Editorial: Entering the digital terrain:

Do we (really) have a compass and a map?

Librarianship seems to be one of the professions the media has a romantic and stereotypical image of: we are the silent servants and caretakers of lovely old books; we dust and cherish them and want to share this passion with our customers. Most of our time is spent stamping books in the backroom, and we usually do all this without pay.

The media and public rarely put us at the forefront of the digital wave. No, the pioneers are the small brave game companies who have invented the latest blockbuster or megaseller. Or companies that work with the recent innovation in 3D printing or Virtual Reality. Somehow in two years they are gone and forgotten.

We urgently need to update the media and public about what we really do and aim to do. We have a bold new role: bringing the digital heritage and its long tail to the people.

Archived and available

The CDNL is a summit of global national librarians. We recently met in Columbus, Ohio. We enjoyed a splendid series of state-of-the-art presentations, beginning with an account of The Library of Congress’s digitizing of the American and global heritage – not one of the easiest tasks to take on.

We heard Brewster Kahle from the Internet Archive explain the IA’s recent and remarkable innovations. It’s something we cannot do at The National Library: 25.000 software titles, 2.000.000 moving images, 2.300.000 archived books, 2.400.000 audio recordings, 3.000.000 hours of television broadcasts, 4.000.000 eBooks.

All of this is not only archived, but also available for free use. I sincerely envy Brewster and the IA, while I can put material only until the 1910s into use and just pray for the rest to happen in my lifetime … or even in my kids’ lifetime.

Soon only digital

Sometimes it is great to fantasize. What if copyright holders woke up and thought: damn, we need to get going, soon there will be a time when no one will pay a penny for this old stuff. Generation Z doesn’t even care about it. We need to take action as long as someone is willing to pay.

This is true and it will happen soon. I monitored the recent numbers of digital citizenship in the U.S. and found that approximately 40 percent of the population aged 40+ uses digital services. I could give you several statistics showing this. Generation Z now consumes 80 percent of its material digitally, seniors close to 40.

But the point is this: the rate of digital consumption and consumerism will rapidly rise to 80 percent across the board. This means that everything you want to get your hands on will be digital only: newspapers, magazines, books. Many companies need to have a dual business model, and digital will be the first option.

My firm belief is that we – instead of collecting and preserving, integrating and organizing – should head to the marketplace and start negotiating a new price model for our materials to be digitized. And firmly remind copyright holders that seniors will pay something for this material.

Generation Z has already created their own digital world. They will not be the ones who finance the digitizing of our material. They are creating their own national heritage every day. That means we have to start something new, and quickly.

This is the last issue of SLQ

This issue is the very last Scandinavian Library Quarterly. The first issue was published already in 1968. The journal has given Nordic libraries a voice. That voice must still echo in the international library world, in different forms.

Director of The National Library of Finland