Top Five Technology Trends

As usual, the LITA top 10 technology trends session at ALA produced some thought-provoking results. And, as usual, I have a somewhat different take on this question.

I’ll whittle my list down to five.

  • Digital Copyright Wars: Big media and publishers are far from finished changing copyright laws to broaden, strengthen, and lengthen the rights of copyright holders. And they are not yet done protecting their digital turf with punitive lawsuits either. One big copyright impact on libraries is digitization: you can only safely digitize what’s in the public domain or what you have permission for (and the permission process can be difficult or impossible). There’s always fair use of course, if you have the deep pockets and institutional backing needed to defend yourself (like Google does) or if your efforts are tolerated (like e-reserves has been so far, except for a few sub rosa publisher objections). In opposition to this trend is a movement by the Creative Commons and others to persuade authors, musicians, and other copyright holders to license their works in ways that permit liberal use and reuse of them.
  • DRM: The Sony BMG rootkit fiasco was a blow, but think again if you believe that this will stop DRM from controlling your digital content in the future. The trick is to get DRM embedded in your operating system, and to have every piece of computer hardware and every consumer digital device that can access and/or manipulate content to support it (or to refuse access to material protected by unsupported DRM schemes). That’s a tall order, but incremental progress is likely to continue to be made towards this goal. Big media will continue to try to pass laws that mandate certain types of DRM and, like the DMCA, protect its use.
  • Internet Privacy: If you believe this still exists on the Internet, you are either using anonymous surfing services or you haven’t been paying attention. Net monitoring will become far more effective if ISPs can be persuaded or required to retain user-specific Internet activity logs. Would you be upset if every licensed e-document that your library users read could be traced back to them? Unless you still offer unauthenticated Internet access in your library, that may depend upon your retention of login records and whether you are legally compelled to reveal them.
  • Net Neutrality: If ISPs can create Internet speed lanes, you don’t want your library or digital content provider to be in the slow one. Hope you (or they) can pay for the fast one. But Net neutrality issues don’t end there: there are issues of content/service blockage and differential service based on fees as well.
  • Open Access: If there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the scholarly communication crisis, it’s open access. Efforts to produce alternative low-cost journals are important and deserve full support, but the open access movement’s impact is far greater, and it offers global access to scholars whose institutions may not be able to pay even modest subscription fees and to unaffiliated individuals.