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The E-Forms Connection

Via ArtTodayMany educators and librarians love the idea of a national digital library full of electronic books. But they wonder if the business community would object to the tax money spent.

The answer is: TeleRead would actually benefit business by massively popularizing the use of electronic forms--and driving down the cost of processing the paperwork of consumers. The same machines that were ideal for e-books could excel for e-forms. And business is starting to catch on to the benefits here.

A warm reception for TeleRead has come from Tom Brown, a consultant for Fortune 500 companies and a contributor Management General Siteto the Management Update Newsletter at Harvard Business School. He is aware of the strong link between literacy and productivity; what's more, he himself has put electronic books on the Net through his Management General site. This month Tom's site published an article about TeleRead and the e-forms that would help cost-justify a good national digital library. You can also read a longer version of the column here on the TeleRead site.

William F. Buckley, Jr.For years, William F. Buckley, Jr., the conservative columnist and perhaps the ultimate capitalist among journalists, has been enthusiastic about TeleRead. The old stereotypes about business people vs. educators just won't fly in this case--not when Andrew Carnegie himself was the leading advocate of free public libraries. Librarians and educators need to forge alliances with open-minded business people and conservatives and work toward a well-stocked national digital library.

Yes, Hollywood and certain publishers have lobbied against library interests and ArtTodaycontributed millions to politicians to influence copyright policy. But it would be utterly simplistic to confuse major copyright holders with the business community at large. What's more, good publishers actually could do quite well under TeleRead. Remember, it would reduce distribution costs and fairly compensate publishers and writers by the number of accesses--while making thousands of books free to the public. Publishers could add value through editing and promotion. And business people of all kinds would have an opportunity to support online library collections through philanthropy, not just tax money. Bill Gates could finally be Carnegie for real.

Perhaps librarians and educators should spend less energy coming up with reasons why we can't have TeleRead--and more time fighting for a well-stocked national digital library. The old bugaboo about business being in the way just won't apply if librarians and teachers and writers and others--including parents of book-starved children--can reach out to members of the corporate community and remind them of the benefits here. Tom Brown is already on our side.

--David H. Rothman | | 703-370-6540