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Librarians and the T Word

TeleRead would not instantly eliminate paper books from the existing library systems--in fact, it never would. Paper books will always be with us even though the younger generation is increasingly screen oriented. The plan is more about evolution than revolution.

Neighborhood libraries, moreover, would still exist. Story-telling hours and many other brick-and-mortar-related activities would continue and even expand. Local libraries could still serve as meeting places for civic groups. Users with elaborate research requirements could still get help in person. TeleRead is pro-neighborhood library. John Iliff, a reference desk veteran who spent years at neighbood libraries and is pictured here, has wrtten a thoughtful and enthusiastic essay called TeleRead and the Pineallas Park Public Library. Simply put, TeleRead would help librarians serve the public better, especially in small towns and urban neighborhoods where resources may be limited.

By reducing paperwork and administrative details at large and small libraries, TeleRead would leave librarians with more time to guide users through the collections--either in person or via computer networks. Too, librarians could devote additional energy to the mentoring of young learners. Better integration might occur with local schools. The national program, in fact, would make resources available toward this end.

In addition, TeleRead could allow readers to hop back and forth effortlessly between library books and standard commercial ones, a "plus" for librarians interested in expanding the choices of the public. But at the same time it would also allow readers to limit searches to books recommended by libraries. In fact, by individual librarians in some cases.

What's more, TeleRead would increase the range of books published today, a cause dear to many a librarian. Far from being a mere popularity contest, it would force megapublishers to gamble up front to be able to collect truly big money on individual titles under TeleRead's royalty plan. And the money from lost bets? It would be available for royalty payments for the writers of books that appeared with less fanfare. While publishers could still publish outside the TeleRead royalty system and set their own prices, the plan could be a godsend for midlist books. Most best-sellers fade into midlistdom ayway within a few years. Yesterday's smash hit may be at the bottom of the bin at tomorrow's book sale--a powerful incentive for publishers to participate in a TeleRead-style effort

For more on the possible role of librarians, see the Net version of the Rothman talk at eBook 2001. Meanwhile it's good to know that even today some libraries are experimenting with e-books.

Encouragingly, too, Maurice (Mitch) J. Freedman, the 2001-2002 president- of the American Library Association, has a strong background in information technology. Furthermore, at eBook 2001, he emphasized the need for balance between the needs of libraries and publishers, and he appears open to new ways of addressing intellectual property issues. That's much of what TeleRead is about--the quest for a sustainable business model that assures maximum public access while preserving the incentives for the creation of good content.