that reading on a screen is viable until we have high contrast, 300+dpi screens.

  • Well I'm not sure about the less susceptible to decay, in 40 years will we still be able to read the CD-ROMs and computer tapes from today? Will we still be able to read the document formats?

    I have handled books that were 400 years old or more. Guess what I could read them (Well not the ones that were in Latin). Good quality paper will last a very long time if it someone takes good care of it.

    The other problem is that the LoC does not have to rights to digitalize and publish books that are still under copyright.

    The Cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • A book is small by internet terms, compressed it's probably smaller than this web page...

    It's not like the physical books are going away, but I cure as hell am not going to D.C. to read somthing.. it would be cheaper to buy a modem and computer!
  • I've been wondering, however . . . what would be the best long-term stable format for book-encoding? I imagine it would be some flavor of SGML (IIRC, long-term library data storage is its raison d'etre). But, which particular flavor? Does a suitable one already exist? Are there DTD's and stylesheets available?

    DocBook springs to mind...

    But while a flexible format would be handy, I envision some quite revolutionary steps that could be taken by 'leveraging' net project techniques, and chucking the books into revision control systems for open, distributed modification (why not, if it's public domain, it's allowed!) Imagine:

    • Proofreading can be distributed and done in massive parallel over time.
    • Rollback to the original document (or any intermediarily edited form) is possible.
    • Branches can be made for purposes of rendering the book in more modern speech, or to translate into other languages.
    • Annotations can be added to the documents and community-moderators can be used to filter out the best annotations. (just like Slashdot, eh?) (Maybe even essay questions and essays?)

    Many, many possibilities... Of course, the future is not "theirs" but ours, and it is our own responsibility for building the foundations for the future we wish.

    I've written a Free roleplaying game book (Circe []), which is being used with the WorldForge [] project. One of our adopted goals is to build or assemble all of the tools and processes to be able to do precisely what I've described above (imagine being able to assemble your own set of game rules, customized to the kind of game *you* want to play). We've got the rulebook in CVS in DocBook format already, and are working on features to make it dynamic.

  • the Library of Congress over some kind of fat pipe's worth of bandwidth a second?

    Does this mean now that I can send the contents of the Library of Congress over a 14.4 kbps dialup in one minute? :)
    computers://use.urls. People use Networds.

  • Sounds like a really bad case of tweed poisoning. He makes a good point in prioritizing rare materials over commonly available books, but he misses a huge point: The Library of Congress has a role in the copyright system. Every book published in the U.S. should be in the Library. What better way to underscore the public good of limited copyright protection than to have the Library of Congress deliver electronic versions of books that are no longer protected? Further, what better way to discourage illegal copying of electronic material than to have a large supply of freely available electronic material?

    Overall, he missed a tremendous opportunity to shape the electronic future. Instead he is simply standing athwart a tidal wave. He will make the Library of Congress another example of how gevernment doesn't get it when or someone other commercial venture starts handing out free e-books.

    This whole situation illustrates another point: government does have a role to play in the Internet future. It is not a inevitably libertarian future. But if government keeps screwing up, that is how it will turn out.

  • Let's pause for a moment and consider what LoC stands for: "Library of Congress". People often forget this, but the entire reason this repository was created, and theoretically the reason it exists now, is to meet the research needs of congress. Taken from their webpage:

    1. THE FIRST PRIORITY of the Library of Congress is to make knowledge and creativity available to the United States Congress.

    The Congress is the lawmaking body of the United States. As the repository of a universal collection of human knowledge and the creative work of the American people, the Library has the primary mission to make this material available and to identify, analyze and synthesize the information it contains to make it useful to the lawmakers who are the elected representatives of the American people.

    This means that it's really not his decision what goes digital and what doesn't - it's up to congress. We all know how convenient having digitized works online would be, and so do your congressmen, who a.) do a lot of research using the LoC, and b.) have way, way less time than any of us. Once they awaken to the possibility, I'm quite sure that they well either browbeat this guy into submission or legislate it. One snooty government employee isn't going to stand in the way of progress (well, except for Greenspan, but that's a whole other story).

    Also, his decree directly contravenes the "third priority" of the Library, also off their webpage:

    3. THE THIRD PRIORITY of the Library of Congress is to make its collections maximally accessible to (in order of priority)

    A. the Congress;
    B. the U. S. government more broadly;
    C. the public.

    Maximally accessible! Hullo?

    Although I fully agree with what he has to say.

  • Now, I'm a real bookworm, and spent LOTS of time as a kid in the brick&mortar library flexing the old imagination, and the advent of Hypertext [] was like a dream come true - there are so many times one is reading a book and come across a footnote that links you to another book, or a certain line makes you think, "hey, that's just like a line in another book - now where was that" so you start to see a body of knowledge as not just a stack of books on shelves but as a real intertwined web of cross linked referances woven into a larger tapestry, lines of influence and schools of thought .... the web was made for publishing research and refrenching and building upon prior research.
  • That's why God made Palm Pilots (and TealDoc). Read anywhere, anytime, and even is backlit so you can read in bed without bothering your spouse. Easier to handle then a book as well (one hand grip, one thumbclick to scroll).

    Also great for those fast food restraunts, where you don't have to figure out how you are going to hold your book open with your tray without having it flop all over the place everytime you pick up your biggie diet coke!

  • by uradu ( 10768 )
    Those damn arrogant third worlders, sitting at home all day surfing the web and not socializing with the rest of us. They should just get off their lazy asses and trek over to DC and read a good book for a change. It'll do them good.

    Uwe Wolfgang Radu
  • The only way to counter "bad" stuff is with "good" stuff, and if all the stuff he's talked about is bad, then what could be better than to ass whole libraries to the Net?

    See? Billington is right!

    Everywhere I look, I see sex, sex, sex!

    Jay (=
    (couldn't resist, sorry)
  • Yes, and here is where the "arrogant" descriptor becomes useful. Arrogant people buy books they never read.
  • This librarian appears to be affraid of what might happen to the traditional library when books are available online.

    Libraries have been a haven of learning throughout the centuries and there is a social status associated with them. Those who frequent libraries are often considered educated and literate. And it doesn't seem right to call someone "bookworm" who reads online, or downloads books.

    Books themselves have cultural significance too. I know people who will buy fancy books to adorn their shelves, yet never read them. Having all of the classics, leatherbound, in your library says something about you.

    Perhaps reading online might be considered isolating and lonely to some. I would stop short of arrogant; that is an adjective reserved for short-sighted librarians.
  • Levar Burton hosted Reading Rainbow before he was ever played Geordi LaForge.
  • What really worries me--and should worry you, too--is that this numbnut has significant say in what exceptions may be made in the DMCA for matters of fair use.
  • If you're a US citizen, go to []; they have a zipcode-based legislator-finder, with all the necessary contact information. Physical letters or phone calls would probably be better than email (and I intend to use Dialpad to call and make my feelings known), but email is better than nothing.
  • Bus fare: A couple of bucks.
    Bus ride, one hour: $20
    Finding book, one hour: $20
    Bus fare: A couple of bucks.
    Bus ride, one hour: $20

    Literacy: PRICELESS.

  • Well, yeah. But this at least would save me the trouble of finding out by actually talking to them.
  • Me too. Not to mention "find". I could walk into a room and do this:

    find /usr/local/room -type f -perm 777 -size 7 -exec grep -l "thing for short furry Jewish guys" \{} \;

    Think how much time (and rejection) that would save!
  • every book every printed will eventually be available online.

    Alas, 19 years from now, there will be another copyright extension act. And 20 years after that, and 20 years after that,... We wouldn't want take away H. P. Lovecraft's incentive to write stories, would we?

  • You're conflating books with the contents of the Library of Congress. If you ignore the inflammatory presentation of Billington's plans, you'll notice that he says, in effect, that the Library of Congress intends to put all of its unique content online.

    In other words, if it was something that you had to go to DC to get access to, it would be online.

    He personally doesn't see going to a local library to be big enough of an imposition to outweigh the social benefits of the act, and that's what everyone is harping on.

    It's still cheaper than buying a modem and a computer to go to a local library.

    If we eliminate public libraries in favor of the Internet, many people will be harmed. His language (which may be taken out of context--note the use of many very short excerpts in the article) doesn't make that point well, but that's what he's thinking.

    The Internet is not an intrinsically democratizing institution, though it has great capacity to be.
  • Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the discussion is emphasizing where we disagree with Billington than where we agree.

    He's clearly misguided in his belief that reading a physical book is necessarily better than reading an online book. I'd agree with him that when reading for enjoyment, a physical book beats online text every time. There is something different about flipping pages than scrolling. He discusses the advantages of having a physical book over having digitized text in this article. He doesn't discuss the disadvantages. That doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't know of the disadvantages, as many /.ers assert.

