As The ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science states, a library is "a collection of materials organized to provide physical, bibliographic, and intellectual access to a target group, with a staff that is trained to provide services and programs related to the information needs of the target group." A library is not worthy of the name if it is not organized and administered according to sound principles of library and information science. Without such organizing principles, collections of information resources of any substantial size cannot be used effectively or efficiently. Without such organizing principles, you don't have an effective library - you have the Internet. Information retrieval becomes an arduous process of hit and miss, of trial and error, with no assurance that the search-engine-of-the-day has really turned up all relevant sites. But organizing and administering information resources is becoming increasingly challenging due to the explosion in recent years of new publications, both in paper and electronic formats. In reality, no academic library is capable any longer of meeting all the needs of its users, if that was ever possible. Even the great research libraries log thousands of interlibrary loan and document delivery requests every year. In short, truly effective academic libraries are more reliant than ever on highly skilled and well trained professionals who are sensitive to the needs of library constituents. The primary mission of the library faculty and staff as we enter the 21st Century should be to support educational goals and priorities through whatever media, means, and services are most appropriate, and to accomplish this mission the library faculty and staff must be an integral part of institutional planning and decision making.
I believe that those of us who try to carry out this academic library mission will find that while the surface veneer of our work will continue to change in dramatic and often stressful ways, we will also continue to be guided most wisely by the values and principles that have been the library's bedrock for decades. Consider S.R. Ranganathan's five laws of library science, which he published in 1931:
Maurice Line underscored the validity of these laws by turning them on their heads to describe what he believed to be the reality of too many libraries:
The laws of Ranganathan and Line assert in their own ways that the academic library should be measured by the extent to which it selects resources on the basis of user needs, organizes the resources so they may be identified and accessed efficiently, promotes and exposes resources to potential users, engages its users in an ongoing dialogue regarding evolving user needs, and responds to social and technological trends affecting higher education. Not only does that describe the ideal academic library of today, but I believe adherence to Ranganathan's laws will continue to provide the best guide to achieving the ideal library in the 21st Century. The balance of this paper will expand on that assertion.
Consider the first law, Books Are For Use. This means there should be no unnecessary barriers or constraints on the use of information resources. The ideal academic library seeks the best balance between preservation concerns and the need for patrons to use materials efficiently and effectively. Rare or irreplaceable materials require greater emphasis on preservation than on user convenience, but so far as our general collections are concerned the ideal academic library tailors its loan and related service policies to maximize the opportunities for students and faculty to use materials. A new but very important aspect of eliminating barriers and constraints on access is the negotiation of favorable license terms for electronic databases. Many of the standard contracts which vendors present us contain restrictions that go beyond a copyright owner's statutory rights and infringe upon fair use. In response, we should insist upon license terms that protect fair use without affecting the vendor's right to a fair profit or its competitiveness in the marketplace. I am encouraged that a number of experts have published sample license terms that are intended to accomplish just that task. I hope that as academic libraries in the early 21st Century assert their rights and reject such dangerous requirements as indemnification of vendors against lawsuits, we will find standardized language in license agreements that is more realistic and less one-sided.
Another constraint on access involves the authentication of eligible users of electronic resources. As we rely more and more on electronic databases, both for users on campus and for remote students enrolled in distance learning programs, we must perfect authentication techniques such as web access management programs.
The academic library will continue to be a vanguard in the protection of free access to knowledge. First, consider that the people in the future will only know about us that which we preserve. Allowing the records of the past to disappear is a form of censorship. We must beware of being too selective about what we collect and preserve. The universe of academic libraries must preserve all records of all societies and communities and make those records available to all. This will be a major challenge in the future since we can expect the trend toward managing and controlling information as a commodity will continue. Libraries must be responsible for ensuring information is archived and doesn't simply disappear because a commercial vendor goes out of business. And libraries must strive to make information as accessible as possible, so that in the Information Economy about which we hear so much, there is not an unnecessary chasm between haves and have-nots.
A related issue of information preservation is that of data permanence. The May 1999 issue
of American Libraries records some facts that should give pause to anyone who thinks the
paperless society will be within reach in the first decade of the 21st Century:
- Magnetic media such as floppy disks have a data life span of five years or less. According to data-preservation scientist J.W.C. Van Bogart, even in extreme circumstances high quality paper lasts 10 times longer than the best magnetic media used for commercial and scientific data storage.
