Changing focus of library resources

Bamboo workshop participants unanimously agreed that the library (traditionally conceived of, as a single physical location to access scholarship, with experts who help filter the relevant from the irrelevant) is seeing declining use. Participants noted that for students, the library has largely been supplanted by a combination of Google Scholar, Google Books, and simple web searching. When students access scholarly journals directly, it happens almost exclusively through on-line databases. "Some young people have never seen book journals," one participant noted (Ex 6a, 1a-D). Because students do not go physically to the library, they may feel that the library isn't relevant to them, not appreciating that the library budget pays for access to electronic journals. An appreciation of the financial structure supporting electronic journal access does not always mean an appreciation for the library as an institution; a participant noted that "[some people] want [the] library to go away and [be replaced by a] rich federation of databases." (Ex 7, 1a-B)

The library used to have a near-monopoly on easily-accessible scholarly resources, when "easily accessible" meant "probably same day". Now, easy access has been defined down to "within minutes", and a user's local library is directly responsible for only part of what they can make use of. Museums are making digital surrogates of their holdings available, where previously scholars would need to set up a specific appointment to see these items. Libraries, too, are digitizing their collections (particularly maps, art slides, and other non-book materials) and publishing them on-line when not encumbered by copyright, but there is no way for a library to find out whether any particular item has already been digitized elsewhere. In many institutions, the library is a likely candidate for hosting web-based deliverables from scholars' digital projects, though these may be less secure than other kinds of materials in the library's care. One workshop participant cited a case where the library had been chosen to house a database of 5,000 Chinese women writers, but later decided it would no longer support the project (Ex 3, 1d-F).

The surge in digitized works has inspired scholars to explore new research questions that make use of tools that can analyze large corpora in ways not previously possible. This, in turn, has led scholars to call for more collections to be digitized, and the onus often falls on the library to meet those demands, even though fewer and fewer external grants are available for projects whose goal is simply digitization. Consequently, the library's own resources must be redistributed to enable these digitization projects, resulting in a new kind of "collection development" that may necessitate cutting back on the acquisition of printed materials.

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