By Fred Heath
Heath’s article gives a colloquial yet articulate account on the relevancy of communicative and information institutions in the digital economy. It is commonly discussed that research libraries will become obsolete due to the fast paced evolution of the networked era, however Heath points out survival strategies for decision making, to tailor current collections towards the current directions of the digital environment.
Amongst Heath’s list of library asset headings, we will highlight ‘collection building’, ‘open repositories’ and the ‘physical plant’ as some of the main attributes forming the library environment, and their purpose and value in the future, so that libraries can take action now (Staley and Malenfant, 2010, p.58).
Collection Building & Repositories
Heath’s pro-activity within his library of controlling the capacity of collections and storing resources in common by partnering with other institutions are examples of library longevity. As Horova (2010) confirms, “we reformulate our practices of selecting, acquiring, and disseminating a collection as one of the most difficult issues we face” (p.143). The Web presence through institutional repositories and collections give libraries a new life to connect to current and new populations. Horova (2010) explains that by “focusing on remote access, active stewardship, a heightened awareness of learning outcomes for the researcher’s agenda, and a carefully sustainable approach to acquisition activity, we can enhance the value and use of our collections” (p.149).
Interestingly Heath only touched briefly on the Google Book digitization project, where libraries have digitized a major part of their collection with the ability for full-text searches (Duderstadt, 2009). Google Books have partnered with 19 major university and public library systems in the
On the Google website, Heath’s University of Texas library is actually one of those major universities, (The Google Books Library Project which started in December 2004), and it is uncertain why he did not promote the alliance further in his paper. He says on the Google Books website that “our libraries are also responsible for effectively preserving this knowledge and ensuring access to it over vast periods of time…..we believe that participating in this venture will help ensure our ability to meet those commitments far into the future."
With the commercial power that Google Books will have on the world of publishing, it raises a profound challenge to the future of libraries and to our collection activities. The issue is not one of competing with the Google digital library but of demonstrating how we can offer unique value and services that allows students to achieve their learning goals and researchers to further their programs. (Horova, 2010, p. 149)
Some positive outcomes by using the Google Book project:
- reducing library collection budgets and student text book costs,
- sustainability in the library - paying per chapter (pay for only what you need),
- providing statistics for library staff on preferred or popular texts
- Eradicating the increasing collection of superseded text books on shelves and offsite storage
An interesting observation made from Heath’s ‘physical plant’ posit, is that he lacks definition on the re-badging of the library from a “storage facility” to being an “interactive meeting place”. When did the university library start being an interactive meeting place? My suggestion is, as more technologies have become available, more students have entered the library. Heath needs to promote more the positive alliances that are taking placing within the library walls rather than what has diminished.
From this author’s experience working in a university library, students enjoy utilising the ‘physical plant’ of a library:
Heath has detailed that the future direction of specialist research libraries in the digital age can only happen by coordinating and sharing collections and knowledge with other university communities, ensuring a broad access to it using institutional depositories and open access companies. Breeding (2009) confirms that “libraries that fail to integrate into the environment of their broader organisation risk a dwindling relevancy and may miss out on the benefits of sharing institutionally” (p.35). Or as in Google’s case, users universally sharing.
Breeding, M. (2009). Libraries Thrive Through
Computing. Computers in Enterprise
Libraries, 29(6), 34-36. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 Apr. 2011.
Duderstadt, J.J. (2009). Possible Futures for the Research Library in the 21st Century.
Journal of Library Administration, 49, 217-225. doi:10.1080/0190820902784770
Google. (2011). Googlebook/partners.Retrieved from
Horova, T. (2010). Challenges and Possibilities for Collection Management in a Digital
Age. LRTS, 54(3), 142-152. Ebscohost. Web. 29 Mar 2010.
Kniffel, L., & Bailey, C.W. (2009). Cuts, Freezes Widespread in Academic Libraries.
American Libraries, 40.6-7 (June-July 2009): 28-29. Academic Onefile. Web 2 Apr. 2011
Staley, D.J., & Malenfant, K.J.(2010) Futures thinking for academic librarians: Higher
Education in 2025. Information Services & Use, 30. 57-90.