- Optical media, such as CD-ROM and DVD-ROM, are proving to be far less durable than originally expected. The longest warranty in the industry for CD-ROM products only guarantees for 25 years, in spite of the claims that CD disks are good for more than a century. DVD's can be expected to have a shorter life span since increased data density has been proven to be associated with shorter life spans. In contrast, the life span of acid paper, which libraries have tried to avoid collecting for decades, is 50 to 100 years.
- As of the end of 1999, Kodak still stated on its web site, "Digital storage media impose a strict discipline that human-readable records do not: their rapid evolution creates a continual progression of technology that cannot safely be ignored for too long." In other words, according to Van Bogart, libraries seeking to use digital media for long-term data and information storage could be faced every 10-20 years with either
a) copying such data to the latest formats, or
b) purchasing the latest program for uploading data on obsolete formats to the latest medium.
Even given the obvious advantages of electronic media for remote access and searching for specific information, will we be able to justify this new kind of "planned obsolescence" to our funding authorities? The academic library in the first five years of the 21st Century will need to make tough decisions about what resources will need to be archived for the long term, and in what format. I suggest to you that paper will continue to be one of our most important long term data storage formats.
Let us now reflect on the second law, Every Reader His/Her Book. Here Ranganathan is telling us we are obliged to help find the resources that meet a user's need, and that may include going beyond the resources that are easily at hand. As I said earlier, no academic library is able to collect comprehensively. We must engage our constituents in the development of our collection development policy and ensure that when class assignments are made there will be adequate information resources to support them. We should try to stay abreast of the research needs of the faculty and support those needs as much as possible through materials purchases and subscriptions, and also through fast, accurate, and (to the user at least) free document delivery systems. The ideal academic library, particularly one that is a member of a state-supported university system, will help build an infrastructure of policies and procedures that facilitate resource sharing among the system's libraries.
The library should take full advantage of the dialogues that are possible with library advisory committees, through focus groups and surveys, suggestion boxes and e-mail addresses, informal communication of all kinds, and by the library faculty and staff being fully engaged in the academic community. The dominant ethic of librarianship is service to the individual, community, and society as a whole. This is especially true for publicly supported academic institutions. This requires attention to quality and living up to - and even surpassing - the expectations of library users. I would add that it also requires a commitment to human diversity and multiculturalism, which should be reflected in collection development policies and respected in our patron services.
The third law is Every Book Its Reader. In the ideal academic library, the librarians seek to match information materials with their potential users. New acquisitions which could be helpful to someone's ongoing research should be brought to that individual's attention. We should be as concerned with the exposure and promotion of our resources as we are with their accessibility. Over the course of the next five years, and indeed into the foreseeable future, this goal will not only be more difficult but also more urgent due to the remarkable proliferation of paper and electronic publications. As Richard Dougherty wrote: "There is a striking contradiction between our professional imperative of providing free and easy access to information and the rising tide of information that is rapidly engulfing us... we need to face the reality that more and more people haven't the time, the expertise, or the psychological make-up to find the information that best serves their needs."
Through such means as electronic and printed bibliographies, current awareness services, and liaison programs with academic departments, librarians should be the matchmakers that bring materials to the people who could use them.
Law number 4 is Save The Time Of The Reader. Information services must satisfy needs as efficiently as possible. Clearly this relates back to my earlier comment about the difference between a library and an unorganized collection of materials.
An important way in which an academic library will save the time of the reader is by bringing greater bibliographic order to the Internet and World Wide Web. As marvelous as these are, they leave much to be desired as efficient and orderly means of archiving and retrieving information. I enjoyed Will Manley's humorous take on the Internet, to wit: "If we were to go about acquiring the Internet like any other resource we would probably try to read a review of it. What would the objective reviewer say? 'The Internet is a vast informational network with millions of entries on a myriad of diverse subjects. It is loosely and unreliably indexed and is awkward to use because of the increasingly slow response time. While some of the entries are well researched by reliable authors, many others are poorly written by people with no literary or academic credentials who have a pronounced proclivity to punctuate their points with the repeated use of the words cool and suck.'" In summary, says Manley, "the Internet is the global village's vanity press. It has no editorial board and no editorial principles."
