Followers of the Internet’s short, but remarkable history, will have to admit that all the early talk in the 1990s of the web as an agent of social disruption are beginning to cascade into reality. Hyperlinks are finally beginning to reach into corporate email caches and government communication logs. The crumbling of the music industry is now spreading to print publishing and film. And corrupt regimes from Tunisia to Iran to China are struggling to grapple with the consequences of a connected citizenry.
These stories get lots of press. But, an different kind of online revolution is sweeping through the library world, which you may have heard of, but gets much less fanfare: libraries are becoming not just storehouses for books, but publishers as well.
A good chunk of this publishing power is owed to the proliferation of cheap, simple-but-powerful, cloud-based publishing solutions.
Since 2008, the technology world has been all abuzz about cloud computing, and now that mantra is top on the agenda at nearly every kind of government, business or educational conference.
Librarians will recognize this topic well, since it has been top of the agenda at our conferences for some time now. In fact, we kind of led the hype cycle years ago. Our shared catalogs, journal database services and even, in some cases, shared online reference services, have been distributed in cloud-like fashion for decades. In fact, at a recent OCLC preso, the librarians in attendance were reminded that OCLC Founder Frederick G.Kilgour was talking up the cloud concept back in the 1960s.
My own library is engaged in cloud-based publishing already. The university’s institutional repository, which I administer, is one such hosted service with content archived, backed-up and made available online via the Berkeley Press’ Digital Commons platform. On it, you’ll find full-text faculty articles and eBooks, student dissertations and theses, conferences and online journals all published by the university community. I’m even working with a faculty member on getting an art gallery set up for her oral history project. What’s more, it’s fully indexed by the major search engines, so it’s a fantastic way to bring attention to the university’s intellectual legacy.
The technology behind Digital Commons, is a very simple, but powerful, web publishing platform that is a good example of the benefits of the cloud. When the university first started this journey, we did not have to build anything. Once we decided who to go with, we just licensed the platform and turned it on. All the maintenance, security and development is handled by Berkeley Press. And what’s really nice is that because online publishing is their business, they have the incentive and focus to do a good job. And if they ever don’t satisfy, we can just move shop to another provider…with a little effort.
Of course, as is often the case with such hosted products, you have to give up some design and development control. So far, this has been the one true wrinkle. A common complaint I get is in regards to layout limitations. But to BePress’ credit, their response time to our requests is superb.
But back to disruption and revolution…Digital Commons is a good example of how cloud computing can be an agent of change…you know, like Twitter and Facebook, what I like to call the Molotov Cocktails of the 21st Century. What else would you expect from a product out of Berkeley anyway?
To be sure, traditional publishers see platforms like Digital Commons as a threat. For an industry famously desperate and broke, the online publishing model strikes right at their bottom line. That’s because platforms like Digital Commons remove the middleman from the equation and give full control over to the author and the author’s institution. For faculty and students whose primary motivation is not to enrich a publisher, but to have their work get noticed in a timely manner befitting our Internet age, this is a real coup.
And as I said, such cloud-based publishing platforms are also a revolution for libraries, which have traditionally been in the business of cataloging and sharing content, rather than producing it. But that’s just the crazy world we live in now.
Of course, in my opinion, the real disruptive publisher of our day are the blogging platforms like WordPress, which truly turn publishing loose to anyone…at no cost. And like other instances of the cloud, you can just turn them on and off at will. Nobody gets hurt. No one goes broke. But the creative energies are loosened on the world, unfiltered and unabridged.
But if you’re talking about trying bridge the old world with the hyper-atomized future that blogs foretell, well, my library can take authors there as soon as they say “go.”