    It is certainly true that reading a physical book is a more reverent action than digitized text, because a physical book is an entity unto itself. To read part of a book one must pick up the entire book.

    The context of reading digitized text read on a computer is much less "reverent" because it is not as a separate entity, but as a mutable part of a larger whole. That which we can change, edit and control is not that which we will have reverence towards. (Unless, perhaps, the process of change is highly formalized, as in Torah study.)

    The controllable nature of digitized text, while under certain particular circumstances can be thought of as a disadvantage (the circumstances which Bellington considers in his arguments), is also its great advantage. One can do word analysis of Shakespeare vs. the Bible vs. Chaucer and come to new understandings of language, etc. etc.

    That said, let's look at the parts of the article where he talks not about philosophy about action. He says that the Library of Congress will digitize the rare items (pamphlets, maps, etc.) of its collection instead of the books which can be gotten at local libraries.

    Wait a second! That makes perfect sense. The Library of Congress has finite resources, and they should be certainly allocated to that which it can uniquely do. Anybody can start digitizing freely available texts, and people are doing so (see the Bartleby project []). Only the Library of Congress has the capability to digitize the stuff that only it has a copy of.

    Also, he thinks that libraries should be founts of uncensored information. I know that a bunch of you are thinking (because that's what you said) "He's asserting two irrationally opposing viewpoints!" And to a degree, I agree. However, if we look at his arguments, you can see his conceptualization of the issues is consistent (though incomplete).

    Here is a (rather incomplete and interpretational) list of his asserted beliefs:
    a) someone else can digitize books
    b) the Library of Congress has a mission to preserve the "sacred" nature of the printed word.
    c) free and uncensored libraries are an absolutely necessary component to the American democracy
    d) television promotes social decay
    e) the Internet has the power to promote social decay
    f) if the same information can be gleaned from the Internet and a public library, Billington (and thus the LoC) would encourage the use of the library

    Implicit in these stated beliefs are:
    a) the physical and discrete nature of books adds intrinsic value to text
    b) the Internet can behave like television
    c) participation in democratic institutions builds societal values
    d) the Library of Congress has a mission to promote the American democracy
    e) community is necessary to a functioning democracy
    f) people having a sense of personal humility, in respect to history, is necessary to a functioning democracy
    g) the act of going to a library builds community
    h) the act of dealing with physical books builds a sense of personal humility in respect to history

    From a), b) and f) of his asserted beliefs he concludes the Library of Congress should not digitize books. A perfectly reasonable syllogism.

    A basic problem with the article is that it concentrates on the debatable (to /.) parts of his assertions, and not the parts we'd agree with. For example, the article describes what he thinks the problems with the Internet are, but not what he thinks the benefits of the Internet are. We can attempt to infer what he thinks the Internet is good for from his statements, but there's no way of knowing that we'd be right. Obviously he doesn't think that it's not good for anything, though that's the tone of many /. posts.

    I believe the basic flaw in his beliefs comes from this: he thinks that the LoC has a responsibility to protect the sanctity of books and the mission of public libraries, and the digitizing of books freely available at libraries is antithetical to that responsibility. I don't think it's antithetical, and I hope it's clear what my position is (see PP's 3-5).

    However, his fears are realized on /. when people argue "Going to a library is more difficult than looking something up on the Web; therefore, there's no value in going to a library."

    That argument is deeply flawed--if you can't immediately see it, let me replace some of the words:
    "Installing Linux is more difficult than buying a computer with Windows installed; therefore, there's no value in installing Linux."

    Dissing libraries is just as reactionary as dissing the Internet.

    See the above post for that kind of dismissive argument (asserting that libraries are "isolating" and cause "ignorance" and "non-disclosure" is utterly misguided). Libraries and books shouldn't be attacked, they should be celebrated, just as the Internet should be celebrated.

    So don't be a hypocrite: don't be as reactionary as Billington. Mindless futurism is just as bad as mindless romanticism.

    When Billington celebrates libraries and denigrates the Internet, don't denigrate libraries in response: celebrate them both, and show him and people like him how to do both.
  • Of course it will. The books should not be kept on a media like floppies. The books should be stored in a standard format (ASCII, HTML) that will be readable for years on an internet-connected server. When the system the books are on is in danger of becoming obsolete, the librarian can simply FTP the whole shebang over to the next machine. Simple, reliable, and no problem to implement. After all-- my old 386 with a 5 1/4" drive can easily ftp all of its contents to my new machine. The internet is a giant help in avoiding media obsolescence, and the ease of moving the data makes remote backups no problem too.
  • ASCII isn't going anywhere. It's a 30 (or more) year old WORLD standard. It's not likely to be forgotten. If it is forgotten, it is a simple mapping of characters to codes that could quickly be deciphered, even by an idiot like me, with a table of english character frequencies. HTML is a subset of SGML, and is also not likely to disappear. You said "as long as the language isn't dead"... well, the same defense goes for ASCII and HTML. As long as ASCII and HTML aren't dead, we're fine.

    And we don't need to keep proprietary readers. All we need is to keep a quick reference outlining the format. This is the ONLY book the library of congress would really need to keep on hand-- "how to decode the stuff we've digitized".

    Most books are not printed in quantity. That is the problem. Those that are will be fine-- but those are only a tiny fraction of the books written and published.

    I agree with you that a diversity of formats is better. We should NOT throw out print. I like print. Keeping it digitized also improves reliability. And in the same sense that you can move the data from one machine to the next generation via a network, why not take that time to translate to the current popular format as well? For example-- if ASCII were being replaced entirely with UNICODE (and it will be) I'd simply move it all to the new server and convert it all to UNICODE. No data storage obsolescence, and no data format obsolescence.

    And for the record, you Linux box probably has the tools for converting EBCDIC to ASCII already on it. Hardly an "unreadable" format, no matter how unused it has become.
  • and more social as well.
    "there is something mindless, isolating, lonely and arrogant about reading online."
    Uh huh, right. That's like saying that reading itself is "mindless, isolating, lonely, and arrogant", because [at least last time I checked] it's kinda hard to either multitask while reading and/or loan someone the social use of my eyeballs.

    The fact is, I can and often do learn more in a few hours of research on the 'Net than I could in weeks of research at every library within fifty miles of where I live (which is in a metro area, BTW). I can open up email conversations with researchers, cross check sources with other experts, read commentaries, engage in intelligent chat groups on tech subjects, even arrange to participate at in person seminars, etc.

    In essense, then I am more engaged and less isolated than a lonely researcher plodding the halls of any library, and if I want to listen to my own favorite MP-3's at 90db, I can do so without wrecking another person's reading experience.

    Maybe what this librarian sees is that the place where he works is fast becoming irrelevant except for historical research, and possibly even then.

  • I'd like to state a contrarian view here, and if it gets flamed (or moderated down) well, so be it. I think it's a Good Thing that this Librarian of Congress is doing what he is doing, though I agree with most all of the community that his reasoning is, shall we say, flawed. The works in the LOC will become digitized, sooner or later, and the entire corpus will not be digitized tomorrow. The digitization must be prioritized, and I cannot fault the choice of doing images and audio works first. The post of Librarian will pass soon enough to one who is online-literate, and the work of digitizing the works of text can proceed from there.

    In the mean time, it's good to see someone in a position of such influence give voice to a defence of paper books. A future in which all books are online and none are on paper seems to me to be a bleak future, indeed. I am as eager as anyone to see all information online. But I would hate for that to mean than none is availble offline.

    There is a sensual pleasure in turning pages of a book, and a practical pleasure in having words in a form that can be bent, folded and mutilated. And torn and ripped up in anger and thrown away in disgust. No improvement is going to bring that to electronic display.

    The online world is a wonderful enhancement to the lives of all who would use it well, but anyone who uses the online world as a substitute for a real life does run the danger of having no real life at all. And a librarian who loses the love of books as they have existed throughout history is a poor librarian indeed.

    As long as he isn't seriously getting in the way of progress, I'd rather have a Luddite in charge now than one of those new wired librarians we see who think only of information online, and let the precious works they have under their care rot away.

    Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation
  • What does air filter boy from Star Trek have to do with this?
  • "...there is something 'mindless,' 'isolating,' 'lonely' and 'arrogant' about reading online."

    No, that's what it's like to be a librarian.

    Seriously, is this the dumbest things you've ever heard or what? I don't read for companionship--I do it for pleasure and/or information. So what am I supposed to do? Drive to DC every time I need to look something up at the L of C?
  • The proportion is extremely small (most .005 percent).

