As the world goes digital, so must the Library of Congress. But how?
That’s a big question, as nine students at the Gabelli School of Business found out while conducting a study of how the library might process the growing number of books published in electronic format.
Under the direction of Al Greco, Ed.D., professor of marketing, the class took up the project last year, not quite realizing where it would lead them. After delving deep into copyright law, information technology, and other complex topics, they found themselves presenting their findings before a professional society in the Washington, D.C., area and compiling an article that stands a good chance of being published in a professional journal.
“It just kind of took off,” said Michael Artiles, GSB ’14.
At the request of the library itself, Greco and the students spent two semesters examining how the migration to e-books would affect the largest repository of published work in the United States.
“If the book publishing industry said today that all new books are going to be digital, the Office of the Copyright would likely be paralyzed,” said Greco. “That would have a tremendous negative impact on authors and publishers.”
Besides book volume, there were many concerns: Given the growing preference for digital format, the library has to consider digitizing its entire collection of more than 22 million books, even though its funding has been reduced in recent years.
The library faces thorny technical questions, such as how it would securely store all this electronic information. Also, the library’s outdated copyrighting procedures offer little guidance about submitting copies of e-books, which are usually written in proprietary computer codes that the publishers may not want to release.
Greco said books that are already being released only as e-books may be in electronic formats that could become obsolete in a rapidly evolving industry. In the past, he said, “the government put an awful lot of things into various computer codes—especially in scientific, technical, medical research—that cannot be accessed today.”
“It’s gone,” he said. “That’s the fear.”
Meanwhile, the seismic shift toward e-books continues. Greco pointed to reports that e-books generated $78 million in revenue in 2008, jumped to $1.7 billion three years later, and could reach a final total of $3.55 billion for 2012.
To do the assessment, the students split into teams focused on accounting and financial issues, marketing questions, and copyright laws and library procedures. Their final report recommended that the library take several actions:
• Create a board to advise the library and Congress about the funds, staffing, technology, office space, and book storage space the library will need in the future. The board would also provide monthly updates on the digital book industry’s direction, and act as a liaison between the industry and the Library of Congress.
• Start a comprehensive analysis of existing copyright law, and review current copyright procedures to see what changes are needed. Determine whether all e-book copyright submissions should be in a version of “e-pub” format.
• Launch a comprehensive analysis of the money and time required to digitize the library’s entire book collection, and how the digitized collection could be stored.
• Start a detailed discussion with the congressional committee overseeing the Library of Congress about the library’s short- and long-term funding needs.
• Determine a strategy for presenting the library’s short- and long-term needs to the judicial and budget committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The students could be headed to the Library of Congress this spring to answer questions about their findings, and Greco said two professional journals are interested in publishing the students’ research.
The students said they were surprised to find the library so out of sync.
“You realize that these policies haven’t changed since decades ago,” said Artiles.
No matter how the library acts on the students’ recommendations, the project gave them real-world research and consulting experience.
“This was helpful, to solidify that I do want to go into some kind of position in market research,” said Alexandra Jameson, GSB ’14.
Artiles said that “(learning) how to structure a consulting project from start to finish was unbelievably beneficial.”
Said Adam McWilliams, GSB ’14: “A whole a lot of us are going into finance, so if we want to be perhaps … on the buy side of finance, there’s a lot of analytics and research that go into that.”
(Brett Johnson, writing for Fordham Business magazine, contributed to this article.)