Saturday, September 18, 2010

Emerging Technologies Summit: The fall of the middle man

Four of us from the Summar Library, Paul Sorrell, Jeannie Byrd, Jenny Lowery and myself (T.R. Parker) visited the Mitchell Library at Mississippi State University to attend two workshops. Thursday the workshop was to do with eResources and got into some difficult and challenging issues for libraries, like making the transition from print to digital. Friday the theme was Emerging Technologies and while my head is still spinning I wanted to try and unpack some of the ideas and technologies that make this a very scary time for academic libraries but still a very exciting time.

The Fall of the Middle Man.

Jason Griffey, the keynote, has defined the internet as a disintermediary. In other words the internet has taken out the middle man. In the film industry Neflix is challenging the traditional movie store like Blockbuster, in the Music industry iTunes and Rahpsody are challenging the physical record store or even record companies. In journalism websites and blogs are threatening major newspapers. The Library has traditionally, existed "in order to balance the inequality of information access due to economic or other pressures. No single member of the public (in our case the Union community) can afford to purchase all of the information that they need to access, and so libraries distribute the financial burden, across the public as a whole acting both as collective buyer for the community and access point." By this definition the library is indeed a middle man! Google Books, Google Scholar, Online Open Access Journals and Amazon are just a few web based tools that threaten the libraries role and confirm Griffey's thesis that the internet is "disintermediary." In this hight technology, digital world the library's role as middle man is threatened to say the least.

My Thoughts

Sure the internet has threatened the role of the middle man in the film industry but the film industry has not ceased to exists only reinvented itself and formed a new business model. Likewise the music industry and and journalism has simply changed and in some ways become better by providing new access points and new ways of doing things. Likewise, Academic Library's must think hard about how we can provide valuable and meaningful services in today's information environment. I don't think libraries should strive just to maintain existence. On the other hand librarians should strive to provide meaningful services and resources and be willing to let go of ways of doing things that are no longer necessary. There are three vital ways that libraries will continue to play an important role in Academia. 1) Libraries can be the buyer and aggregator of information 2) Libraries should maintain an instructional role although the nature of that instruction will change. 3) Finally, the library needs to exists to provide a central, attractive, quiet place for students to meet, study and interact with technology and resources.

1) Library as the Buyer and Aggregator. Until all scholarly information free and openly available someone will need to purchase access to scholarly resources. Librarians make a lot of decisions about what will be most useful to meed the needs of their particular scholarly communities. In our case Jeannie Byrd and others work very hard to find the best deals and work within a limited budget to provide access to print and digital material that will best serve those studying everything from pharmacy to philosophy at Union.

Aggregation means putting all of these resources together and making them available. Libraries take all of the resources available and make them searchable and available through their website. At Union we are thinking about ways to provide better research guides, a more user-friendly website and more resource all available through one place to better server the academic needs of Union students and faculty.

2) Library as tutor. Librarians are always willing to help you sift through the quagmire of information that is out there. Librarians should be thought of as tutors of information. We can help you use our website to find the best information, make a bibliography and hone in on a topic for your paper. That is what the RESEARCH COACH is all about! We can also help you sift through the web to find information that will be helpful. Driving back from Starkville, as we were reflecting on this conference, Jeannie Byrd stressed the continuing role of the librarian to provide help sifting through the loads of information that is out there.

Barrett Library at Rhodes College
3) Library as Place- Big naturally lit reading rooms, group study space, multi-media labs, comfortable seating, quiet study space and even a good cup of coffee are all things that libraries provide at fine Universities across the country. We at Union will try to provide everything that we can at Summar Library.The library as a beautiful place are very important to me and I mentioned this in an earlier post on Outreach. I believe that even in this digital age the library can continue to exist as the central academic commons of any university campus.

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