Saturday, December 29, 2012

the future status of modernity's chief cognitive object

ala | As e-books and the emerging digital library occupy today’s headlines, there appears to be a tacit consensus emerging from the discourse among academics, journalists, and librarians about the future of the book. That vision of the future, as portrayed in the trade literature and popular press, consigns this centuries-old technology to obsolescence, as if it were merely another information format.

This report explores alternative scenarios, where the technology of the printed book does not disappear or become extinct, but occupies a different position in a technological ecology characterized by the proliferation of e-books and digital libraries. The printed book has for centuries been the chief cognitive object of the library. The future status of that object should be of interest to all librarians, especially as they plan for the future; therefore, this report intentionally favors the continued existence of the printed book as a viable technology.

The goal of this report is to draw attention to our assumptions about the future of the book, assumptions that are grounded in our current e-book zeitgeist. Strategic decisions are often based on underlying—and often unexamined—assumptions about the larger environment in which those decisions will be carried out. The future often turns out not as expected because we do not entertain alternative possibilities and base strategic thinking and actions on one specific belief about the future. Much of our current thinking about the future of libraries appears based on the assumption that printed books will give way to e-books and the digital transmission of textual objects.

This research report presents four scenarios so that academic and research librarians may expand their thinking about the future to include a richer set of environmental conditions:

  1. Consensus: a scenario where e-books overwhelm and make obsolete the printed book 
  2. Nostalgic: a scenario where printed books are still highly in demand and e-books haveproven to be a fad
  3. Privatization of the book: a scenario where printed books are vestigial to an ecology dominated by e-books 
  4.  Printed books thrive: a scenario where e-books and printed books exist in balance and have equal importance
Scenario thinking exercises can help to develop situational awareness. Mica R. Endsley defines situational awareness as “the perception of elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future.”

 Futuring is an exercise in expanding situational awareness by developing greater comprehension of the elements that make up the larger environment of libraries—indeed, viewing the library as a complex dynamic system affected not only by operational elements such as collections and user services but also by political, economic, social, and technological elements of the environment within which the library is situated. Beyond comprehending these elements and understanding the complex ways in which they interact, academic and research librarians must also be able to envision the future status of that system. We assume that the complex system that is the library will itself undergo change, and librarians must be able to anticipate those changes. Thus, using the language of situational awareness, scenarios should be viewed as one effort to describe a future state of the system in which decisions will need to be carried out. As academic and research librarians undertake strategic planning for their organizations, awareness of the larger environment and understanding the potential for changes in that environment will prove critical to improved decision making.

After reviewing each of the scenarios, those involved in strategic decision making should then consider their own plans—and their budgets— with respect to these questions:
  • Which state of the system do you believe best describes the environment in which your library’s strategic thinking and planning will unfold?
  • Which of these models of the future currently guides your strategic thinking and actions regarding printed books?


Tom said...

The e-book is fine, but digital rights management makes me deeply uneasy. Maybe you bought a bunch of books an have
them forever; maybe they take them all back tomorrow. I'm a holdout on that format -- I get it out from the library, download a pdf or e-book file w/o DRM, or buy the printed paper.

I don't want to end what Gutenberg unleashed, and to be a little dramatic about it,DRM is a means to do that.

CNu said...

Do books continue to function as the "chief cognitive objects" for the past two generations of information consumers? Is it accurate to call a massively ergodic text a book?

Tom said...

Bah, no, TV. People are investing their money based on what they see on TV! We're all Thelma and Louise joining hands and jamming down the accelerator Grand-Canyonward. We're a culture of little children.

I dunno. What is a massively ergodic text? To me 'ergodic' is an idea from statistical mechanics, and I'm thinking you don't mean it that way?

CNu said...

This here's what I'm talkin bout

Ed Dunn said...

Nobody does futuring - at best, the current people sitting in position try to hold on to the present and defend it as status quo. The only ones who do futuring are those who are driven to create change through forceful creative destruction.

