the library is the arsenal

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Libraries and the Long Tail with a Technical Divide

In this article, Dempsey analyzes how the “long tail” effects libraries that operate within the online environment. He briefly explains what a long tail means, how this impacts libraries, and suggests ways to improve the current system. Chris Anderson coined the long tail argument in his October 2004 article for Wired magazine. There he explained that huge online distribution businesses (such as can sell more items from hard to find niche markets than it will from frequently requested items in popular markets. The number of niche items far outnumbers the orders placed for popular items. Dempsey applies this argument to the library, which contains “the full range of what has been made available as well as what is now available.” For the library to sustain a long tail and subsequently a viable future, it must employ a number of tools similarly employed by online search engines and large media distribution businesses. These include the unification of search systems, analyze catalog use and circulation, “provide transaction support” and utilize an increasingly semantic web. The key as Dempsey puts it “is about make it much easier to allow a reader to find it and get it, whatever ‘it’ is.”
I actually enjoyed this article and agreed with many of Dempsey’s opinions and suggestions; however I take issue with his assumption that everyone is has internet access or at the very least a computer. His long tail library would serve only the technological elite, leaving the digitally divided behind. He cites Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science, (1- Books are for use. 2- Every reader has his or her book. 3- Every book has its reader. 4- Save the time of the reader. 5- The library is a growing organism.) and suggests the use of semantic systems as way to advance them. It is amazing and incredibly useful technology, but we cannot forget how these continuous changes will affect those not plugged into the network. How libraries will respond to their needs?

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