    WTF??? There are over 90 million americans online, for some reason I think more then 450 of them have good conections. Just beacuse you were a cheapass and baught a $14 winmodem, dosn't mean that people can't download large files over a modem. I've been online at home since '96, and I used to download 24 megabyte files off my 14.4 baud modem without a problem. There are literaly Tens of Millions of people in this contry would be able to benifit from putting these books online. And they could put OCR'd text up along with the PDF files. I'd say that, in the US, only a small majority of people have the problems connecting that you do, not the other way around.
  • People have already mentioned Gutenburg as an example of how digital libraries can change the experience of reading. Likewise, [] is another such example: all of the major classical authors, in Latin and Greek, with English translations, linked dictionaries (with morphological searches!!), commentaries, etc. For anyone who has tried reading Greek, unless one is a completely fluent, books are an encumbrance (try reading Plato on the plane, when you have to lug a dictionary, a grammer, and a commentary -- of course you can't read the Perseus texts yet on the plane, but someday you will be able to).

    The exciting thing will come when/if Perseus becomes the locus for classical scholarship, publishing preprints (a la LANL) or e-journals with hyperlinks to source texts.

    OTOH, there is a dark side to mindless promoting of e-texts to the exclusion of books:

    • Until resolutions improve considerably, reading an electronic book is a poor substitute for the "real thing."
    • Even if resolutions approach or surpass ink, not all books will be digitized. Much of our cultural heritage will be accessible only in paper form in institutions such as the library of congress
    • Paper is a much better archive form than any electronic storage medium now existing (bit rot, changing media, etc.)
    Nicholson Baker published an article in the New Yorker a number of years ago, exposing the e-sins of the SF public library, which literally trashed books while moving to a hip wired new facility which didn't fit all of the holdings of the library. Likewise, Baker explored the loss of paper card catalogs in moving to electronic catalogs. The point is not to be a Luddite, but to understand the limitations of technology as well as the benefits, and have a healthy respect for what paper has been able to do over the past 2500 years.
  • But oneof his arguements is that libraries are more social.

  • More social... I live in nyc.. when will i have time to go to THAT library for a good book,eh?

  • While in this account Billington doesn't mention it, there is a bigger issue for the LOC: How long can they expect digital media to last?

    We know from experience that acid-free paper lasts for many hundreds of years. But magnetic tape reels and cassettes aren't reliable for more than a half-dozen years, hard disks have bearings and other moving parts that fail over time, and some studies indicate that the plastic in compact disks may deteriorate after fifty years.

    And this ignores the formatting issues: Can you find hardware to read your archive of old Sysquest tapes and 5.75" (or 8") floppies today? Will you be able to find CD readers 200 years from now? And if the data's stored as rich text, will anyone be able to find the software? My senior thesis is safely stored on a diskette in Leading Edge Word Processor format. It might as well be in heiroglyphics.

    If the LOC were to take the trouble to digitize the books, what media and format could they reliable store them on so that they'll still exist for future generations?

    Given these constraints, I'd rather not have them spend my tax dollars on the labor-intensive process of scanning, OCRing and correcting text from millions of boosk.
  • The Bibliothèque Nationale de France [] (French National Library) has been doing this for the last year or so: the project is called Gallica [] and the collection of texts is now beginning to look respectable.

    Unfortunately, most documents are simply scanned and not OCR'ed, so it is nice if you wish to print the book, but not if you want to use it for, e.g. statistical or analytical purposes, or simply to grep text in it.

  • I have an 1846 edition of Dicken's short stories. It has a wonderful smell old paper; I love the feel of it's incredible embossed spine, the gorgeous end papers, the crackly, crumbly old paper that always makes me a little self conscious of whether my hands are clean or not. I love the idea that it has been passed down through possibly a dozen owners over a century and a half.

    I love the noninteractivity of books. Sometimes I want to get lost in an author's world rather than giving into the temptation of hyperlinking off of every other bleeding word. I love to immerse myself in linear time, or linear representations of non-linear conceptions of time. I love to read to my children and to my wife and have them read to me. My wife got through labor by my reading Elizabeth Peters mysteries to her.

    I fall asleep every night with a book in my hand. Sometimes its an O'Reilly animal book, sometimes its a volume of old poetry; whatever come to hand on the way to bed.

    I love my public library. I love to get lost in the stacks. I love taking my family there. I like sitting in the sunny reading room in a comfy chair. I like going to concerts and lectures and seeing my neigbors and friends there.

    That said, this library of congress guy is an completely wrong. Just because A is good doesn't mean B isn't also good.

    Technology is a funny thing. A cell phone a few years ago was a status symbol; now its a practical and vital link for many third world people who can't get access to copper land lines. Computers and Internet access a few years ago were only for an affluent. In many underdeveloped places, they may soon become the most affordable way to access the world's intellectual heritage. Putting books on line will enrich libraries and people all over the world.

    I love grabbing a book of the Gutenburg site and downloading it to my laptop or reformatting it form my Newton, but you aren't going to get me away from real books any time soon.
  • Far nastier stuff happens in front of computers, I'm sure.
  • An interesting point, but i can think of another reason not to. It would be too easy to rewrite things.

    Thats why you store the master on read only media and if there is any question you compare checksums of the master to the publicly available copy. Quite a bit of tax money is spent keeping the library of congress and to be honest I'd like to actually be able to put it to use as something other than a small dimple in space-time.

    walking the earth as a living corpse is in somewhat questionable taste

  • wrong.

    the LoC's resources are contrained. if they spend 20% of their money, time, space, on digitizing existing content, they would have 20% fewer resources to apply to the first two priorities..

    But his objections weren't resouce or prioritzation issues. His only objections to digitizing books (in the article) centered around his finding books more asthetically pleasing and sacred than electronic media and his reluctance to endager the role of libraries in The Community. The one resource issue he mentioned, digitizing the fragile and less-accessable items first, makes perfect sense and hasn't been flamed in this forum.

    The bottom line is that he was hired to accumulate and maintain works and to distibute them, to the best of his ability, to congress, the govenment and the nation. He was not hired to evangelize books as The One True Media or to encourage socially healthy behavior (i.e. discouraging internet research if he feels that going to the library in person is better for us),.

  • I really enjoyed your post and agree wholeheartly with it, except for one small point:

    Oh, really? I don't see particularly much community-oriented activity taking place at most libraries. I don't see that as the purpose of a library at all. To me, a library is an almost sacred place, a "temple of knowledge" if you will. I've been to many libraries over the course of my life, and I've never felt any less lonely than when reading in front of a computer screen.

    While the The Library of Congress and many university libraries aren't cornerstones in their communities, your basic, run-of-the-mill neighborhood library does perform some vital social functions, over and above providing books and research assistance.

    Some examples are : free computer and internet access, free meeting rooms for local non-profit groups, literacy programs, childrens programs (like readings in the children's sections), memberships to museums, zoos etc. (check out the pass for free admission), a place for retirees to read the paper and socialize, a clean, quiet place for kids to do thier homework, places for the homeless to get out of the cold, local announcement boards. I imagine that a librarian (or anyone who uses thier local library a lot), could come up with a longer list.

    One could argue that these functions are not a library's job, but they do need to be done, and libraries are picking up the slack. Unfortuntely, people who could/would benefit form these well-rounded libraries don't know about the great stuff that's available. And what's even more unfortunate, local libraries do lose funding and end up cutting back on hours and services.

    However, for a librarian to avoid giving a wider distibition of information, in a lame attmept to defend library budgets, is pathetic and shameful. Fortunately, most librarians are very enthusiastic about the great possibilities for using computers to distribute information.

  • Because community libraries will be one of those places where everyone, on either side of the "digital divide" (god I hate that term already), will be able to download and view the LOC's collection on a fat pipe. In effect, every library in the nation (and perhaps most schools) will have searchable access to the entirety of the LOC's electronic collection.

    Try putting a pricetag on that.

    This is an excellent point and it should be moderated Insightful.

    While it would be expensive, it can be done slowly, and the value to every local library in the US would be immense. And, many people could access from home as well. Moby Dick fits on a floppy, I still have it from when I downloaded it off a 14.4 modem, so I'm not buying the argument that giving hundreds of millions of people people access to the largest library in the world from their homes is elitist. It's elitist to make a policy that keeps smaller branch libraries in poorer or more remote neighborhoods from having the same quality of services and access to information found in better funded libraries.

    The notion that it's "arrogant" to expect convenient access to information collected with our tax dollars is the most rabidly elitist thing I've heard from a government official in a long time. It sounds like he'd prefer we all begged at the altar of ILL and waited on 16th century time. Talk about arrogance!

