Vision of Public Services in Academic Libraries
The British Library recently made headlines with reference to a study it had commissioned about the transition to e-books. By 2020, the EPS study predicts, only 10% of UK research monographs will be available solely in print. Forty percent will be e-only, and the remaining 50% will be issued in parallel print and digital formats. Lorcan Dempsey at OCLC has written of the Amazoogle developments and the impact these commercial information services are having on the information landscape, with Google Scholar achieving much in terms of federating resources and “Inside the Book” setting new expectations for data mining. Many other changes in our environment are documented in OCLC’s Pattern Recognition, issued in 2003. As a result of changes within and outside of the academy, our library services will continue to transform, sometimes gradually and sometimes rapidly.
We will change both the services we offer and our ways of providing service. In the past century, in a print dominated model, libraries optimized their services around the importance of physical objects. Our large stacks provided convenient access for onsite browsing and consultation, and our circulation desks figured prominently at the entrance to our buildings. Faculty and graduate students equated libraries with collections, and undergraduates predominantly used libraries to access course reserves and as study halls. They asked questions, many of which were basic queries that sometimes led to teachable moments. Bibliographic instruction became a popular means of training students about library resources.
In the past few years there has been a revolution in the way in which people communicate and in the information that is available for discovery and use. With phones and other pda’s that facilitate synchronous and asynchronous communication, users now expect nearly instantaneous access to factual information. Businesses provide 24-hour customer service for ordering goods and managing financial assets, and they ship to the home and the desktop. Assumptions of ready and comprehensive access to people, things, and information are becoming commonplace. These assumptions are shaping library services. Libraries are already on the path to meeting these assumptions.
At Cornell we feature numerous document delivery services, and we have extended hours in some of our libraries. We offer email and chat reference in addition to paper and face-to-face. Paper reserves are being converted to e-reserves. We have substantially increased our web presence and our instruction. The Research Connection in Duffield is an example of flexible service, going where users are, rather than expecting them to visit us. VIVO creates a virtual life sciences community, blending campus and library resources into an online portal. CUL is one of the most innovative libraries in academia.
Looking ahead to the next decade, we should expect to align our services closely to user needs and preferences. There is growing evidence that users begin their information services with popular search engines that provide simple interfaces and yield copious results. They are quick and offer many features, of which ranking and linking are two of the most valued. Other noteworthy aspects include the ability to federate dispersed information appearing in different formats, and to get access to things like images and geographic data. For several years, some librarians have advocated importing these features into library catalogs and management systems. I believe the world is moving too fast for this to be a viable option. Rather, we will need to ensure that our library resources (people’s expertise, collections, and specialized services) are integrated within the larger aggregated services. Making sure that our holdings are in WorldCat and that World Cat is indexed by the large search engines is one step in that direction.
One of the consequences of the web and worldwide access to information is that the population of users, from the library’s perspective, is sharply expanded. We’ve been clear, until now, that Cornell faculty, students, and staff aware our primary users. In the new order, this may no longer be the case. Rather, our goal might be that we work with others to create a network of services that would ensure that our clients get first-rate service. This would entail collaboration with others, including vendors and publishers as well as other libraries. Some of the features of this service would be:
This consortium of allied institutions would differ from the OCLC/RLGs/NERLs, etc. in the degree of integration and interdependence of the partners, and the consortium itself might have reciprocal agreements with other consortia on a global scale. These consortia will enable libraries to extend the hours of online service, language capability and subject expertise
Services in the future will increasingly be:
There will be more development of services that can satisfy the information needs of many, rather than a single user. For example, it might be preferable to invest 40 hours in providing service via the web that can help 400 people, rather than responding to 40 or 80 or even 160 people.
Librarians will be more analytic and even more user-directed. That is, they will look at patterns of services and inquiries more intensively than they do now and structure services accordingly. They’ll use computation and modeling to inform their developments. Surveys or other means of getting user input will rise in importance, as will the use of measures to assess the value of and satisfaction with service.
Librarians will spend more time on projects and working on teams of faculty or on student learning teams as a resource. They will be known as expert consultants. One service rising in importance is data curation. Another is greater involvement in the cycle of publishing. Those librarians with deep disciplinary or language or technical expertise may participate on extramural teams.
The function of library facilities will shift from being dominated by physical collections into fostering collaborative learning and research. Single service points (combining separate functions) will rise, especially as use of rfid, consolidated storage, and an increase in electronic resources will reduce the need for circulation staff. Librarians will be mobile and proactive, spending more time in the colleges at departmental and interdisciplinary activities, and actively contributing their expertise, rather than waiting for individuals to contact them. Librarians will be visible in their outreach in dining halls, residences, student commons, the Statler, the Vet Hospital, labs, and classroom buildings. These personal encounters will provide a human face to what will otherwise be highly automated and electronic transactions. By spending more time in the client’s environment, the librarian will gain a better understanding of the user’s work and approach to learning and will be better able to contextualize their services. The work of the public services librarian will become increasingly complex, since basic information needs will be met through a variety of free and proprietary services that will be offered by companies such as Google.
Another service that will transform over the coming years will be reserves. More and more material will be available in electronic form, and in addition, it will be integrated into the course management system, rather than through the library’s system.
Librarians, or perhaps information specialists, will pay more attention to branding, outreach, and validation as they find it necessary to confirm to funders their value in a world in which many information services will seem to be free and effortless.
Related enterprises such as academic computing, publishing, or the information science department might be collocated in existing library buildings, or libraries might be consolidated or reduced in size as the need for onsite collections and staff to maintain and serve them declines. The need for proximity to faculty, students, and researchers may be defined through access to people, rather than by access to physical collections, with a corresponding adjustment in the amount of square footage dedicated to individual libraries.
Librarians will be:
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