Libraries in a Digital AgeFundamentals and latest thinking

Published March 2012 Updated July 2015 18 lectures
Prof. Derek Law
University of Strathclyde, UK

Libraries remained largely unchanged from the introduction of the book until almost the end of the twentieth century. Even the introduction of computing led at first to mechanisation of libraries rather than changing them fundamentally. For all of that time libraries were seen to lie at the heart of the... read moreacademic process and universities invested millions in grand buildings.

This series of lectures looks at the challenges facing information professionals and their parent organisations as they face a future in which increasingly the question is asked, “Are libraries even necessary in a world where the internet is universally accessible and giant global entities such as Google and Microsoft have budgets and collections which dwarf those of the largest library?”

And yet universities exist for the creation and dissemination of information. Managing their born digital collections will continue to be an important need, while adding value to those collections, providing spaces for learning, whether real or virtual, and supporting research with new tools are classic library functions which need to be rethought but not replaced in the age of digital libraries. The information on building and managing digital libraries is extensive but widely scattered and this series of lectures provides a structured overview of all of the issues and concerns which practitioners, students and managers need to address. It considers what libraries will have to become if they are to continue to be the information hubs which support the underlying teaching and learning of the university or college.

The first section on management looks at the much misunderstood question of library economics, at planning tools for defining what sort of library to create, at the skill set which staff will have to possess, at changing organisational structures and at the physical library building. It is probably the case that libraries have never been better managed, but making the transition from a classical library to a digital library will require quite fundamental rethinking of the role of the library and how it is to meet user expectations. This section will encourage thinking about the vision of the future of the library as well as a set of tools to create the route map for implementation.

The second section considers the different varieties of digital content. The huge mushrooming growth of digital content whether digitised or born digital as well as more ephemeral content resulting from social networking tools poses a range of challenges in identifying what to collect, how to record it – and most importantly how to preserve it. Changes in technology mean that data formats become obsolete at an ever increasing rate and present a whole new set of issues. There is the additional issue of determining how to identify the content that can be trusted.

The third section considers the range of services which digital libraries will be called on to provide. Although the classic divisions of teaching and learning will remain, services need to be available when and where the user needs them and not at times and places convenient to the library. Libraries can work with each other to provide aggregated round the clock services and remote support.

Finally, a hugely experienced librarian provides a case studie of the practice of transforming libraries and the pressures and problems of making change with limited resources in institutions which fund research aimed at making change while at the same time preserving very traditional attitudes to such services as libraries.