  • The thing that caught my eye in the Librarian's comments was the idea of 'reverance' in regards to books. It occurs to me that perhaps he has let his position in the (ornate, even temple-like) Library go to his head. After all, if we are to be properly reverent, doesn't that make him sort of the High Priest of the library? And since when do High Priests want the masses to have free access to the Holy Works?
    On a slightly more serious note, I agree that I would not read War and Peace or such books on a screen as a matter of choice...I do like to curl up with a book. But if I am researching a 900 page technical or historical book, then a searchable format would be wonderful. The basic fact is, When in doubt, it is best to go with more access, not less. Hopefully the LOC will go this route before too long.
  • Don't store the data on floppys or tape, store it on a redundant cluster of HTTP servers backed up by selling copys of it on CD.

    If you have 500,000 copys of it on CD on the shelves of computer stores across the country, and that becomes DVD... datacrystal... whatever as the SOTA changes, media reliability and obsolecence become a non-issue, and the work pays for it'sself pretty quick.

  • There's a quote from Linus Torvalds that would be appropriate right about now. It goes something like this:

    Backups are for wusses. I just upload my harddrive to an FTP server and let the world mirror it.

    I think that the library of congress would find themselves in a similar situation. And redundancy in supply is good. Even if the LOC is hit by an astroid (or A-Bomb), that won't screw up Metalab too bad.

  • As a library professional, I agree with you. Have you ever waited for an ILL? I have been waiting for one for two YEARS from the National Library of Canada. Getting a book from somewhere else in the province once took three months. I can't wait that long to read something, then only have it for a few weeks!

    >This is the gov't telling the poor and the non 31337 that they have no right to knowledge

    I know...I would rather see books online. Reading itself is a pretty solitary activity, unless you're reading to a group. There's nothing arrogant about reading online, it's just a sign of the times.

  • I look at it the other way around. I think its arogant not to put your stuff online when everyone else is.
  • I won't bother commenting on this guy's position, I'm sure I'd be preaching to the chorus. But considering that /.ers will use almost any story as an excuse to rant about CSS, patents, or Linux, I'm suprised nobody has pointed out the following:

    Mr. Billington, despite all his apparent distaste for technology, is the man responsible for determining if DeCSS is legal or not. He is given that authority by the DMCA [], section 1201, subparagraph C. To be specific, DeCSS is assumed to be illegal, unless the Librarian of Congress decides that making it illegal would significantly impact the ability of DVD owners to make "non-infringing use" of their discs. (I.e., play them in Linux.)

    To those of you that were enjoying your break from the CSS flame wars, I apologize, but somebody had to bring it up...
  • With every forward step of modern society, there are the perhaps equally troublesome steps in the wrong direction and dragging of feet.

    There is little doubt that the Internet is dominated in sheer volume by crap of every description. Pornography, racism, and violence are all present in vast amounts, and we should be concerned about what access to this material does to young people.

    All that aside, the Internet is a fabulous creation. Allowing people access to information and the ability to publish information of their own is remarkably enpowering. While we should be aware and concerned about the darker side of this free access, we should seek ways to come to grips with it, rather than just surpress the entire technology, which also supresses the remarkable good that the Internet can provide.

    I love books. I own thousands of them. I don't believe that the Internet is a replacement for them, or that the current level of technology makes eBooks a competing technology. Until you can make an e-Book as portable and easy to use, to allow the reader to make his own annotations, and most of all to get good authors to write and publish books in this form, I think I will stick with books for most tasks.

    I would have been happier with the LoC just to say that the reason they aren't going to digitize their entire collection is because of the extreme cost, or the issues of copyright law that need to be resolved. To merely say that the Internet is bad, and books are "worthy of reverence" is just silly. There is some very useful and unique stuff on the web, and there is a hell of a lot of romance novels in print. It is too bad that the LoC chose react to the Internet is the most simplistic way, rather than considering the revolution in media that is underway, and how to best use it to serve the needs of the people of the United States.

  • Ok, his principle is that if books are published online in the form of online libraries, that no one will read real books. Here's a question, though, where is the evidence for this? Did I buy my Arkham House edition of The Dunwich Horror and Others only because I wanted the content contained within? No, I could easily have picked up a few cheap paperbacks with gaudy covers that contained the same stories. No, I bought it because I wanted to own the book.

    I still haven't seen a format to beat books for useability of portable print media, I don't think there has been a significant improvement (other than mass production) since Julius Caesar decided to sew some scrolls together and make a "codex."

    In fact, a significant number of the books I buy, from O'Reilly and others, contain information that could be pieced together from online sources, if I had the time and the patience.

    Will eBooks ever reach a point where they will equal the usability of real books? Maybe, but this Salon article [] suggests they have a ways to go.

    Essentially it is an elitist, anti-democratic argument. People who can't afford to buy real books (and some of the best ones are hard to get, anyone read Hugo's The Man Who Laughed in English translation lately?) would have a big advantage if they could read them online. They'd have to give up the aesthetic appeal and useability of a real book, but they'd have access to the content. I think, underneath it all, the argument made by the Librarian of Congress is a class argument. I.e. if you can't afford, or be able to get ahold of a "real book" you don't deserve to read it. (I bet if I checked my local library, I wouldn't necessarily find some of the great works out there... but I'd find a stack of Halequin Romances big enough to build furniture out of... Certainly not the selection of important books available at the Library of Congress!)

    Well, to top it off I'm reminded of Brainiac's quote to Superman when he was asked why he was destroying worlds after he had downloaded all of their knowledge, "The fewer beings that have the knowledge, the more valuable it becomes."

  • Or we could just work around the government and do it ourselves. Project Gutenberg [] has a few thousand books digitized and available for the masses, all done by volunteer labor. We don't need the government to distribute literature for us, nor should we be relying on them to do so.

  • If all the books are online, in digital form, what will the firemen of the future do? It's pretty hard to torch a distributed network.
  • Previously, only kings and an elite few had access to libraries. The printing press made the public library possible. Billington stated that in contrast, public libraries are a "political institution" today.

    Why yes, The analogy makes no sense. Why, I have just as much access to books in the Library of Congress, which stands 2500 miles from where I sit, as I would were its contents electronic.

    I find it incredible that someone who runs a library, any library, would be against some form of information transmission. Sure, he can hold the opinion (stupid though it is) that reading online is "isolating" (as if any reading weren't an inherently solitary activity), but to say that because he doesn't like a sort of access, it shouldn't be there? Well, we obviously need someone new running our library of congress. Someone who understands that libraries are about easy access to information, not musty books.

  • I got it for christmas a couple of years ago.
    I'll get the name and company and post them here
    tonight sometime. I can't remember who produces it off hand.

  • I don't know what you're talking about. I pity anybody who does all their reading on a computer screen. Unless there's some underground book-pirating scene of which I am unaware, that's a pretty limited amount of information (if there is, though, please email me!).
    I've only actually read one book online cover-to-cover (metaphorically speaking, of course), but I've used a few more than that. Having a searchable text, or being able to look up a quote you remember in a book without running down to the library, or being able to copy a few pages or a chapter verbatim (for whatever reason) without typing them out are, regardless of the current quality of computer displays, very valuable tools, available far less frequently than I would like. Not to mention the expense of books -- which by any standard of human decency should be sold at most at cost, considering their value to society. Making information available to more people, even if it means printing on pulp or shitty CRTs, can be nothing but noble and beneficial. You don't have to enjoy either (pulp or CRTs) to realize that. So I guess I just can't understand Billington's position.

    My favorite CD is contains 500 of the greatest works of literature known to man. Including religious texts, shakespeare, tolstoy, twain, many many great authors from all over the world.
    Instead of taking up 5 bookshelves it takes up 1 slot in my CD book. I love to browse through it and read shakespeare. It does have its annoying side though, hard to get comfy in bed with the monitor on my chest, strains my eyes after 4 or 5 hours of reading, but it's definately worth it to have so much information at my fingertips.

  • > The LoC is very open to citizens. So much so, some very valuable books/manuscrips have walked out of the LoC.

    This is one more reason the books should be on-line. Anyone should be free to look and copy the books on-line, but the only way you get to physically look at the books, is if you travel to the LoC.
  • How can anyone with even the tiniest love of literature be against preservation and access to books, especially books that belong to the taxpayers?

    In the end, after the world's books have gone digital this interview will be a bigger laugh than it is now. If he's so anti-online content what's this interview doing on a webserver, is he trying to make me feel lonely, sad, and arrogant?
  • This is the gov't telling the poor and the non 31337 that they have no right to knowledge.

