Since microfilm was invented, scholars have dreamed of the eventuality of accessing the entire world of print on demand. Although microfilm itself did not quite live up to that expectation, online material and interlibrary loan have made resources much more readily available.
Technology is now up to the task. Google has been working on their online book collection for 10 years but it is mired in legal issues. Harvard University’s Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is trying to work through the same challenges.
As Nicholas Carr describes in The Library of Utopia,
“…the major problem with constructing a universal library nowadays has little to do with technology. It’s the thorny tangle of legal, commercial, and political issues that surrounds the publishing business. Internet or not, the world may still not be ready for the library of utopia. “
Who knows where this will all lead? Can we figure out a system that supports creators, producers and readers alike? The extensive article linked above discusses the issues involved at length.
To be honest, I did not read it in it’s entirety. For now, I have to continue to put books in the hands of readers and take advantage of online resources as they exist now. but it is interesting to ponder the challenges of change.
Maybe one day I will bore my grandchildren with a lecture on the controversies that once surrounded resources that they take for granted.
Or will I be commiserating with them about the eventual challenges of finding a book to take on a long camping trip where there is no electricity to charge their reader?