Re: Librarians and the Ginsparg model

From: Roy Tennant <roy.tennant_at_UCOP.EDU>
Date: Wed, 6 Sep 2000 11:36:20 -0700

"Paul M. Gherman" <Gherman_at_LIBRARY.VANDERBILT.EDU> said:

>I think with increased electronic information whether free
>or commercial, the eventual costly infrastructure of
>libraries as we know them today will decrease as will the
>current number of staff working in libraries.

I agree with what most of Paul said, but I must take exception to his
assertion above. It concerns me to hear this idea put forward, since
while there is little or no evidence to support it, the consequences
of believing it can be dire. That is, if faculty and administrators
believe that digital content and services reduces the need of the
library for staff, building space, and monetary support, then
libraries will receive less support. That's fine if what Paul states
is true, but it can be catastrophic if it isn't, as I believe.

Let's take a look at recent history. When libraries automated many of
their internal procedures over the last several decades (cataloging,
circulation, etc.), the "costly infrastructure" did not decrease, and
in many cases it increased.

What happened in many cases was that staff that were no longer needed
to catalog books were needed to staff burgeoning systems offices that
were required to install and maintain the systems that we were now
dependent upon. For example, I was a reference and collection
development librarian before being sucked into the waiting jaws of
library systems. There are many others like me.

Building Space
This is one of the more prevalent and potentially disastrous myths
regarding the digital future for libraries. Within our own
university, there is talk of no new library buildings, as if print
books died overnight and only the librarians didn't notice. Digital
books are the exception, not the norm, and there remain serious
issues regarding accessibility (in some situations e-books are *less*
accessible than p-books) and preservation. Even if you believe
computers are the future and books are not, do you realize how much
space computers require? To offer students the same level of access
to digital collections as we currently do to print collections, you
will need floors and floors (yes, physical buildings) of computers.
And no, we are not yet requiring every student to purchase a laptop
and they would still need a spot to put it besides their lap.

Digital content is expensive. Period. Don't ever expect to pay all
that much less than you pay for the paper copy, since the publisher
believes the added value of full-text searching, etc. justifies the
cost. Sure, there are deals to be had, but don't expect them to be
the norm. If *any* of the libraries at your institutions have
required less collection money due to the availability of digital
content, please let me know. I need to talk to them.

Libraries formerly functioned with very little in the way of
equipment. Even within my relatively short professional life, a few
electric typewriters (not anywhere near one per person), a collection
of book carts, a few photocopiers, and an odd assortment of other
devices were all we needed. Now everyone (and I mean everyone) needs
not only their own computer, but also one that is replaced on a
regular cycle. Our users need computers too. We also often have our
own machine rooms with servers, routers, hubs, uninterruptable power
supplies, backup devices, and fire suppression equipment. Throw in
the odd assortment of printers and scanners and you realize that in
order to provide a higher level of service, we now demand more
infrastructure, not less.

I agree with Paul that there are serious changes ahead, and ones that
some of us welcome and are working to implement, while others hang
back and in some cases oppose. When these changes come, we will see
increased service to our clientele through more content available
when, where, and how our users want it. But all of this will come at
a cost greater than, not less than, our current needs.

I speak for no one but myself. Thanks,
Roy Tennant
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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