Paul Courant, “Changes in Communications that Derive from New Information Technologies”, December 13 2011

This lecture series at the U has always looked good – Paul Courant’s talk should be no exception. Bring a sandwich!

U-M Institute for the Humanities
Brown Bag Lecture Series
Featuring the Digital Humanities
“Changes in Communications that Derive from New Information Technologies”
Paul Courant; information, public policy, economics
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
12:30pm, 202 S. Thayer, room # 2022

Watch past Brown Bags online at

Digitization is seen variously as a boon and scourge, depending on the viewer, the issue at hand, and sometimes even the time of day. As with many polarizing phenomena, there is merit on both sides. If we look carefully at the functions that we want libraries to perform, we see that although most (but not all) are made technically easier with digitization, many are made organizationally more difficult, both within libraries and within the institutions that support them and use them. Preservation, which I will argue is an essential function of academic libraries, is the most straightforward example of something that is much more difficult to organize with digital media than it was with print. Scholarly publishing, without which libraries would have little to do, is stuck with a set of institutions and practices that are ill-suited to take advantage of digital technologies. And then there is copyright. Taking as given that we now live in a world where it extremely inexpensive to copy, distribute, search, mix, and remix, it is still not entirely clear how best to respond to what should be good news. The answers depend on what we want and how willing we are to collaborate in the interest of achieving it. As in many cases, successful exploitation of changes in technology requires changes in the way activities are organized.

Paul Courant is the university librarian and dean of libraries at the University of Michigan. He is also Harold T. Shapiro Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Economics, professor of information, and faculty associate in the Institute for Social Research. He has authored half a dozen books, and over seventy papers covering a broad range of topics in economics and public policy. More recently, he is studying the economics of universities, the economics of libraries and archives, and the changes in the system of scholarly communication that derive from new information technologies.


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