Hooray E-BooksTrue, e-books in general have racked up record sales this year, outselling print for the first time, not just at Amazon but across the entire industry. 2011 was also the year Borders declared bankruptcy and closed its bookstores -- the end to a brick-and-mortar retail giant which had invested so heavily in all sorts of physical media (CDs, movies, and books) that have now gone digital.
Boo TextbooksIf there's one form of
Digital Textbooks: Not QuiteHeck, one of the biggest e-reader/tablet stories of the year was the new Kindle Fire, such an utterly lousy device for textbooks that you'd think Amazon knows something about the future of the (digital) textbook industry. Or something. (The company did start renting textbooks on Kindle this past summer.) Don't get me wrong. Students are hardly averse to e-books. Like other book buyers, they're increasingly likely to be owners of e-readers and tablets. Yet despite their preference for e-books for leisure reading, when it comes time for "required reading" for school, students remain reluctant to make the move to digital. Their reasons: digital textbooks aren't ideal for note-taking. DRM restrictions prevent sharing. The textbooks students need are often unavailable in an electronic format (or if they are available, they're scattered across various apps). And most importantly perhaps: digital textbooks are damn expensive, offering little to no savings over the printed alternatives (which can, of course, be bought used and can be sold back to the bookstore at the end of the semester). But if 2011 wasn't the year of the digital textbook, it was a pivotal year for the digital library.
The Library InnovatesThere's long been hand-wringing about the impact a switch to digital books might have on the public library. Indeed, if you view the library as just a repository of printed books, then it does seem like a bit of a dying institution. "Can the American library survive?" The Huffington Post asks in its new series "Libraries in Crisis." [Cue doom music.] But, you know, when I look back on some of the coolest stories I've written this year, I see more than libraries just surviving. I see them as undertaking some of the most innovative and important educational projects and programs:
- The Boundless Library: In May, the New York Public Library released its Biblion app that features items from the library's collection from the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair -- documents, images, essays, film and audio that let you explore the library's stacks "opening up hidden parts of the collections and the myriad story lines they hold and preserve." The library also hosted "Find the Future," a game played both online and in the library.
- The Public Library, Completely Reimagined: A look at the Fab Lab under construction at the Fayetteville Free Library. The Fab Lab already contains a Makerbot (a 3D printer) and a most fabulous librarian, Lauren Smedley, who's helping the library get its hands on more hands-on equipment to help transform the library (which is actually housed in an old furniture factory) into a "makerspace."
- Libraries and Museums Become Hands-on Learning Labs: A look at the winners of a competition sponsored by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the MacArthur Foundation. 12 libraries and museums were awarded grant money to help transform their facilities into "learning labs" for teens.
- How the Library of Congress is Building the Twitter Archive: In April 2010, Twitter announced it was donating its entire archives of public tweets to the Library of Congress. Just getting the tweets from Twitter to DC is a pretty impressive undertaking, and my interview with Martha Anderson and Leslie Johnston from the library's National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIP), was the first follow-up to the historic donation.
- The Challenges of Building a Digital Public Library of America: As the title suggests, I examined some of the challenges that will be faced by the new Digital Public Library of America initiative, an effort on the part of universities, public libraries, and non-profits to devise a plan a national digital library.