    An interesting point, but i can think of another reason not to. It would be too easy to rewrite things. I'm talking mostly about historical books, but even fiction can have a great impact. Image if 1984 was rewritten to put a good spin on the spying...people's opinions of surverlance might be a little different today. Often its fiction that gets use to think about very real philosophical issues. I'm just not sure i trust the gov't enough not to tamper with this, especially if it is now one of the only remaining 'text' of a book.
  • Which is more 'mindless', 'isolating', 'lonely' and 'arrogant': travelling to Washington to read paper books in an environment where anything you want to share has to be meticulously copied in one form or another, or cutting and pasting quotes with links so that everyone reading it can see the full context for themselves. Furthermore, the Internet in all of its forms encourages interaction between the reader and the writer: comments, corrections, additions. I've learned more from the replies to my comments on Slashdot in any given month than from any single book I've read.

    I don't read books in electronic form very much. The hardware isn't as comfortable and convenient as traditional paper books ... yet. I own paper copies of The Hacker Crackdown [], The New Hacker's Dictionary [] and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare []. When I want to quote them in comments on Slashdot or in e-mail to friends, I don't want to type the quotes every time. And I want to be able to refer them to something closer than the nearest library or bookstore to read a copy for themselves. If my friends are as much like me as I think they are, they do far too much of their reading at hours when libraries aren't open.
  • At least it wasn't when I went to Washington five years ago. You could enter the building, which is very beautiful, and you could go on a guided tour, but what you could not do is what you'd expect to do in a normal library: get a book of the shelf, sit down somewhere, and read it. The stacks are very restricted.

    So if you thought this guy had an elitist, exclusionary attitude before, now you know it's even worse than you thought!

    Oh well, if these jokers won't digitize the public domain books in their collection, at least I will. I've got all of volume one of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea," and all of volume one and three hundred pages of volume two of Marx and Engels's Capital scanned in and cleaned up as ready-to-print pages. If I ever get caught up on my work I'll started cleaning up the OCR output files - this weekend I hope. Free free freeee! I love public domain books []! Yours WDK -

  • Digitizing the contents of the Library of Congress (which, incidentally, does not get copies of every book printed) would be an absolutely immense job. Even if they restricted the scope of the project to only books in the public domain, it would still be a vast project, which would require a very large budget, that the Library of Congress has not got. (The 1999 budget for the Library of Congress, which includes the expenses of the U.S. Copyright Office, was $296-million.) Such a task, being very labor intensive, would also take many years, maybe even decades. Even assuming such an extravagant project were funded tomorrow, which would be great but which is extremely unlikely considering the priorities of Congress, by the time the LOC got the program organized and started publishing data, a few years would have passed, and by that time you could expect a lot more people, worldwide, to have enough bandwidth that downloading a multi-megabyte .PDF file would not be especially difficult.

    Also keep in mind that a single pop song in .MP3 format is several megabytes. By comparison, Sams "Teach yourself Linux in 24 Hours," a six hundred page book, is a 14MB .PDF. So an entire book in .PDF format is the equivalent of maybe ten or fifteen minutes of minutes of music. Think how popular .MP3s are; anyone with enough bandwidth to get .MP3s off the net has enough bandwidth to get whole books in .PDF format.

    In text format, it only gets better. Here are two directory listings off my PC:

    04/08/00 01:05p 2,513,894 07_she_said_she_said.mp3

    08/15/94 12:23p 5,582,655 shaks12.txt
    10/22/96 08:22a 2,251,136

    That first is one single song, two minutes and thirty-seven seconds long. The next two contain the complete works of William Shakespeare.

    Yours WDK -

    (PS: I ripped that entirely legal .MP3 myself, from my own legitimate, commercial copy of the CD, so fuck you, Valenti.)

  • Good to see you're paying attention. Of course it's not the copyright holders of Lovecraft's books that are responsible for the hijacking of the public domain. No, the entire world gets robbed of its intellectual heritage on behalf of the God damned Disney/ABC corporation and that repulsive little cartoon rat of theirs.

    That sounds like a joke; I wish it were but it's not.

    Yours WD "Die Mickey DIE!" K -

  • by llywrch ( 9023 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @07:06AM (#1123999) Homepage Journal
    >Since the Library of Congress has such a vast collection, a person who wants to have access
    >to the most information would do best to access the library stacks. But not everyone can afford to go to where the books are [...]

    Good point, but you need some confirming details. Allow me to supply them.

    At one time, *anyone* could access the records in the Library of Congress. IIRC, until the late 1940's high school students in DC or the surrounding areas could go there & do their homework. But due to lack of space, & demand on services, the LoC has had to gradually limit access to only members of Congress & to serious researchers.

    I'm not sure how the LoC determines who is a ``serious researcher", but when I used the British Library 16 years ago (when it was still housed within the British Museum), the requirement for a pass was a letter from a professor, teacher or minister. I assume the LoC would require an equivalent set of references -- which would be something of a barrier for the average asocial geek who might not know anyone with those credentials.

    But remember, limiting access is not always a bad thing. Books & other documents get stolen, damaged or lost -- although in the case of the LoC, the two cases that I remember off the top of my head were by recognized, credentialed authorities. And the rule of thumb for public libraries is that the average book will last 20 check-outs before it is so worn that it must either be rebound or replaced.

    Now compare these costs & limits of physical access to having an electronic copy -- either plain ascii test, or a standard, cross-platform format like JPEG or PNG -- available for use either online or for the token cost of copying to media. Mr Billington is clearly myopic about how digitizing his collection will make his job easier & more effective.

  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @06:05AM (#1124000) Homepage
    claiming that those new-fangled 'automobiles' will never replace the good old horse & buggy...

    Of course, printed books *DO* have their charm, but going digital offers so much more - one advantage is that machine readable data is SEARCHABLE, and I love being able to have a computer slog thru tons of data looking for what I want to find. He should be thinking "books on demand".
  • But his argument for not putting books online - even books with expired copyrights - is that there is something 'mindless,' 'isolating,' 'lonely' and 'arrogant' about reading online."

    And someday not so long from now he'll die, and progress will go on without him.

  • by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:44AM (#1124002)
    "So far, the Internet seems to be largely amplifying the worst features of television's preoccupation with sex and violence, semi-literate chatter, shortened attention spans, and near-total subservience to commercial marketing," said Billington."

    So he'd rather withhold something that'd improve it. Gee, that's smart.

    I'm pretty fond of books, too, and I doubt I'll ever go completely digital with my reading. But for some things and for some purposes, digital access is better -- faster, more flexible, more accessible.

    [shrug] Mr. Billington does not have the final say. Eventually there will be someone in that job who will understand.

  • by Straker Skunk ( 16970 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @06:43AM (#1124003)
    Well, this is only a minor setback. Of course books are going to be digitized; it's not a matter of if but when.

    I've been wondering, however . . . what would be the best long-term stable format for book-encoding? I imagine it would be some flavor of SGML (IIRC, long-term library data storage is its raison d'etre). But, which particular flavor? Does a suitable one already exist? Are there DTD's and stylesheets available?

    Unlike the approach Project Gutenberg has taken (ASCII text ONLY) this has definite potential. Imagine taking an SGML-encoded book, running it through Jade with the appropriate stylesheet, and generating a .tex file, and then a beautifully typeset .dvi or .pdf . . . or just as easily generating HTML. Heck, you could have embedded hyperlinks all over the place. Ahh, the possibilities!
  • by sporty ( 27564 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:43AM (#1124004) Homepage
    Libraries allow books to be borrowed, taken home and read.

    I agree, don't replace them. But certainly, add them as an online resource. Quick searches through a single book would be nice. AND, digitizing the ones they have permission to as well as those with expired copyrights would make life cheaper AND a lot faster for everyone. Heck, charge a nickel for every bookd downloaded. It should cover the costs incured... unless they are running nt. Maybe if they ran a beowulf cluster using bsd machines... ;>


  • Or perhaps you should have read the article more closely.

    The key phrase is: Billington elaborated on why the Library will not put books online during the question and answer session.

    The question and answer session is not part of the transcript posted to the LoC web page you cite above.

    I doubt anyone here really believes this can be done instantly, but if they do, I'd agree that they are being childish. However, Mr. Billington is very clear that he does not want to place everything on the net, period. I agree with many of the other posters, that it will happen eventually, with or without his endorsement.

    His comments strike me as being uneducated (about the internet).

  • by dlc ( 41988 ) <> on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:56AM (#1124006) Homepage

    <rant> That poor, disillusioned man. Someone help him. Someone explain to him the difference between reading stuff on a monitor and long term digital storage. Someone exlpain to him the difference in size between 100,000 physical books and 100,000 books on optical media. Someone explain to him how much simpler it is to reproduce and redistribute the same books to every schoolkid in America if they are in a digital format. Someone explain to him how many trees will be saved if we don't have to have a printed copy of all 26 million books that are in the LOC. Someone explain to him how books available on demand is hundreds of times more convenient than a single copy of a book shared among dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of interested readers.

