Friday, May 22, 2009

Notes on the invisible library

One of the things I think about a lot is how the library is changing as the physical facility decouples from the collections it has traditionally housed. In my own personal taxonomy these thoughts group under the heading "Invisible Library", largely because I occasionally encounter students who use the library without knowing it--discovering a journal we subscribe to while using Google, for example. I gave a presentation on campus around this topic last fall and one thing that came very clear to me is that, somehow, we have to stop treating our digital resources in a way equivalent to our physical resources. Publishers do this, but libraries do, too, and it's in danger of killing us.

An article in the latest Journal of Academic Librarianship addresses this issue, adding a third dimension: namely, the people providing library services. It also highlights the phenomenon I mention: patrons can discover library resources through avenues other than the library, and often do. (This is one reason why it would be really nice to somehow handle library patron authentication at the vendor's end, rather than the library's. If there's a nice big banner across the top of the e-journal index page that says "SUBSCRIPTION PROVIDED BY PACIFIC LUTHERAN UNIVERSITY", does it matter whether they got there through the library website or through Google? I submit that it does not.)

A lot of what it talks about here--transformation of library space, digitization of information resource, and a service emphasis on outreach, information literacy, and value-added technology--is already happening; according to long-range plans at some institutions, by fits and starts at others. Some of the technological dimension was addressed in my MLIS program, especially the information architecture side, and some of the Web development and resource management components. But much more, such as data mining, scripting, and technology-dependent aspects of information use (I've been asked how to make charts in Excel so many times in the past month that I've lost count) was not.

The article makes it sound like MLIS programs should become computer science lite degrees, and I'm not entirely convinced that they shouldn't. I love our IT crew, but if certain parts of what we do pass into their domain, it'll be frustrating for them, tragic for us, and a loss to the institution as a whole.

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