Monday, October 19, 2009

The Academic Library

We are all familiar with academic libraries and have used them extensively. A post about what we already know would not be very useful. So I will be writing about the future of academic libraries.

The modern academic library is undergoing a seismic shift. While the mission may still be to "provide access to trustworthy, authoritative knowledge" (Campbell, 2006) the way it goes about it has changed and will continue to change in the future. This post will summarize Campell's article about the future of the academic library.

The Future of the Academic Library

We conduct scores of daily searches, for material both academic and trivial. But one thing is clear; we no longer look to the academic library as our primary source of inquiry. The ease and ubiquity of the Web make it our first choice. So what is the role of academic libraries in this new digital age?

While there are oceans of data online, reliability is always an issue. Some have suggested that "the problem of the untrustworthy quality of Web-based information might preserve the academic library's role as the most important, even if secondary, source of information because in the context of higher education, the integrity of knowledge matters" (18).

Academic libraries led the way in making their content digital, which only accelerated with the Web. While many full-text journals are available through academic library databases, few books are fully searchable and available due to publisher reluctance to loosen copyright restrictions. Google's massive scanning project of four academic libraries and one public library may be the impetus that moves books into the 21st century (18).

Once all authoritative content is online, Campbell argues that the academic library will "become overwhelmingly a virtual destination" (19). Meanwhile, the academic library is going through a transition period. During this time several activities may hint at the future for academic libraries. They are: "providing quality learning spaces, creating metadata, offering virtual reference services, teaching information literacy, choosing resources and managing resource licenses, collecting and digitizing archival materials and maintaining digital repositories" (20).

Many students see the library as a study space. As more classes are online, there might be a demand for "high-quality, library-like space for student interaction, peer learning, collaboration and similar functions" (20).

Creating metadata replaces cataloguing. There is a need for sorting out the jumble that is the Web. Academic libraries might be involved in the "development of portals, tools, strategies customized for precision research on the vast Web" (22).

As more materials have been accessible online, "reference services have become more virtual" with telephone, e-mail and online chat (22).

With the broadening media landscape there comes a demand for educating researchers how to "negotiate a multi-format environment" (24).

Librarians have always chosen resources, but now they must also manage resource licenses, such as subscriptions to online journals that come in collections of titles. Campbell predicts this "will gradually eliminate much of what remains of the collection-development process and will shift the librarian's role much more toward managing licenses" (26).

The ease of online sharing of digitized materials suggests that "collecting and digitizing archival materials may offer a significant opportunity" for academic libraries in the future (26).

Maintaining digital repositories can be defined as "maintaining collections of data actually stored and managed by a library and does not include data stored and managed by other agencies for which a library serves as a gateway or portal" (26). Many of these are invisible to the major search engines and are often called part of the "Invisible Web" or "Deep Web" (26). Campbell suggests that such an area is so technically sophisticated that it might be a growth area for future academic libraries.

In summary, we can't imagine a world without academic libraries but the technological advances make it difficult to predict what the academic library will look like even ten years from now. Campbell hopes "the academy may be able to maintain much of the ineffable, inspirational value associated with academic libraries while retaining their practical value through altogether transformed activities and functions built upon a new mission designed for a more digital world" (30).


Campbell, J. D. (2006). Changing a Cultural Icon: The academic library as a virtual destination. EDUCAUSE Review, 41(1), 16-31.


Amy Alcenius said...

I've never heard of the "Invisible Web" term. Does this refer to infomation that is public access in theory, but just isn't found, or is it protected and copyrighted?

Trevor Zuidema said...

Yeah, that was new to me too. I looked here for some background:

I think you're right. You can get to it if you know where to look, but Google won't get you there.

Amy Alcenius said...

Thanks Trevor!

Amy Smola said...

From the moment I thought about a career in libraries, I have been wavering between public or academic libraries. Which would I prefer to work in? I have worked at the University of Michigan for 16 years, so it kind of made sense to head in the academic direction to keep my years of service, retirement, benefits... all that grown-up real world stuff. But honestly, academic libraries seemed so boring compared to public libraries which seem to offer such a variety of events. As academic libraries, I thought of the law library or the medical library... just dry, technical stuff for people seeking advanced degrees with strictly scholarly pursuits on their mind. And then I met Emily. I was taking some tours of various U of M libraries and museums. Emily was the tour guide at the undergraduate library. The library had neat programs and interesting displays, and Emily seemed so happy to be working there. I asked if she would mind talking with me later to share more of her experience as an academic librarian. She coordinates a lot of presentations and programs. And some of them ARE fun. She is in charge of the popular book collections, so she gets to choose books on popular topics... books that are really interesting and fun and enjoyable. She helps with special exhibits of unique items. She helps with student activities at the libraries. This isn't a dry and strictly scholarly place. Sure, people come to learn, but also to expand their horizons and have some fun while they learn. I thought the only option for things like this were public libraries, but I was wrong. I could stay at an academic library and still have a mix of some of the things that I really like about public libraries. It is possible to mix the two, and I was so glad to learn that.

Tom Trupiano said...

Interesting post. One of the things that caught my attention is the idea that students see the academic library as a "study space." We should not underestimate this role of the academic library. Yes, students and researcher can access most (and maybe eventually all) of the information they need on-line but isn't there something to be said for that sanctuary of the library where students can go, have everything they need at their fingertips in a quiet, peaceful place free of distractions (versus sitting at a laptop on their couch with the TV blasting behind them --kind of like I'm doing right now?). In a comment to the post about public libraries, I compared the changing role of libraries to the change in films with the advent of TV. Well, part of the reason that films have survived is because their is still something special about the experience of watching a film in a quiet, focused atmosphere. Maybe that "study place" experience will be part of the salvation of academic libraries as well.