In Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto, which is taglined Essays from the bleeding edge of publishing and is co-edited by Brian O’Leary and Hugh McGuire, there’s a refreshingly forward-thinking chapter on public libraries by the Ann Arbor District Library’s Eli Neiburger. In The End of the Public Library (As We Knew It) Eli describes an intriguing model for libraries as purveyors of digital stuff. If you’re a creator of such stuff, and if you’re willing to sign the AADL Digital Content Agreement, you can license your stuff directly to the library:

The Agreement establishes that the library will pay an agreed-upon sum for a license to distribute to authenticated AADL cardholders, from our servers, an agreed-upon set of files, for an agreed-upon period of time. At the end of the term, we can either negotiate a renewal or remove the content from our servers.

The licenses specifies that no DRM, use controls, or encryption will be used, and no use conditions are presented to the AADL customer. In fact, our stock license also allows AADL users to download the files, use them locally and even create derivative works for personal use.

Pretty radical! Why would you, the creator of said stuff, want to take this crazy leap of faith? Eli explains:

Instead of looking at the license fee as compensation for something like a one-time sale, the pricing works when the rightsholder considers how much revenue they would like to expect during the license term from our 54,000-odd cardholders. For niche creators, it’s not hard for the library to beat that number, and all they have to do to get it is agree to the license and deliver the files to our server.

They’re not releasing their content to the world (especially because it’s already out there). They’re just granting a year or so of downloads to these 54,000 people. They get more revenue than they would likely get from those people up front, and the library gets sustainable, usable digital content for its users.

Eli thinks this won’t work for in-demand mass-market stuff anytime soon, if ever. But as he points out:

When everything is everywhere, libraries need to focus on providing — or producing — things that aren’t available anywhere else, not things that are available everywhere you look.

Of course public libraries have always been producers as well as providers. Things libraries produce include local collections, like the Keene Public Library’s exquisitely-curated historical photos and postcards and the Ann Arbor District Library’s The Making of Ann Arbor.

Libraries are also producers of community events, and here’s one I’m delighted to announce will happen at the Ann Arbor District Library on September 26:


A Seminar on Community Information Management

Everybody lives online now. Knowing how to collect and exchange information is now as important a skill as knowing how to drive, but it’s not enough: in order to make the web really work for you, you have to know how to project yourself online, and how to manage the boundary between what’s private and what’s public.

Cities and towns need to know this too. From the mayor’s office and local schools to the slow-pitch league and the local music scene, communities need to have these same skills if they are to survive and thrive in the 21st Century.

This seminar will explore what those skills are and how we can use them to make our communities stronger. We will use one particular case — sharing and synchronizing event calendars in Ann Arbor — to illustrate ideas, but the basic principles we will discuss can be applied to almost every aspect of community life.

While we’ll be talking about the web, this seminar is not for IT specialists, any more than knowing how to drive is something that only auto mechanics need to know.

A one-hour presentation by Jon Udell of Microsoft will be followed by another hour of Q&A and discussion.

This event is free of charge, and particularly of interest to those working for educational, civic and other not-for-profit organizations. It will be helpful to those who want better ways to get the word out about their own organization’s events and news, as well as those who are searching for such information and not always finding it easy to locate.

We’ll address these questions, among others:

- How can we, as a community, most effectively inform one another about goings-on in the region?

- How can our collective information management skills improve quality of life in the region?

- How can they also help us attract tourism and talent from outside the region?

- How do these same skills apply in other domains of public life such as political discourse and education?

We’re inviting organizations that — like public libraries — are significant producers of community events: public schools, colleges and universities, city governments, hospitals, cultural and environmental nonprofits, sports leagues, providers of social services, and more. We’re specifically looking for the people in such organizations who produce and promote events. If you’re one of those folks in or near Ann Arbor and would like to be invited, please let me know.