Libraries & The Cloud

Earlier last week this article appeared in PC Magazine discussing the end of content ownership with the offering of cloud computing:

For the majority of consumers, however, they will come to fully trust the cloud and believe in subscription pricing for everything. Ownership will become an anathema as consumers realize they don’t want to risk losing content as they switch services, and they tire of finding requisite space on their own local storage for all those digital files. The benchmark for a good service will be based on the richness of each library. Consumers will pay companies like Amazon, a fixed amount for full-boat, yearly access.

In reading this article, I feel a bit divided. There are things about cloud computing and access that really speak to me; it’s the availability of content from wherever you are. Untethered from a location, it exists where you are. It is a promise of ubiquitous content access, a powerful notion that is quite compelling in its potential.

Where I feel a deviation is at the notion of subscription pricing for everything. My specific concern is if subscription pricing takes the place of content ownership. While I can imagine people signing up for subscriptions for eBooks in the same way that Rhapsody works, the idea that it would be the only model on the market bothers me to no end. I believe in the power of the end user to control their content; this doesn’t happen under a subscription model. It’s the concentration of power over content into relatively few hands that is a concern (although, to be fair, with the cloud and the internet, it creates other pathways to content).

Also, what would it means for book challenges? Could the groups that targeted books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian picket corporations into getting it removed? As opposed to a single school district, it means that it could be removed for entire swaths of the population. While I would hope that it would not come to that, it is a potential scenario.

Overarching this is the digital divide, for cloud computing and content doesn’t really matter if people cannot get internet access. Could it lower the bar to access though if they did not have to concern themselves with how to store content locally? Perhaps, since the costs of devices continue to drop (whether it is a Kindle or cell phone or other device). But in the end, if people can’t access it, then it doesn’t really matter.

Now, here’s the question: should libraries start looking to the cloud as the next step of information access? While we should retain physical locations (since providing internet access and printing services still requires computers at a location as well as programming and information literacy classes), how much could we push out into the cloud for the benefit of the communities that we serve?

(h/t: Library Link of the Day)

8 thoughts on “Libraries & The Cloud

  1. I think a lot of it is perception. For me, both my local public library and the university libraries I use are all “cloud” services — they, and their holdings, are “out there somewhere” for me to access. Granted, they aren’t holding MY content, but nonetheless the concept that the data is somewhere else (not in a printed book, not on my harddrive) is already mainstream. Heck hotmail and gmail have already hammered “content in the cloud” home to people.

    So to answer your question: yes. Not because it is the theoretically or philosophically right thing to do, but because it is already our reality. But as the discussion so often turns to when discussing “Library 2.0”, the answer is not a blanket solution but rather one that must be designed around the specific community served. Low income areas, for instance, still need substantial buildings because they are the educational and technical “home base” for those communities. My local university has converted 2 levels of a five level library over to “study commons” areas, shoving books I-don’t-know-where, and that’s fine. A year into my studies and I’ve only been there three times, and the majority of students access it remotely anyway; do we really need that whole building anymore? (not saying yay or nay, just proposing the question.) /2 cents

    • Excellent points, all of them. I know that academic libraries are much more in the cloud since the latest research is likely to be found in a database that can be accessed anywhere as opposed to a book. I guess my question would be for what else could be pushed into the cloud at the academic level. eBooks? Printing? I’m trying to think of items or services that make sense.

  2. I agree with Kim. From the patron’s perspective, whenever we access the car issue of Consumer Reports through EBSCO or download an ebook through Overdrive, the library already appears to be in the cloud.

    • I have a feeling that the better question I could have asked is what *else* should libraries look to push into the cloud. I’m wondering if it is a question of what else we could automate and/or streamline as well.

  3. I agree that academic libraries are pretty much cloud based. I worked at a medical university library and it was rare to see students browsing the stacks. Most of what they needed could be found on online databases. All that is fine for students who are not paying direct for the subscription service and have computers in their dorm rooms and apartments. The digital divide is important, point though. How long have computers been around? What is the reach of high speed internet? And still, libraries find heavy use for their computers and Internet. This suggests that while people use computers and may be familiar with cloud based services, they may not be willing or able to pay for them. Gmail, google docs, pandora, slacker, and others are free. But would users start shelling out monthly fees for Internet, email, music, books, movies? Amazon, Netflix, and Apple could move towards a single portal model, in which you pay one fee to access all content. Again, though, it seems to leave low income and/or casual users in the dust.

    • There’s an interesting thought. Would people be willing to pay subscription fees for content yet not purchase the equipment to utilize it because they could use the library? Logic would say no, but people might be very comfortable with planning their access around trips to community computer areas (such as the library).

      Food for thought, methinks.

  4. Pingback: iLibrarian » Libraries & The Cloud

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