Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Academic Libraries can have it both ways

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the future of academic libraries and libraries in general.  These posts do a good job responding to the well-known marketer's post, Seth Godin.

He doesn't really address academic or special libraries in the post. These libraries provide access to content that is scholarly or business information or things that are not mostly mass-market material (or kids books or $20 DVDs, etc.) This morning, I got a request for us to purchase a book on urban transport in the developing world by Edward Elgar [Regular Price $280.00 Web Price $252.00]. Good luck finding that for $10 on your kindle. (It is available online through different sources and for well over $200, but I don't see it for sale at Google Books like they say it is.) This is why we spend millions of dollars to get about 25,000 books a year. They average well over $40/book. They are not going down in price.

What do I mean by having it both ways?

The library can have print books and transition to electronic resources at the same time.  It shouldn't be an either/or discussion.  We have been doing that for years, and we have been doing a great job building a fantastic electronic collection of resources. (And, we have been providing great services with a small faculty and staff.)  There should be no reason to keep most of our print materials in off-site storage about 10 miles away.  My university administration wants to put most of the collection into storage to make more room for seating.  We were going to do that with the compact storage so we could open up most of the third level.  I feel this is defeating some of our core purposes. (Particularly "save the time of the user" when they have to wait 3-4 hours for a delivery and "every book its reader" and the need for open shelving for browsing.)

Without a good-sized collection on the campus, the library may not be as much of a draw, and the need for seating may become mute.  Seth notes that we are "defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario."  Just because we are arguing to keep print books on campus does not mean that we can't fight for the future--as the producer, connector and teacher of information.  Seth's logic is simply flawed.

We often use physical print books to help our students learn, in addition to teaching our students how to use and find all of the ebooks and databases and ejournals and websites and such.  We do know that more and more people are using electronic resources, and we also know that people still use traditional books and printed media.  This is a collection that I have been building for the last 13 years, and that librarians here have been building for the last 147 years.  Yes, much academic content is not popular, and the books are not checked out very often, but it is important and useful for scholarly research.  To send much of it off campus because some of the material has not been checked out more than X times is painful for me to watch.  (I can understand sending off material that has not been checked out at all since 1997.)

What am I going to do?  I am still going to do my best to provide the best service for our students and faculty, that is for sure, but it will be more challenging in the new environment.

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