The Peaceful Coexistence of Print and Digital Media, with Special Consideration of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Kevin S. Hawkins

Notes from a presentation given at the 2006 Fisher Forum: “Book Arts, Culture, and Media in Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia: From Print to Digital”.

I was asked to discuss the future of digital applications. I can offer a few predictions, but my opinions can be illuminated by examining the range of digital resources hosted at the University of Michigan University Library (focusing, for this presentation, on resources in the Slavic, East European, and Eurasian area). To understand these, it's helpful to understand Michigan's approach to digitization and print, which is informed by the mixed messages that librarians are receiving about print versus digital resources.

  1. Mixed messages about the future and value of print
  2. Policy toward print and digital resources
  3. Sample Slavic, East European, and Eurasian resources demonstrating this policy
  4. Predictions for the future

Mixed messages about the future and value of print

With all the talk of digitization, people often wonder about the fate of printed material. We’ve all been through these discussions with our colleagues and curious people not in the profession, and it seems everyone has an opinion on the question. A few common views:

In academic libraries, there is a clear trend toward moving print items to remote storage to free up valuable space for individual and collaborative use of technology for research, teaching, and studying; however, there have been a number of false starts in initiatives to stop collecting print materials altogether.

Taking these mixed messages from users and librarians into account, I will assume that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the switch to electronic resources. It’s obvious but worth restating. The usefulness of electronic resources and the necessity of print varies based on the type of resource (reference, serial, or monograph), the type of users (college students, the general public, children, the elderly), and type of institution (research library or general collection). I would say this is the basis for the approach taken at Michigan.

Policy toward print and digital resources

Michigan has long been a leader in digitization, making huge volumes of reformatted material available online for free, hosting subscription-based collections of reformatted and born-digital material, and publishing born-digital serials, monographs, and other digital projects. Even since before Michigan’s collaboration with Google, the digital format was the default preservation option at Michigan. Digitized works in the public domain are made available online for free.

But Michigan also believes in giving people choice in how they access texts. Users can purchase print-on-demand reprints of items from the Making of America, Historical Math, and ACLS History E-Book collections (for now). Like Marcus Levitt said earlier this conference, print will become a mode for a particular use. Michigan sees three audiences for this:

I should point out that Michigan is not looking to make a profit from its sale of print-on-demand copies. We're still recovering start-up costs at this point, and once we break even on those, profit from print-on-demand sales will be reinvested in digitization.

Sample Slavic, East European, and Eurasian resources demonstrating this policy

Let me demonstrate some different types of resources available digitally and in print media. These were all created in digital form by Michigan or by Google through the Michigan Digitization Program (the Google partnership), which will show various digital methods and help illuminate my vision of the bibliographic future:

Predictions for the future

These are my personal predictions for the future, informed by my personal opinions and the thoughts of other talking heads like me: