So I've been thinking about e-books, and the rise of self-publishing. The short version is this: libraries of all types need to have systems enabling them to "publish" and manage content directly. As I've oft-stated, there were 2.7 million self-published titles (mostly electronic) in 2010, about 9 times the output of commercial publishing in the same year. This trend will continue.
So now let's say that your library does have such an infrastructure for the management of digital content -- as my library does. I anticipate that there will be at least four kinds of content coming our way:
* crap. It takes real effort to become a fine writer. A lot of what will be written won't be very good. But that's always been true. It disappears into the ages -- or at least, it has until now. (Do we need to weed e-books? Or will we finally have the ability to preserve every title forever?)
* OK stuff. There will be many works that do a reasonably good job of telling a genre story, or capturing a memoir, or reporting in a journeyman-like way on some event or non-fiction topic.
* great works. This is what inspires me. Somewhere, right now, a definitive new voice is working away. That voice will lift us up, and change the world. It just might be your local library that discovers him or her.
* the evil e-book. Let's call it the ee!book. The idea is that the ePub format -- the emerging standard for e-books, not only has text, but audio, embedded video, and external links. That last one is the problem.
This is inevitable: there will be books that are (a) 80% plagiarism (stolen from other works), (b) 15% links to live pornography, and (c) 5% malicious code.
Librarians have often spoken of books that take over your life, that are so compelling, so much better than your own life, that you are swallowed up by them for a while.
But I'm talking here about books that clean out your bank accounts, then e-mail, or tweet, or otherwise transmit themselves to everybody you know.
My whole philosophy of librarianship is that I think we're supposed to anticipate change, and then get ready for it. So how do we cast our electronic acquisition nets to capture the silvery new fish of user-generated content, but avoid the poisonous jellyfish of hackers?
Automatic link checkers, completely scanning an e-text before we let it into our catalog, is one strategy. But trust me: we'll need more than one strategy to combat Spam 2.0. The ee!book is coming.