Editorial: As of yet, we have only glimpsed the outline of the new opportunities

In 1989, Norway was one of the first countries in the world to adopt a legal deposit act that included digital documents. These were referred to as “EDP documents”, and mainly included whatever content was produced with the aid of word processors, spreadsheets and the first generations of desktop publishing tools. Content was collected and distributed in the form of CD-ROM disks that were physically distributed to readers, who inserted them into a disk drive and read the content on a screen.

In the nineties came the Internet with websites, after the turn of the millennium followed by web publishing and new channels such as blogs and social media in increasing numbers. As a result of this development, digital production platforms have come to dominate the entire creative process up to the publishing stage, and the printed media have gradually been joined by a digital twin in the form of e-books, e-newspapers or at least digital print files.

Internet and availability

In parallel to this trend, many institutions with the National Library of Norway among them, have initiated digitization programmes to ensure that the historical, ‘analogue’ collections also can be distributed through the Internet and be as accessible as the content that has been created and distributed digitally.

The National Library of Norway has focused on three issues: volume, media diversity and online dissemination through agreements ensuring that even copyrighted material can be made freely and openly available to a large audience.

As a result, altogether 160 000 books published through 2000 have to date been made freely available online through the Bookshelf Agreement with Kopinor (there will be 250 000 by 2017). Agreements with newspapers have made historical newspaper archives available in all libraries, with a total of 12 million newspaper volumes to date.

Moreover, 30 000 historical radio broadcasts dating from 1933 till the present day have been made freely available and searchable online through long-term cooperation and partnership with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK).

Multimedia text search

What we have seen so far, in addition to the fact that the concept of accessibility has assumed a new dimension, is that multimedia free-text searches have made referencing more interesting and efficient, opening opportunities that nobody would have thought of previously.

A foretaste of these new opportunities can also be had from the n-gram search, which is not yet widely known, but the National Library of Norway will be launching a beta version of this service in  the early summer (see Jon Aril Olsen’s article about this).

New models will adapt

As for all technological upheavals, this process is not without its foibles. The new opportunities created by technology challenge established industries and value chains, with no concern for long-standing business models. Different solutions are required, and these new models are still in search of sustainable platforms. From many countries, we can hear reports of how the relationship between the publishing industry and the libraries are characterized by this situation, for example in terms of access to and agreements for lending of e-books in libraries. This is also reflected in articles in this issue of SLQ.

This friction will be a passing phenomenon. The new opportunities cannot be halted, and regulatory frameworks and business models will adapt. Or to use a figure of speech: the future belongs to the n-gram search, not to barriers to lending and interlibrary exchange of books.

Acting National Librarian National Library of Norway