“Future Reading” and the digital divide

A few of weeks ago I came across an article in the New Yorker by Anthony Grafton entitled “Future Reading” that first interested me because of the really cool drawing involving a library and google.

The article started with the well known recantment of the role libraries play as a place of knowledge, their history, digitization programs, why we have some concerns… you know, the usual stuff. But what really got my attention was when Grafton started addressing the many limitations of Google Books and similar projects, particularly in this paragraph:

Other sectors of the world’s book production are not even catalogued and accessible on site, much less available for digitization. The materials from the poorest societies may not attract companies that rely on subscriptions or on advertising for cash flow. This is unfortunate, because these very societies have the least access to printed books and thus to their own literature and history. If you visit the Web site of the Online Computer Library Center and look at its WorldMap, you can see the numbers of books in public and academic systems around the world. Sixty million Britons have a hundred and sixteen million public-library books at their disposal, while more than 1.1 billion Indians have only thirty-six million. Poverty, in other words, is embodied in lack of print as well as in lack of food. The Internet will do much to redress this imbalance, by providing Western books for non-Western readers. What it will do for non-Western books is less clear.

Grafton is touching on one more aspect of the digital divide where non-Western societies are lagging behind. Although I agree with his asertion that Internet will increase access to resources for poor countries, it seems to me that the fact that digitization projects are hardly touching material from non-Western countries will seriously increase the Westernization of their histories, their cultures, their languages (says a Spanish native speaker, writing in English). This new form of colonization uses information as commodity and those with the technology to disseminate it will continue to select only material that will bring them substantial economic profit.



Grafton, A. (2007, November 5). Future Reading : Digitization and its discontents. New Yorker. Retrieved December 9, 2007 from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/11/05/071105fa_fact_grafton


1 Comment

Filed under digitization, preservation

One response to ““Future Reading” and the digital divide

  1. greyson

    Welcome Martha!

    I’m really excited to have you writing for SJL, and also looking forward to future conversations and posts about open access, digitization, globalization and colonialism. Sometimes all these advances seem like such “double edged swords” in the struggle for human rights and social justice.


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