Whither the academic library ...

A more than usually interesting set of powerpoints is available from the Sustaining the Digital Library : Symposium, 13-14 September 2007, University of Edinburgh. It looks at the future of academic libraries from several perspectives. The presentations from Peter Buneman and John Houghton may make folks think a little differently about things, which is always useful.

1. Keynote Presentation [pdf], Rick Luce, Vice Provost and Director of University Libraries, Emory University

Rick asks an interesting question: "Could it be that we are well enough funded to be comfortable with our traditional roles?"

2. How Users Behave [ppt], Dave Nicholas, Director of the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, University College London

This presentation remarks that we "Have been bleating on about users for years, but have not made much progress" and asks "How many libraries [have] a department dedicated to following the users every move and relating that to academic outcomes and impacts?"

3. Public Good vs Private Profit [ppt], Michael Jubb, Director, Research Information Network

4. Reskilling the Library [ppt], Sheila Cannell, Director of Library Services, University of Edinburgh

5. The Economics of Scholarly Publication [ppt], John Houghton, Professor of Economics, Victoria University of Melbourne

6. The New Curators [ppt] Peter Buneman, Director of Research, UK Digital Curation Centre

7. Business models for an open digital world [ppt] David Prosser, Director of SPARC Europe

8. Summary [ppt] Martin Lewis, University Librarian, University of Sheffield

Via John MacColl.

Update: This entry escaped into the world with 'wither' in the title. This was a mistake and I changed it to 'whither' when I realized. No other significance than a momentary lapse of attention ;-)


Comments: 2

Oct 29, 2007
Amos Lakos

Regarding the relationship between funding and organizational change. From my Canadian work experience it is clear that "library leaders" will endeavor organizational change when forced to do so - and what better reason that a fiscal crisis. This has the advantage of blaming the "other" - be it university administration or the politician - but it is really typical of most organizations - if you do not have to don't change, especially if there is a dearth of courage and a dearth of consensus of what to do anyway.

From my California experience in a large research library, funding, especially for collections has always been available - so why change. Also, collaboration is difficult when a culture of institutional competition has become entrenched - which may only become dislodged by some fiscal crisis.

Regarding some of Dave Nicholas's conclusions - I just want to highlight the following - as they correspond to observations I made before in my work on culture of assessment and the need for library leadership to use analytics for decision making -

"How many libraries a department dedicated to following the users every move and relating that to academic outcomes and impacts? RIN"

not many and I see no widespread adoption of just buying the analysis as a business model in libraries

"Badly need leaders, demonstrating best practice through a genuinely evidence-based, user-focussed, consumer-friendly, Google-compatible services."
This is really about institutional leadership. Many institutions still wait for some collective convergence agreements about the future instead of exersizing leadership.

"Flexibility, innovation and change through e-observatories" - this relates both to the fiscal crisis and the leadership needs.


Oct 31, 2007
Paul Houle

Libraries are doomed. You've got to face up to the fact that the profit motive is a good thing, not a bad thing.

The public library in my town recently shortened borrowing terms again. The director wrote a letter explaining that she was doing this so books would be "more available to patrons".

She didn't mention that it can take books up to two weeks to be paged after being returned. This boggles my mind -- it doesn't take any more labor to page a book in a day than it takes to stuff it in a room full of disorganized piles of books and page it two weeks later.

This kind of situation just won't happen at a for-profit business, say, Blockbuster video, in a competitive market. Idle assets waste shareholder money, and they're sure to hold the manager accountable.

A while back I worked at an academic library that used a library management system known as Voyager. My impression was that Voyager was acceptable as a back-end system, but patrons kept wondering why it did't work like a web application, rather than like an old terminal application was was patched to pretend to be a web application.

An improved LMS could have offered great value to our patrons, but the library and the vendor had no financial incentive to improve it. Endeavor already had our cash, and the library wasn't going to get more money from the provost if it improved it's services.

Contrast that to, say, amazon.com, which, if it makes it 10% easier to find the book you want, sells 10% more books: joy to the stockholders and bonuses all around.

Even though libraries have no financial incentive to do things right, they are getting punished for doing things wrong. The above mentioned academic library has been facing a flat budget for years, and our voters firmly associate our local library with mismanagement. Not rewarded for their good deeds, librarians do pay for their sins in time.


Endeavor