As a long-time bibliophile, I love libraries. Earlier in the year, I wrote about the demise of bookshops in response to news that physical bookshops were struggling to compete with their digital counterparts. Yesterday, I read this opinion piece entitled The Crisis in Research Librarianship. In it, the writer, Rick Anderson, laments the demise of research libraries and questions what it is that we value about research libraries, both from a current and historical perspective. Scarcity of information and financial expense, traditionally two catalysts for libraries, have now been greatly diminished in a world where almost anything is available online, leaving us to question the true value of research libraries.
Anderson suggests that the value of research libraries is now determined by a new type of currency, that is, not money but time and attention. To quote, “We procure for our patrons products (books, articles, etc) and offer services (bibliographic instruction, one-on-one research guidance, etc) that we believe are valuable, and our patrons choose whether or not to invest time in our offerings based on the value they expect to gain from doing so” (p. 1). As with the bookshop scenario, rather than focusing on the demise of a traditional system which aptly served its purpose in a particular way, why not look at how libraries are changing or evolving to meet the needs of today’s learners?
As an undergrad student, I spent many late nights in the closed reserve section of the Victoria University library, waiting to use one of two copies of a required book but made available to students in my course for up to two hours at a time and only on the premises. I would rapidly take notes on sections I thought might help me with assignments and crossed my fingers that there would be synergies with information from other books that would be available later in the night after another student had finished their two hours with them. It was a very stressful way to study, especially as deadlines loomed.
Fast forward to my postgraduate study and research libraries took on a whole new function for me. I never physically set foot in Otago University’s library, as I lived in a different city, yet used it extensively to call up copies of research journals, books, articles and texts which would be sent to me by post or email. I could evaluate content by reading abstracts online and sometimes even access full text articles. Although I did most of the searching for materials myself via the library’s online database, Otago’s research librarians were extremely helpful when I got stuck tracking down sources, expanding on searches for my meta-analysis, needed to arrange an interloan, or do something else I couldn’t manage from home. True, they weren’t carrying out the same role they might have when I first started tertiary study ten years earlier, but their newly evolved role was just as valuable to me as a student. I don’ t know how anyone would go about measuring a return on investment for services of this kind, but I’d hate to see the demise of specialist research librarian skills and services.
Rick Anderson, The Crisis in Research Librarianship, The Journal of Academic Librarianship (20110, doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2011.04.001 Retrieved 7 July 2011 from http://content.lib.utah.edu/cgi-bin/showfile.exe?CISOROOT=/ir-main&CISOPTR=60090&CISOMODE=print