Look at mobile payments - the credit card processors still want to cling on concepts like "card present/card not present" as if a physical plastic credit card is more secure than a digital transaction that can be fingerprinted with today mobile payment capabilities. So the current processors are not going to change, they going to cling.

Look at Black media for example - the Black consumer market under 40 do not exclusively subscribe to "Black media" and their audience or perceived audience do not exist and always been artificial. Instead of correcting their data and catering to the modern consumer, Black media instead chose to zero sum to comedians and self-hating rap and shock headlines to drag out their miserable false existence.

And when we look at media platforms, nobody working in the library, working at a video rental store, working at a record shop - absolutely none of them from Borders to Tower Records to Blockbusters done anything except allow new entrants to creatively destroy them.

So the way I see it, I can care less about the librarian and books. I think books will be transferred to true archivists but the people working today, all of them just waiting to be destroyed and not worth talking to or reasoning with.

CNu said...

So the current processors are not going to change, they going to cling.

Which stands to reason because they're deeply invested in the status quo. In fact, the status quo comprises a barrier to entry into their market.

So the way I see it, I can care less about the librarian and books.

Which conclusion is rash and superficial. Libraries are consumers, mass-consumers, but consumers just the same. It's the producers, the publishers who are clinging to the paper book value chain and all that that entails, not least of which is artificial control of information dissemination. I care deeply about how libraries and schools tee up on book publishers and how exactly the potential information access and presentation revolution takes place. A digital book that will read itself to an english language learner child is a quantum leap forward over existing familial and cultural barriers to child information acquisition.

Ed, the free Adobe Reader has a "read out loud" function built into it which will read the pdf text to a child. THAT my friend IS a game changer for little kids who get no help at home. I'm keenly interested in doing everything possible to help little kids who get no help at home.

umbrarchist said...

The weird thing is that Isaac Asimov pointed this out 60 years ago but he wasn't expecting it for another 140 years.

umbrarchist said...

The real problem now is e-book saturation. When I was a kid there was lots of sci-fi I would have read if I could but it was difficult to even find that it existed. So all there was was whatever was on the shelf or rack. I did a search on Amazon and found 275,000 works listed as science fiction. The only reason some of them are easier to get is because they are free. The others are just as easy if I am willing to pay.

But the true cost of a book is the time it takes to read. So the problem is figuring out what is worth the time.

Ed Dunn said...

This is true - as soon as an even breaks out - someone can create an e-book to sell on Amazon in about 24 hours. You probably can find new e-books on the fiscal cliff, General Petraus sex scandal or the shooting in Sandy Hook right now that are at best superficial and sensational.

Ed Dunn said...

And who will facilitate the TTS functionality of the digital books - the existing libraries and schools or a new entrant?

CNu said...

Sounds like an opportunity for a low-cost quality assurance aggregator - who gets to dip his bill a little bit without being an oppressive, prohibitive, or overly editorial publisher. Frankly, having seen textbook publishers peddle their warez for a few years now, and having hosted the first ever publisher shootout in which some of those ginormous name impresses, STRAIGHT CLOWNED THEMSELVES, I'm not really trying to hear anything those asshats have to say about well-researched, fact-checked, or otherwise quality assured.

As far as I'm concerned, they're the primary bottleneck to the next greatest cognitive object, because they're LOATHE to relinquish the immense profits and tight control associated with the physical object which is a book....,

CNu said...

Asimov got that exactly half right and exactly half wrong. The disembodied distance learning thing is going to happen as well as mediated distance collaboration. The part that he couldn't have anticipated with his telebook is the collaborative application of the web and current endpoints.

The make-believe white picket fences part he mentioned is brick and mortar homework collaboration. Or was that the truth and reality of segregated neighborhood schools, a reality that was brought to an end by forced busing and the breakup of neighborhood schools?

CNu said...

That's where the smart publishers, particularly textbook publishers must begin differentiating their offerings. Right now, McGraw Hill is threatening to do things correctly, Pearson is struggling, Houghton Mifflin is straight clowning, and a very significant opportunity exists for some forward thinking folks to get their isht together and rock the hell out of this market opportunity.