    Someone please take out their cluestick and hit him hard. Someone remove him and put someone knowledgable in his place, before he reduces the LOC to a useless graveyard of dead trees and corroding media.</rant>

    Please don't misunderstand me -- I understand why the LOC exists, I understand why we need to preserve books, I understand the value of preserving rare and unusual works. I don't understand the closed-minded attitute toward a little technological innovation.


    Cthulhu for President! []
  • by goliard ( 46585 ) on Thursday April 20, 2000 @04:50AM (#1124007)
    I just discovered when I went to do this that the House of Reps has this neat form, whereby, if you identify yourself fully and supply an address+Zipcode, they submit your letter automagically to the right Rep -- and presumably, because you are an actual constituent, you get to go to the head of the line. Interestingly, they promise to reply through some means other than email. I expect a form letter thru USnail. Why isn't the Sentate that together?
  • by antf ( 68630 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:39AM (#1124008)
    Well, there is some merit to this. For instance, every person too poor to own a computer has access to the public library.

    So this begs the question: are we going to slowly phase out public libraries and phase in public computer labs to allow free access to all?

  • by shazam* ( 83121 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:34AM (#1124009)
    And keeping all of the books locked up in a library isn't isolating and arrogant?
    Democracy based on ignorance and non-disclosure doesn't work.
  • by Volatile_Memory ( 140227 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:48AM (#1124010)
    Regardless of how lonely or impersonal it is, the real point is information access. Isn't the point of the LoC the preservation of knowledge for the public? Is there a better way to share that information with the widest possible audience then electronically?
    These folks are living on a different planet...
  • by raygundan ( 16760 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:41AM (#1124011) Homepage
    It doesn't seem important whether or not reading books on a computer (or via another reader) in some digital form is comfortable, normal, non-arrogant or whatever. The real issue here is the preservation of these great books! If these books are allowed to continue decaying as they are now, we will eventually lose the works of the great authors from generations before us. I know that the library takes great care of its books, preserving them carefully in a controlled environment. But NOTHING can prevent these books from eventually decaying. Digitization makes nearly instantaneous backup and transfer of these works possible, and will enable sustainable non-degrading storage of these books. I am not asking for the books to be made available online. In the case of books whose copyrights have not expired, this may present all sorts of thorny copyright issues. All I would ask is that they archive their books electronically, and make regular offsite backups to several secure locations around the country. In the event of a fire, earthquake, or the eventual sad decay of one of our nation's treaures, we would at least have a digital copy for future generations to use. I suggest that everyone write to the librarian to support this, and if you're feeling even more ambitious, support a project like Project Gutenberg that is taking this task upon itself to preserve our heritage.
  • by monaco ( 37517 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:51AM (#1124012)
    "There is a difference between turning pages and scrolling down," he said. "There is something about a book that should inspire a certain presumption of reverence."

    Worship this hard copy! Printers worked day and night, bakkinaday, to make this information available! Um, hello, it's about the information, not the format. I'm sure few authors cared more about the text formatting of their books than about how many people received the author's ideas.

    "It is isolating. It is a lonely thing." In contrast, "libraries are places, a community thing."

    No, the 'net is a community thing, too. And much more so than a library, IMO. The net certainly provokes more social interaction than scouring for books at a library does.

    "behind this ... is an implicit belief [that books] are not going to be replaced, and should not be replaced."

    Why not? What is so wrong with downloading a book, and printing a hard copy if you so desire? How is this so different from reading a regular book? Ah, I see. LOC has some political issues with publishers, who are the ones that stand to lose the most if people cease to purchase printed media. Gotcha.

    "It is dangerous to promote the illusion that you can get anything you want by sitting in front of a computer screen."

    Um, newsflash, it's not an illusion.

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @06:16AM (#1124013)
    Amen, Valdrax, Amen!!

    I don't give a rat's fried patoot whether Mr. Billington thinks that reading on a screen isn't as much fun as reading dead trees. Frankly, he may well be right - but I'd rather read a screen than nothing at all, which is what I can presently read from the Library of Congress.

    Overshadowed in this, however, is the very real fact that it costs a Lot Of Money to digitize all the books. OCR isn't 100%, so anything digitized will also have to be proofread.

    The special-format material - the maps, the pamphlets, and what-not, lend themselves much more readily to digitization. No OCR issues, and even stronger issues with regards to how long they can be expected to survive repeated handling.

    Dead trees in book form can be expected to survive many hundreds of years. Dead trees in the form of 10-foot-by-10-foot roll-out maps don't hold up nearly as well.

    Dead trees in book form are readily translated to ASCII as long as the characters are legible. Dead trees in pamphlet form, with lots of images and other stuff, can be served up as .PNGs or .PDFs, with ASCII text as a side order - from a historian's perspective, the physical layout of the page is important in both the case of books and pamphlets, but almost always much more important in the case of pamphlets.

    But I agree that Mr. Billington should drop the Luddism. It doesn't serve him well at all.

  • by LordNimon ( 85072 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:54AM (#1124014)
    So reading books online is supposed to be isolating and lonely? I can agree with that. But reading those books inside the Library of Congress is worse.

    You see, only members of Congress can take the books outside of the Library. Everyone else has to photocopy them or read them inside. And believe me, you're not going to find any comfy, quiet reading rooms.

    So for most people, downloading the Library's books is the ONLY way to read them. Imagine how much better it would be if researchers and students could download the text of any book (within copyright laws, of course)?

    Not only that, but what about the deterioration of the physical books? Handling books over and over again will damage them. I think the Library Of Congress has the duty and responsibility to digitize any books it has that are no longer copyrighted. And they have a lot of catching up to do.

  • by Mark F. Komarinski ( 97174 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:36AM (#1124015) Homepage
    There is certainly a big advantage to having books in electronic format: searching.

    C'mon, go find in Snow Crash the part where the Metaverse is introduced for the first time. How long did it take? Was it more than .002 sec? I'd *love* to be able to do quick searches on some books, at least for the quotes. Even better if I can get a page number (page 100 paperback, page 110 hardcover, etc).

    Other than that, I prefer reading a physical book over an e-book any day. Paper is much nicer on the eyes than an LCD screen.
  • by Bitter Cup O Joe ( 146008 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:47AM (#1124016)

    This is no different than the Catholic church trying their hardest to keep people first from printing bibles, and then from translating the bible to English. There is nothing sadder than an institution realizing that they are outdated by new ideas and the public's better understanding of old ones. Thankfully, the LoC doesn't have the ability to burn heretics at the stake. So, who else wants to check out some books and fire up the old scanner? I gotcher Reformation right here.

  • by thummin ( 147158 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @06:52AM (#1124017)
    Actually, digital formats aren't necessarily better for preservation. Printed material can survive for hundreds of years, particularly if good paper is used (and academic librarians pressure publishers to use such papers). Electronic formats can become unreadable in a few years because 1) the physical medium can be unstable (e.g. magnetic tape deteriorates quite quickly), or 2) the medium or data format can become obsolete (e.g. 5.25" floppy disks). Formats can be converted, but this can be an expensive and problematic process; furthermore, if conversion isn't done in a timely manner the window of opportunity may pass. Ten years from now it is going to be damn hard to get the data off those 5.25" floppies (just like its damn hard to get data off those really old 8" floppies today.) Librarians and archivists have of course given these types of issues lots of thought. The consensus seems to be that media readable by the eye (paper, microfilm etc.) are the safest bet for long-term preservation.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @06:36AM (#1124018)

    This is foolish and reactionary. The only arrogant one here is the Librarian of Congress who feels it is his place to dictate how we should enjoy reading. It not like sitting with your nose buried in a dead tree version is any less lonely and isolated than the web. I think he's just afraid of the Library losing funding once people no longer need to trek all the way to there to get their books they need for research. He's either cluelessly arrogant or irresponsibly fighting to preserve his job at our expense.

    When I first saw the abstract to this article, I thought "Well, isolated, lonely, arrogant, that pretty much sums up government bureaucrat in my book". Which I'm sure occurred to everyone.

    I am also a government employee with a political background, and this comment needs some clarification before people take it too seriously.

    1. The LoC, IMHO, will eventually have to digitize everything. In addition to its regular stacks, of course. If for no other reason than that House and Senate staffs, and CRS (Congressional Research Service) already do much of their research online. I have a feeling that it will languish in the house and senate intranets for a few years, but the LoC serves Congress, and must ultimately answer to members and/or their staffs, who are already using the Web for research-- or be rendered irrelevent. Their budget depends, therefore, on modernizing-- not waiting.

