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It's not hard to see how electronic copies would improve on that. With Google Books - or some variant - all you need is a browser. Once you have an electronic copy, you have an infinite number of electronic copies.
Aside from politics and lack of imagination, there's no reason why there shouldn't be exactly one library in the world, with local mirrors.
An online library that offered instant access to copies of everything ever published, without exception, would be a hugely useful thing. And the technology to do this is already available now.
There are also curatorial advantages. You can leave valuable folios in climate controlled storage while still giving readers open access to the words and images in them.
Regarding journals Open Access is slowly but steadfastly winning ground in different academic institutions. So there we might see access through bypassing the established gate-keepers.
Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
Of course, but that is not what is being implemented at the libraries I know of.
I'm sure it isn't, but I think it's inevitable in the medium term. It's not actually possible to secure electronic data in any useful way. Any protection scheme can be cracked or circumvented. For example it's not hard to find fairly obscure CDs that used to live in library collections available online in torrents.
In the same way that iTunes stopped using DRM after a few years, I think it's inevitable that the current fad for Kindles and whatevers is going to die within a year or three.
Combine that with Open Access, and you have - open access.
What's missing is automatic torrenting. Currently to share a torrent you have to decide - manually - that you are going to put it online, or continue to seed after you've downloaded it. This makes it your torrent. Which is not entirely a good thing.
Within the next few years someone is going to realise that torrents can be cloudified. Everyone will seed slices of random anonymised files that could contain any content by anybody. The original uploader will remain anonymous.
Once that happens, torrents will start to remain available for perpetuity. People will start putting cloud torrent servers online. The copyright police won't be able to do anything, short of breaking down doors, because uploading, seeding and downloading will be completely anonymous.
Not long after that, someone else will realise that this really is a viable model for a world library.
This will transform publishing into something very different. This won't be an easy thing and may not be an entirely good one. But I think it's inevitable now.
It may also transform universities. Currently a large part of the rationale for universities is that people go where the books are.
If the books are everywhere, that's going to need a rethink.
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