01 September 2008

Do Libraries Matter?

A very interesting report from the research organization Ithaka suggests that for many academic scholars, libraries serve a much less central role than they used to, and that the rate at which libraries are becoming less relevant is accelerating. The report seems to be generating a lot of discussion among librarians - see, for example, this entry in the ACRL blog.

Libraries have established themselves as political and economic power-centers on major university campuses because they have served an absolutely essential function for research faculty. As this role matters less to a significant number of faculty, will libraries continue to receive the same kind of support? If the main role of the library is to serve students as a place to work and study - an information commons - is the library the campus organization best positioned to provide this service? Could facilities or student life or academic technology do a better job?

It may seem almost insulting to ask these questions, given the important and traditional role of libraries, and I don't intend to question the commitment or professionalism of librarians. But I do believe that we have only begun to see the impact of a historic shift that will result in the library becoming a significantly different institution on campuses, in a role that may not be as central as it has been for so many years.

No comments: