I started school today — first day in my pursuit of a Master’s degree. Our first question was on digital libraries and information sharing. “Describe how using a digital library can make your learning experience more efficient and rewarding.” So far, most of the students responses have been one or two paragraphs. I, apparently, went off on a tangent ……… Here’s my response:

I have to admit that this article surprised me in the depth that it covered the various aspects of the production of a digital library. Scanning books and photos, recording music and performances, cataloging history … it’s a very slow and relatively inefficient process on a mass level for the time being. And being that it is still such a new effort, people are slow to adopt — not to mention the ever-living debate of paper vs. digital.

A digital library could, at times, be very helpful to me — provided the indexing and search capabilities are loose (but efficient) enough to get me the information I need with relatively easy searching. I currently catalog my recipes (particularly my own creations) in a database that is searchable by ingredient. I have also previously toyed with the concept of wikis and content amalgamation. It is very useful, but also slow growing. Technological tools need people who are willing to technologically branch out and learn something new. Look how long eBooks have been around — and to this day — I don’t know a single person who would willingly choose to buy an eBook. The concept is novel and sounds like it could be really cool and convenient. Unfortunately, thus far, it hasn’t been.

In the past when I HAVE searched out digital books, half they time they are encased in some sort of DRM (Digital Rights Management) protection scheme that requires a username, password, or have limitations imposed that prevent printing or saving. THIS is not helpful to me as a consumer and prevents me from adopting the technology.

The whole concept of DRM is understandable — but horribly flawed. We now live in a world where oceans of information are available to us with a few clicks of a button. If you really want to find something … chances are, if you look hard enough, you’ll find it — be it a cracked version of Photoshop CS3, Gwen Stefani’s latest album, or even a PDF version your favorite O’Reily pocket guide. And you’ll find it for free. Obviously, it’s not legal to acquire some of those things — but it illustrates the point that regardless of what sort of digital protection (serial numbers, username/passwords, etc), someone will always find a way to get by it. I just read that someone has already found a way to get past HD-DVD encryption methods — and it’s not even a significantly adopted standard (http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070115-8622.html).

But — back to the personal digital library — IF the technology used to produce my digital library of music, books, movies, etc. was wrapped in red tape, I would likely be quick to adopt it. However, outdated media moguls are desperately trying to save their dying business models rather than trying to find ways to make money from new technologies. This, in turns, makes a hot mess of rights management and information sharing and prevents 1.) the adoption of new technology, 2.)the creation of new original content distribution methods, and 3.)the motivation for artists, authors, and developers to work in an industry that prohibits full distribution of their wares. Take the law suit against Google that was mentioned in the article, for example. Publishers are suing Google for scanning work that is “in the dark”, yet protected by copyright by unknown peoples. Perhaps if they would contribute to the effort, they could market new books in digital format (via download or cd) as well as in paper print. Additional revenue possibilities. But they choose to waste countless sums of money on a war that, in 10 years, will be completely pointless.

And in the end — we, the consumers, suffer for it. We stick to paperback books and standard web searches. I hope that the situation with DRM works itself out in a way that is fair to everyone and not just a cash cow for some detached business entity.

(This was actually difficult for me to write about. There are a lot of factors to DRM that have an opinion on, as well as the CC (Creative Commons) and GNU -General Public License. All have a significant part in information sharing. Definitely fodder for further conversations.)