The changing face of academic libraries: Why less space does not have to mean less impact
Dr. Robert Schwarzwalder
Whether we, and our profession, prosper or decline in the coming years will depend upon our ability to adapt to the changing nature of information access. The heart of our profession involves getting needed information to people in a time frame consistent with their needs. As information has gone digital, we have been able to provide access to books, journals and data at any time of day and to any corner of the world. The problem of the past was providing access to a scarce commodity, information. Our clients now have access to more information than they can process, through more channels and more interfaces than can be managed. In this environment of immediate access, the model of the paper library appeals to an ever-shrinking population.
In the face of this monumental change, libraries have been slow to evolve. While most academic library collection budgets are shifting strongly toward digital holdings, many library spaces and services still revolve around the book stacks. Digital collections need not signal the death of the library, but to survive we need to develop a program that matches the needs of today’s library user. Library services must address the needs of an increasingly online user. Services should focus on managing information resources and advanced applications of information technology, not on simple access.
The library can be, and should be, the intellectual commons of the university. To achieve that end, we need to foster and support the sort of collaboration, team building and inspired play in library spaces that continues our role in education.