Monday, September 11, 2006

Away from Icebergs (and I'm not talking lettuce)

There is lots and lots of discussion, both within the profession and from the general public, about the future of libraries. With the internet and other technological advances it brings into our homes, do we really need libraries and librarians? Will libraries in the future have any books on the shelves? And what responsibility do libraries have today in keeping up with current and ever-changing technologies?

For Thing #15, we were given a link to OCLC's Next Space Newsletter and asked to read one or more of the articles and comment on it. I read or skimmed all of them, and was most moved to comment on Rick Anderson's article, Away from the Icebergs. (For those of you outside the library world who may be reading, OCLC stands for Online Computer Library Center and is a worldwide library cooperative. If any Kenyonites are out there, OCLC's headquarters are in Dublin, Ohio, and we used to pass the building on our way to the movies in Columbus.)

In a nutshell, Mr. Anderson, Director of Resource Acquisition at the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries, says that there are 3 potential "icebergs" that stand in the way the success of libraries in the future. These 3 icebergs are:
  1. The "just in case" collection
  2. Reliance on user education
  3. The "come to us" model of service
It's the "just in case" collection that I'm not sure about. I understand and wholeheartedly agree that we do not need to duplicate print sources with what we make available through online resources. But I am wary of relying too heavily on online sources that are not reputable or reliable. The greatest thing about the internet is that anyone can do it. The biggest problem is that anyone can do it, and it is very difficult to tell if what you are finding is accurate.

And then I guess I question what Mr. Anderson means by "just in case." Should we keep obscure and even obsolete reference tomes simply on the off chance that someone should want them? No. Should we "collect in the traditional sense at all"? Well, yes. Believe it or not in this electronic age, some people still want to go home with a book in their hands. Many get frustrated that the information they want is only online. In the case of kids, who are at least 60% of the patrons I get asking for materials, many are limited in the amount of time they can spend on the computer, and some are limited by teachers who demand that a certain percentage of sources for homework be physical and not electronic. Plus, we want them to like reading, right? What's more fun, to lie sprawled out on the floor with a book about elephants while your toy elephant "reads" too, or sitting in front of the computer screen? And then there's the issue of access--not everyone has a computer at home, by limiting our physical collection, we are limiting what those people have access to. Yes, they can use online sources while at the library, but we are only open for a limited number of hours.

Now, I recognize that I am speaking from the point of view of a librarian at a public library, and one who works primarily with kids under 12 and their parents, while Mr. Anderson is at a large University, so some of our perspectives are different because we cater to different client bases. But I'm not ready to abandon a library collection at any library, public or academic, just yet.


At 7:39 PM, Blogger HeleneB said...

I like this post. You bring up some good questions.


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