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Content with curation and hybrid books: The British Library pioneers the preservation of digital knowledge

REPORT: “Whatever is to become of books?” at London Design Festival 2011. “We are not seeing the world as flat anymore. We are seeing it virtually. The hypertext makes a big difference.” Dr Aquiles Alencar Brayner, Digital Curator of The British Library presents fresh findings on our fast-evolving book reading habit at Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, University College London.

While researching for “Whatever is to become of books?”, Sojournposse asked a collective of editors from design, anthropology, journalism and photography to examine the latest sociotechnical development affecting of the artefact.

The library was the best starting point to observe the current evolution of books and how we consume them today. We discover that librarians of today play a crucial role not only in preserving archives, but also to keep on top of the latest e-book formats.

On top of that, the librarians have to consider the mode of consumption of both digital natives and digital migrants who have different preferences in their digital formats.

“Content with curation is key,” said Dr Aquiles Alencar Brayner, Digital Curator of The British Library, who opened the event, “Whatever is to become of books?”, held University College London during the London Design Festival in September 2011.

“The electronic media is changing our reading habits. Some people think that it’s bad. Some people think that it’s good. We are becoming more democratic. There are no hierarchies anymore. There are only links.”

The sales of ebooks has increased by 318% in 2010, indicating that the ebook users spend more time reading, although in a more erratic manner. A poll conducted among 1200 ebook readers shows that 40% of respondents are reading more now than before.

The trend is pointing towards hybrid books. According to The British Library, by 2020, 20% of titles will be published only in paper format, 40% of titles will be published only in electronic format and 40% of publications in the UK will appear in both formats.

Publishers’ Digital Rights Management (DRM) poses a challenge for The British Library in archiving its collection.

DRMs are choking libraries

“We are chained to the shelves. We are chained by the publishers via DRMs,” says Dr Alencar Brayner. (See video Part 2 below).

Restrictions imposed by HarperCollins on the loan of ebooks to libraries (currently 26 loans) has shown that there is still little understanding of the user’s reading and access behaviour to online information.

Service for accessing ebooks is still tied to print publishing model while options to access digital content are still very tight and do not take into consideration the different user groups.

To remedy this, the market must offer new access models and greater flexibility in DRM.

The British Library is currently working with with Google in the digitisation of 250,000 titles published between 1700 to 1870 (40 million pages), a project which is due to start in 2012.

The videos of the British Library presentation at The London Design Festival 2011 are published in two parts. (See videos above). We hope you will find them resourceful and that they will give a clue as to where the journey of books is taking us next.

Links from The British Library talk

• The British Library 2020 Vision:

• JISC national e-books observatory project:

Colaboration with other institutions (academic, governmental and commmercial partners) for the creation of interactive platforms:
1. Codex Sinaiticus:
2. Gale World Scholar:
3. Turning the Pages:

Other video presentations of “Whatever is to become of books?”

Sam Syed of Bonnier Technology Group on Mag Plus
Dr Ernesto Priego on The Comics Grid
Juliano Spyer and Cosimo Lupo on Homer, the open source digital book scanner

More videos and reports from the event held at University College London on 17 September 2011 during the London Design Festival 2011 will be published soon.

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