NLAQ Editorial: Future Academic Libraries
Joan Giesecke, Beth McNeil & Nancy Busch - UNL Libraries
The future is made of the same stuff as the present. -- Simone Weil --
In thinking about the present and future of academic libraries, several “D” words come to mind:
Data: As a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education noted [CHE 6.23.2006], we are lost in a sea of [science] data and libraries are hard pressed to archive these data due to financial limitations and cultural barriers.
Databases: As academic library collections are increasingly online rather than in print, our dependence on vendor's increases and issues of preservation and long-term access demand our attention and strategic action. If academic libraries do not insist on perpetual access to online resources and support programs that ensure preservation of electronic resources, the libraries will endanger long-term access to our social record.
Designed for users: Academic libraries are also social spaces, becoming the academic living room for our students. Here students can study, hang out with friends, meet in groups, or work alone. As long as there are campuses with face-to-face classes there will be a need for the type of space that libraries provide. However, the space in the libraries needs to change. Libraries that value print materials over access to information regardless of format, that value quiet over student group work, or that continue to prohibit food and drink in the library will become warehouses for books. Libraries that meet the needs of the changing student body, that understand the need to flexible spaces, that provide students with comfortable options for studying and working and that adjust spaces to meet changing needs will remain as focal points for their campuses.
Digital: The truly successful research libraries will be those that work with scholars to both digitize unique scholarly holdings and to create new approaches to the study of these works. Scholarly editions of these collections that bring together the unique materials, scholars commentary, and navigation tools that make it possible for users to mine the data for new information will be one of the more exciting outcomes of the change process. Scholars will be able to build on each other's work, to bring together virtual collections that are now separated geographically, will be able to combine the manuscripts of key authors and important figures into databases that are not available in today's world where special collections lay hidden in the back areas of the library. By figuratively bringing these important materials out into the open research libraries will remain important institutions in the collection, organization and preservation of our cultural heritage.
Distance learners: As the number of distant students increases and institutional boundaries blur, demands for 24/7 access and assistance, seamless e-services, home and office delivery of books and articles grow.
Distinct roles and services: One plausible future for research libraries revolves around niche marketing. Success will come to research libraries as they identify their unique, sometimes hidden collections and make those special collections visible to the public. Special collections must be more than archives for materials that are never used. These collections must be an integrated part of the teaching and research of our academic institutions.
Diverse: Those who staff libraries and those who use libraries will continue to be diverse in terms of language and ethnicity, age, learning styles, economic ability, physical ability, and other variables. As the population that libraries serve becomes more divers, the libraries work force must become more diverse.
Dollars: Economic concerns are constant, are rooted in our past levels of support and lack of increases to keep pace with inflation, and will no doubt persist. Creative and diversified fundraising will become the norm and require new skills and partnerships.
Dynamic: There is no question, that if the present is any indication of the future, we will be called to take actions that occur at the moment they are needed rather than planned in advance, and that will be characterized by continuous change, activity, or progress.
A vibrant future awaits academic libraries that are embrace change and respond to the challenges of higher education.