Monday, March 14, 2011

the great stagnation and library disintermediation

There's some buzz in the media about a recent book by Tyler Cowen called The Great Stagnation. It's thesis goes something like this: we've have reached this productivity plateau in our economy because we have exhausted all the " low hanging fruit" (cheap land, energy, uneducated minds, etc.) that can lead to big rises in economic performance in consecutive years. As I gather, he's skeptical about how much good the internet has done for us in regards to the economy.

This book strikes one among many that evoke a sort of early 21st century digital age malaise. The Shallows by Nick Carr worries about what Google is doing to our brains, the shift index referenced in the Power of Pull points to lower and lower returns on corporate assets, and Academically Adrift, a volume that has touched some nerves on our small campus, argues that our higher education system is rather ineffective.

One remarkable thing about The Great Stagnation is that is is only released as an Amazon Kindle Edition, which is an electronic only short form publication. The cost is about $4. There's no sign of it in WorldCat and I take that to mean that it's not available in libraries at all. This is pretty remarkable considering how influential this little book is. I mean, we're talking reviews in the NYT, Economist, Mother Jones, the National Review. And this guy is an academic at George Mason, not a popular pundit, so this book would have both a broader public appeal and an academic one. If a college professor wanted to assign this book for a class, what options would she have for access besides Amazon?

The Kindle Edition format is a cool concept: a nice midway point between book and article. One of our faculty here, Pauls Toutonghi, writes short fiction in the format. It's unfortunate that we can't provide this content through the library, however. This is truly an example of the library being disintermediated in the information economy.

This also makes me think of the NYT announcement about digital subscriptions. We've gotten inquiries about the library providing this access to the NYT in light of this announcement. I'm not seeing any sign that the Times has a program for institutional access to its content (at least through its website), however.

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