Given the vastness of the Internet and its resources, we cannot rely on existing Internet search engines to help us find all of the best information available to meet our needs. A 1999 study sponsored by the NEC Research Institute of 11 search engines revealed that none of the 11 indexed more than 16 percent of the World Wide Web. I think over the course of the next several years we will need to re-double our efforts to save the time of our users by identifying those reliable Internet sites that are likely to be of the greatest utility and facilitating access to those sites. This can be done through subject bibliographies that are printed as well as mounted on the library's web page with links to the sites. It can be done through creative proposals like Dan Hazen's selective scanning. In this scheme, digitizing front matter like tables of contents could result in quicker and cheaper cataloging, and in the enhancement of the information that catalogers can provide users trying to make informed choices of which materials to examine in depth. It can also be done by helping users learn advanced searching skills and evaluate critically the results of their searches. And it certainly should be done through working as partners with commercial vendors and campus computer centers to design, test, and implement improved search capabilities, user interfaces, and ergonomic hardware.
In the future we must certainly continue to use technology intelligently to enhance our services. We must reject the false dichotomy of having to pick between two sides; in reality, we do not have to choose between being a Luddite or a technocrat. I agree with Michael Gorman's view, "electronic methods are best for ...giving access to data and small, discrete packets of textual, numeric, and visual information (such as those found in many reference works). Each of the other media has areas in which it is the best. In particular, print on paper is and will be the preeminent medium for the communication of cumulative knowledge by means of sustained reading."
Finally, law number 5 states that The Library Is A Growing Organism. While all of Ranganathan's laws, as I interpret them, imply the need to be prepared for change, this fifth law reinforces that need explicitly. We will need to continue to adapt to new social conditions, technological developments, and changing needs of the clientele. The number of challenges we face can seem daunting at times, but change is the norm in the library world and we must not delude ourselves into hoping that we are ever going to reach a steady-state plateau. A clear implication of this law is that the ideal academic library will make a major ongoing investment in the continuing development of faculty and staff knowledge and skills. We must take advantage of workshops and seminars offered on and off campus - some of which are now offered electronically. We must attend professional conferences, engage in informal networking with peers, and learn from the literatures of our own and other appropriate disciplines.
The academic library of the future will use all kinds of carriers of knowledge and information, with each new means of communication enhancing and supplementing the strengths of all previous means. To quote Michael Gorman again, "There is no reason to cling to print on paper, images on film, or grooves on discs in cases when it can be demonstrated clearly that technology offers a cost-beneficial alternative. What is the point, however, in replacing print on paper, etc., when new technology is less effective, more costly, or has other disadvantages? The best approach to the future of libraries lies in this utilitarianism."
The academic library in a publicly supported university will find itself increasingly called upon to serve the citizens of the region and to engage in cooperative ventures with other post secondary institutions in the state. For example, GALILEO is the paradigmatic example of the benefits of libraries working cooperatively and with the state to establish an electronic network that brings enormous information resources to all citizens of the state, at a fraction of the full cost that the individual libraries would have paid for those resources. In the future, I think such collaborative efforts will become ever more important means of maximizing access to information and controlling costs. Within such initiatives, an individual academic library must be prepared to demonstrate leadership, contribute whatever strengths of personnel and collections it may have, and continue to keep its primary users' unique set of priorities in mind as it works with other libraries for the good of the entire state.
Another intriguing challenge to academic libraries is the growing tendency of superstores like Barnes & Noble or Borders to usurp the academic library as the favored location for students to study. Renee Feinberg, a reference librarian at Brooklyn College, has reported on her interviews with college students she encounters at B&N superstores, and not surprisingly to those of us who have enjoyed patronizing these stores, the students indicate a preference for B&N over their campus libraries because of the more comfortable and congenial settings, good coffee, the buzz of conversation, and in some cases even the more convenient hours of operation. Perhaps most disturbing, however, is the recurring statement that B&N has better and more accessible monograph holdings, especially of recently published materials. This is worth bearing in mind when we hear the stories of how our X Generation students are plugged into technology to the point of ignoring printed resources. The truth may fall somewhere in between these two extremes. As Feinberg states: "Students want their books. If libraries choose to weaken their book collections in favor of increased electronic information, they will lose patrons who would support them as they argue for protection of collections." What libraries can learn from these bookstores, as Leonard Kniffel wrote, is to return to the niceties we appear to have abandoned: tasteful signs, cozy spots, comfort, elegance, and the human touch. We in academic libraries should concede nothing to Barnes & Noble in terms of comfort, convenience, and service, and we certainly should not bow to B&N's holdings of scholarly books.
As academic libraries evolve to meet new challenges, they must retain the best of the past and a sense of the history of libraries and of scholarly communication. With a sense of history, and a knowledge of enduring values and the continuity of our mission, there must also be the acceptance of the challenge of innovation. If the library ever ceases to be a growing organism, then it really will become Maurice Line's growing mausoleum.