    2. This is the opinion of one guy. Ultimately, he must answer to regulatory and institutional pressures. Like many of his ilk, he has a distaste for the unsecure, uncontrolled, wildly growing Internet, and prefers the current state. He would also, I think, appreciate the elegant beauty of the French Visual Telegraph of the turn of the century.

    When Newt Gingrich was first elected Speaker of the House, one of the first things he did was put the plaintext of all bills and proceedings of the House on the World Wide Web, the Thomas System (part, BTW of the LOC!). That was before most people had heard of the Web! The Senate isn't going nearly as fast, but while Congress could change parties again, or someone could find a way to slow things down, all it takes is one person with a clue and some pull to permanently modernize the system.

    There isn't really much else to say, now that I think about it, other than that it is one man's opinion and that the congressional staffers are going to make that opinion obsolete one way or another.

  • by CaseyB ( 1105 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @06:15AM (#1124019)
    Billington's statements are in conflict with much of The Mission and Strategic Priorities of the Library of Congress [].


    1. THE FIRST PRIORITY of the Library of Congress is to make knowledge and creativity available to the United States Congress.

    2. THE SECOND PRIORITY of the Library of Congress is to acquire, organize, preserve, secure and sustain [knowledge] for the present and future use of the Congress and the nation.

    3. THE THIRD PRIORITY of the Library of Congress is to make its collections maximally accessible to (in order of priority)
    A. the Congress;
    B. the U. S. government more broadly;
    C. the public.

    He appears to have forgotten the third priority entirely. Digitizing the contents would improve accessibility to all three of the above groups, particularly the third, without compromising either of the first two priorities.

  • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @07:22AM (#1124020)
    I've seen arrogance in my lifetime. But this guy just about takes the cake. Let's see...

    "So far, the Internet seems to be largely amplifying the worst features of television's preoccupation with sex and violence, semi-literate chatter, shortened attention spans, and near-total subservience to commercial marketing," said Billington.

    First, the Internet is not television. Must as reactionaries and luddites would love to believe it, it's simply not true. Also, even if this is true, it's nothing more than a problem. What do you do with a problem? You fix it. The only way to counter "bad" stuff is with "good" stuff, and if all the stuff he's talked about is bad, then what could be better than to ass whole libraries to the Net?

    "We have so much special format material that nobody has seen that it is more important to get those out."

    Point for Billington's side. If you're going to get your stuff, better to start with the rarer materials. But that doesn't mean to ignore the more common ones.

    "Secondly, behind this ... is an implicit belief [that books] are not going to be replaced, and should not be replaced."

    Agreed. But online access to books certainly does not replace books. All it does is make the book's contents more widely available.

    "There is a difference between turning pages and scrolling down," he said. "There is something about a book that should inspire a certain presumption of reverence."

    Interesting idea. But a book itself should not be revered. It is the ideas therein that are worthy of reverence. Books have become an important symbol for this reverence, yes. But symbols come and go. Before books ever existed, literature was still revered; I'm willing to bet similar arguments to Billington's were raised when someone first had the idea to print Homer's Iliad. But certainly the literature is still revered, even when its physical form changes.

    "We should be very hesitant ... that you are going to get everything you want electronically."
    "You don't want to be one of those mindless futurists," said Billington, "who sit in front of a lonely screen."

    As opposed to... what? Read on...

    "It is isolating. It is a lonely thing." In contrast, "libraries are places, a community thing."

    Oh, really? I don't see particularly much community-oriented activity taking place at most libraries. I don't see that as the purpose of a library at all. To me, a library is an almost sacred place, a "temple of knowledge" if you will. I've been to many libraries over the course of my life, and I've never felt any less lonely than when reading in front of a computer screen.

    "It is dangerous to promote the illusion that you can get anything you want by sitting in front of a computer screen." He described this as "arrogance" and "hubris". He added that while electronic books may succeed commercially, they are "seductive."

    I see a more than a little elitism here. Enough that I could well call that statement "arrogance" and "hubris."

    He also stated that the Reformation was largely fought with the printing press, and that "media revolutions provoke intense debate."

    True. And the Internet is to our age what the printing press was to theirs. A new medium, used to spread knowledge more than ever before. But there's an interesting problem here. The Reformation was a fight against a corrupt religion. Clearly, we are embroiled in a fight that has many interesting parallels to the Reformation. But just what is it that we fight against? I'm not certain. But I think I can guess, and it frightens people like Billington.

    However, he elaborated that "there should be no question that the tradition of free public libraries ... is the absolute platform of essentiality for our democracy." Furthermore, in public libraries "there is an inherent adversity to censorship."

    Again, point for Billington's side. Two, actually. The tradition of free public libraries is necessary for a democracy, yes. But how would that be diminished by digitization? In addition to the simple fact that a library can easily adapt to change, there's the fact that not everything that has ever been printed will eventually be online. Consider, for example, the decades of old newspapers now on microfiche. I'd call the chances of these ever being digitized slim to none. There's also a need to keep hard copies of things, both for research purposes and archives; libraries fit this bill well (indeed, this is precisely what they have been doing as long as they have been in existence).

    And yes, in public libraries there does seem to be an adversity to censorship. Look all around you at the filtering-software battles carried out by the Reactionary Religious Right, The Lunatic Liberal Left, and Positively Pottering Parents. You'll be very hard-pressed to find a library that actually wants to use filtering software; more often than not they're fighting against the measures which would force them to use censorware.

    He said that at the Library of Congress, the focus is to provide "an example of the good." In contrast, if the government gets into "defining the bad, you get onto the slippery slope of defining the bad."

    Um... what the hell was that? I think he meant to say that if the government gets into defining the good, it gets onto the slippery slope of defining the bad. However, providing an example of the good is defining the good to some degree (it's a damn weak definition, but it is one). And because good and bad can only be defined in terms of each other, once you define the good you do define the bad.

    I do find it interesting, though, that Billington never mentioned copyright in this article. Very strange.

    And now, for my own views on the subject (sorry this post is taking so long). First, people here are stating that digitizing books will create unequal access to these works. I disagree; digitization will create more equal access to the Library of Congress' collection. Consider: I come from Virginia. I can go to the Library of Congress and look at the works there, more or less whenever I want (unless, of course, the Library is closed). So can anyone else in the area. Equal access, at least in one region.

    But I'm currently at college in Rochester. I cannot go to the Library, and therefore I am cut off from accessing its collection. For no better reason than that I live in a different region. Were the Library's works online, I could at least access the contents of the collection.

    No, the digitization of the Library's works won't create equal access. But we're already faced with unequal access. Digitization is a step in the right direction, because physical location will no longer be a barrier to accessing the content (you still can't access the physical works if you can't get to the Library, of course, but access to the content is better than no access at all).

    Also, the idea that online access will ever totally replace books is simply absurd. Tell you what, here's a challenge. Go to Project Gutenberg. Pick up their copy of Les Miserables, and without printing it read it all in one pull (stopping only to eat, sleep, and such). I can pretty much guarantee that even if you do succeed, you'll be needing a case of Excedrin and a new pair of eyeballs. You can't simply curl up with a good, long Website the way you can with a book. And for that reason alone, books are here to stay, to say nothing of the other advantages books have over online content.

    The two media can coexist. The Net itself cannot replace print media completely. It's not a true replacement for most of the media out there. The reason for this is that the Internet is a distribution medium, like television and radio. It is not a storage medium, like books or CD's, and it's not a very good delivery medium (like movies and books). So books aren't going anywhere; the Librarian of Congress' job is in no danger. But we all have to get rid of the arrogance pervading both the old and new media if we're going to make any progress.
  • by Mawbid ( 3993 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @06:09AM (#1124021)
    I bet blind people would be happy to have those books accessible online as well. Then again, the blind have always been mindless, lonely, and arrogant.
  • by orpheus ( 14534 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @08:41AM (#1124022)
    I admit the article in this story (and worse, Mr. Billington's standard publicity shot) make him seem like a smug priggish pedant -- the kind of geek even geeks don't like, even though they bathe.

    However, as someone who has always lusted after the vast intellectual ocean of the Library of Congress, I've been following his work, not closely, but at least enough to instantly recognize his name...

    Anyway, this particular "National Librarian" (a title I find distasteful, and of questionable provenance) is a reform librarian. He's one of the good guys, folks. [Well, at least as far as this office goes -- let's not forget, only twelve men have held the post in 200 years and it didn't open it's doors to the public until almost 1900. It's not a hotbed of change.]

