future of the library
Following up on yesterday's post about Another Google Search going away:
Gary Price notes that Google had promised an archive of Twitter posts and that Google has recently removed another service:
- Google Realtime Search Offline; It Will Return But What About Complete Twitter Archive Google Was Planning?, by Gary D. Price, INFOdocket (July 4, 2011).
- Official: The Google Wonder Wheel Is Gone, by Gary Price, Search Engine Land (Jul 3, 2011).
I find it significant when for-profit companies develop products and then take them offline or when they fail to deliver on promised products. I don't begrudge them the right to do this and I'm not surprised when they do. I find it significant, though, when libraries rely heavily on such services, particularly when they replace services and collections that libraries have traditionally provided to their user communities. Libraries always rely on commercial products, of course, from the old print volumes of Readers' Guide to fancy online abstracting and indexing services. But there is a difference between using such products to supplement and enhance services and collections and using them to replace services and collections. When libraries decrease their own services and minimize their own locally-controlled collections and act as little more than a gateway to commercial services, they do their user communities no favors.
There is a lot being written about the role of libraries in the digital age and a lot of libraries are seemingly content to "let someone else do it." When libraries give up to publishers and for-profit companies the traditional library roles of selecting, acquiring, organizing, providing access to and services for information, and (libraries hope) preserving that information, they are abrogating their essential role, their defining characteristics. Such decisions will surely weaken libraries as an institution. But what about their user-communities? Such decisions leave the communities at the mercy of private companies and the marketplace and without a say in what information is important to them.
IBM, a big company that has had its ups and downs, pointed out recently:
Nearly all the companies our grandparents admired have disappeared. Of the top 25 industrial corporations in the United States in 1900, only two remained on that list at the start of the 1960s. And of the top 25 companies on the Fortune 500 in 1961, only six remain there today.
-- How does an organization outlive its founder?,
by marty kelly, IBM Smart Camp blog (June 16, 2011).
This isn't surprising. What is profitable comes and goes. What is important for a user community shouldn't be left to the whims of the marketplace; it should be in control of the community through its own institutions. When we consider the information that is important to a user community, that institution is, by definition, the library. Then promises can be made by -- and kept by -- the community itself.
A few days ago I posted (The opportunities that libraries missed) a link to Peter Murray-Rust's blog where he is discussing the future of the library and getting ideas for his talk at JISC's Libraries of the Future Debate at the Bodleian April 2nd 2009.
Peter Murray-Rust, of the Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics, Cambridge, looks at the opportunities that libraries missed. This is a must-read.
He says that Libraries once had a central role in guiding scholarship but that neither Libraries nor Librarians do anymore. He traces this decline to "two major missed opportunities where, if we had had real guaradians of scholarship we would not be in the current mess - running scared of publishers and lawyers."
- The library of the future - Guardian of Scholarship?, by Peter Murray Rust, petermr’s blog, March 19th, 2009.
So, simply, the librarian of the future must be a revolutionary. They may or may not be Librarians. If Librarians are not revolutionaries they have little future.
An interesting editorial item from the New York Review of Books by Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor at Harvard He has actually been tilling these intellectual fields for awhile for NYRB -- here is a list of submissions. Goes without saying that I disagree with some of his observations. But with more than 100 days left on the current time clock, I will address those concerns another time....
See you on Day 32.
The folks at the The Institute For The Future Of The Book and the Digital Library Federation are having a series of brainstorming meetings to discuss what they call "the really modern library." Read more at the Institute's blog:
- the really modern library the institute for the future of the book, October 8, 2007.
The goal of this project is to shed light on the big questions about future accessibility and usability of analog culture in a digital, networked world.
The following is a comment posted to the DLC Vision Outline and Discussion Paper blog under the topic, "Library Roles in the Non-Exclusive Environment." I believe that the focus of the DLC Vision on the so-called "non-exclusive" environment leads to incorrect conclusions because of its false assumptions. The comments below, however, are an attempt to provide positive suggestions for improvement of the draft rather than a critique of the assumptions. Questions and statements by DLC are in boldface text.
"Pivotal to any discussion of government information provision is the ubiquitous internet. No longer do citizens, students, tax payers have to come to the depository library for government information."
This statement should prompt a series of questions and discussion of them:
- Does the current state of access to government information from government web servers guarantee permanent access?
- Will citizens continue to have access to all government information they need from government web servers?
- Will the government continue to provide free access to fully-functional government information?
- Will government always provide access to government information and protect the privacy of readers?
"Despite the "digital divide," the government is more and more often providing its information exclusively via the internet. Where does that leave Federal Depository Libraries?"
- It leaves FDLs with the same responsibilities they have always had: to ensure long-term, no-fee access to government information while protecting the privacy of users.
"In what ways, if any, might FDLs be necessary in the non-exclusive environment?"
- see below.
"What is the role of libraries generally and FDLs in particular?"
- Libraries have many roles. These roles include: selecting, acquiring, organizing, and preserving information; providing services for and access to that information; protecting the privacy of readers and users of that information; providing information without fees.
- Society needs organizations that have the complete mix of all of these roles as their primary mission (not a secondary mission or a by-product of publishing or dissemination or making money). In the case of government information in a participatory democracy it is particularly important, even essential, that society have such organizations. Reliance on those who have some, but not all, of these roles will ensure that some of these roles will go unfulfilled. Reliance on organizations that have some or all of these roles as a secondary mission or by-product of another mission will endanger free access to information, preservation and integrity of information, the privacy of readers, and risk the loss of information.
- What would you call an organization that fulfills all the roles listed above but "a library"? Since we already have a network of legislatively authorized libraries, what reason can we have for abrogating the responsibility and ability we already have in hopes that someone else will become the new library of the future? Doing so would either require rebuilding what we already have, or it would guarantee losing what we already have.
"To what extent are all libraries in some way government information access centers?"
- All libraries will have the possibility of providing better access to government information -- but not all libraries will have the full responsibility of fulfilling all the roles of a depository library as outline above.
"There is a new diversity among FDLs, ranging from service centers to power collections - how do these mix?"
- The mix can be very similar to what we see in the paper and ink world. Some libraries will have small collections, frequently weeded; others will have large collections that the preserve for a long time. Most libraries will have collections of materials focusing on a particular clientele (k-12, college, university, agriculture, medicine, law, etc.). Some libraries will have advanced digital-library software and collections, others will have small collections of (for example) pdf files on cd-roms and public service PCs. Some FDLs may even wish to provide only service and no collections, but such libraries would not be depositories anymore.
- A "service center" is to information what a travel agent is to travel: it has no control over resources. While travel agents are potentially useful, we have seen that most users do not use travel agents, even if they provide "better" travel arrangements. Similarly, an FDLP that provides only "service centers" will be dooming itself to irrelevance.
"Only libraries? How might we collaborate with potential partners like the Memory Hole or Way Back Machine?"
- FDLs should both collaborate with and facilitate the work of others in the use and re-use of information. FDLs could feed information to such organizations and accept new information from them and guarantee long-term storage and access. FDLs should not, however, mistake the mission of such organizations for their own mission.
"How does the FDLP position itself where users are (Google; point-of-use; regional information; other?)?"
- FDLs should have collections of information and provide that information on the web. (To do this, we'll need to have information that we control)
- FDLs should also create, and share metadata through OAI and RSS and similar future technologies.
- FDLs should provide new and useful organizations and views of the universe of information so that users can more easily find information. (Relying on a single view such as FDSys or a single functionality of provision would be a tragic under-utilization of digital information' potential.)