    Back in the late 80's I recall being very excited by his intent to increase access to the Library's many collections, and his ideas for updating the Library (including electronic access) I also recall that his publicity has tended to go in cycles -- often beginning with what seemed like a almost Luddite conservative stance (that always disappointed me) and refining and clarifying it in succesive articles and interviews until I had to admit he was pretty sensible (albeit on the conservative end of sensible)

    A few times he made some public-pleasing comments that were almost startlingly progressive, but was forced to back down. I have to admit (from my experience in professional organizations) that it is much more painful to have to back off on a promise (due to politics or finance) than it is to be criticized as stodgy for years, and accomplish more than you promised.

    Anyway, while I was infuriated by the article linked to this story, I give Billington the benefit of a doubt, based on past experience. He has spent many millions of dollars each year (and raised an equal amount from the private sector) for electronic initiatives, test beds, local library electronic archival/publication projects, and national and intenational 'digital library' initiatives and contests. That may not seem like much, but when you consider how tightly strained the LoC's budget is, it's really pretty good.

    "The unleased, unlimited pursuit of truth may be the last frontier and the ultimate proving ground for our American ideal of freedom. In a world of increasing physical restraints and limitations, it is only in the life of the mind and spirit that the horizons of freedom can remain truly infinite. We must rediscover what we should have known all along, that the pursuit of truth is the noblest part of Jefferson's legacy."
    - James H. Billington, The Librarian of Congress

    Here are a few of his writings on the subject of 'digital libraries', while in his current office. They aren't the best ones, but alas, I don't have time to dig up and scan the printed articles I have on file (ironic, eh?):

    and to be fair, there have been some embarrassing episodes:


  • by Tekmage ( 17375 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @06:02AM (#1124023) Homepage
    So let me get this straight.

    In spite of the fact that making the content of books available online would make the content readable any time, any where, on any screen, by any text-to-speech or braille "reader", promoting literary awareness and diversity on a global scale, reverence of the paper medium is more important?

    Don't get me wrong; I like reading books. But I thought a library was place for preserving and disseminating information, to facilitate literary diversity, not a pyro's paradise.

    The printing press may have made the public library possible, but it physically cannot make all literary works in existance today available to everyone, everywhere, at anytime.

    To presume otherwise is, dare I say it, arrogant.
  • by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:36AM (#1124024)
    This is foolish and reactionary. The only arrogant one here is the Librarian of Congress who feels it is his place to dictate how we should enjoy reading. It not like sitting with your nose buried in a dead tree version is any less lonely and isolated than the web. I think he's just afraid of the Library losing funding once people no longer need to trek all the way to there to get their books they need for research. He's either cluelessly arrogant or irresponsibly fighting to preserve his job at our expense.

    I just hope for all our sakes that they aren't shirking from digitizing the books even if they aren't going on-line. There are many important books in the library that need to be preserved before they physically decay to the point of uselessness. I hope this person's politics don't get in the way of preserving the past for the future's sake.
  • by goliard ( 46585 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @06:40AM (#1124025)

    For heavens's sake, people, he's the Librarian of Congress. Write to your Congress-critters and let them know how you feel!

  • by XenonOfArcticus ( 53312 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @07:49AM (#1124026) Homepage
    By droppping a note to [mailto].

    I am:

    This is the most short-sighted view I have ever heard, and I am appalled to hear it from our Librarian of Congress.

    I have a proper reverance for books. I don't believe most will ever choose to read a book online over a paper incarnation. But that is not the point of putting books online. I believe using this as grounds for not embracing your responsibilities in the information age is simply elitist, arrogant and isolating.

    Do you simply wish to keep all of these books for yourself alone? To be shared only with those who can make the journey to your little empire there in Washinton DC? Or would you prefer to open your wonderous assets to every researcher in the world? Every college student writing a paper in their dorm? Every community library with an internet connection? Let every K-12 school in the nation have access to the collected and indexed works of Man? Every school child with a home computer writing a book report? Any person anywhere in the world, US Citizen or not, who can find a way to access the Internet could enjoy the weath of knowledge that you are the curator for. You feel the Internet is just sex, violence and commercialism? Why not make a difference then, by contributing knowledge, wisdom and information?

    If this is a matter of money, simpy say so. But don't try to defend this with bull-headed reactionary luddite tripe. It is not your place to tell the world how it should utilize these resources. You are the servant of the Library of Congress, not the master. This week the American people (myself included) graciously and painfully paid every penny of your salary and operating expenses for the next year. Be sure you know who your employer is, and that you serve the needs of your employer, not just your own whims. Perhaps if your goal is not to serve the whole of American people, then the whole of American people should not be asked to fund the Library of Congress any longer.

  • by DeepDarkSky ( 111382 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:48AM (#1124027)
    Well, I'm not going to post what everyone else has posted about all the other comments Mr. Billington has said. But I noticed one thing:
    Tech Law Journal asked Billington if there is any parallel between hostility to the printing press in the late 15th and early 16th Centuries, and hostility to the Internet today. He stated that there is, but that there is also a significant difference. Billinton explained that some of the hostility to the printing press originated because cheap reproduction made books and pamphlets available to more people. Previously, only kings and an elite few had access to libraries. The printing press made the public library possible. Billington stated that in contrast, public libraries are a "political institution" today.
    There's one thing wrong with that argument. Since the Library of Congress has such a vast collection, a person who wants to have access to the most information would do best to access the library stacks. But not everyone can afford to go to where the books are - so now, it is not discriminating against those who are not royalty or elites, but against those who simply don't have the funds.

    This is an unbelievable arrogance on the part of Mr. Billington, along with all the other foolish remarks he's made. The only thing that he said that made sense is that the priority should be on those items would normally not see the light of day or would be hard to access/find.

  • by DeepDarkSky ( 111382 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @05:59AM (#1124028)
    Billington's remarks notwithstanding, I think that Slashdot readers are more likely to disagree with what he is saying than, say, some 50+ year old person who's never been on the Internet. Since most of already do so much reading online (probably most, if not all our reading), we as a group are more sensitive to the fallacies in his argument. We as a group, though not physically together, certainly electronically. Look at all the lively discussions that we have, good or bad!

    While we understand how obsolete his mindset is in today's information world, we must also understand that the Internet is, after all, a Fairly New Thing(tm) and that there are tons of people who do not have access or just doesn't "get it" yet. Instead of disparaging Mr. Billington some more, I think we should put more effort into convincing people like him that the future of books is online.

    Does anybody know if we can get Mr. Billington as a Slashdot interview? Or at least maybe send him our comments (or send Jon Katz with the printouts like he did with the Pinkertons). What do you think?

  • by Grab ( 126025 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @07:13AM (#1124029) Homepage
    Did anyone look at the actual speech text on the LOC site, or just the article linked from here? Cos the two don't match up!!!

    Whilst the article says he used the words 'arrogant' and 'hubris', this must not have been part of the same speech transcribed here [] on the LOC's site. The words simply don't exist in there. Did anyone bother checking sources? Doesn't look like it - I haven't seen anyone else who bothered. So what use is it opening up the library, if no-one's going to use it? Is everyone really lazy and can't be bothered looking at the real thing, just some predigested version?

    This shows up a more insidious problem today - revisionism. A journalist has a good chance of getting away with slipping in some extra details if no-one checks his source. Equally an official can get away with fluffing a speech or blowing his tracks completely if the speech is transcribed for the journalists to use. How many journalists were actually physically at the book club meeting? My money's on not very many.

    I actually support what the Librarian's doing. His aim is to ignore the books around at the moment, and start with the primary source materials. Get the primary sources available, and you can get your information first-hand, instead of through some reviewer or some press flack. And I'm quite sure that the process will step forwards, getting closer to present-day material, as time goes on. Anyone who wants it all digitised instantly is just being childish - think of the quantity of archives there are! But start from the start and work forwards, and it'll get there in the end.

  • by Malefious ( 130102 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2000 @06:34AM (#1124030)
    I would also like to read paper over computer screen but when you think of all the paper that could be saved by putting bookd online i will put up with a little eye strain.

    Ok, this is offtopic, but worrying about conserving paper is absurd. It's the wrong argument. You want to save trees? Simple. HEMP. Hemp fields replentish soil, make tons of useful things like rope, paper, fabric, you name it. It's ANTI marijuana. The pollen from hemp plants actually decreases the amount of THC in marijuana when planted in proximity. The only problem with hemp is that politicians are either ignorant, bought by companies like DuPont who don't want hemp to be commercialy viable, or both. When rotated with other crops like wheat and corn, hemp has been shown to improve the yield by 20%. And hemp paper is naturally white, so you don't have to bleach it like with wood pulp paper. So we don't need to conserve paper, we just need to get smart about hemp. Sorry for the off topic rant.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle