Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

Posts tagged ‘books’

The demise of research libraries

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


The demise of bookshops

Book pile animationWe woke to the news this morning that REDGroup, the Australian company which owns Whitcoulls and Borders bookshops in New Zealand, is in voluntary administrationnot quite liquidation, but the situation probably raises the same questions and concerns from the general public. As a bookworm, my first reaction was one of shock. How could such a substantial and well-known supplier of books be in trouble? It doesn’t seem so long ago that Dymocks, an arguably better book retailer, also shut up shop in central Wellington. And, what does this mean for people who have gift vouchers – are they still valid?

My own personal reading journey has been constant throughout my lifetime. As an avid reader, I always have several books on the go and more ready ‘just in case’ I finish a book and am caught short without another to go on with. Although I love all things digital and have dabbled in apps which allow me to read books on my iPod touch, the ‘real thing’ is my first preference. Apart from the ‘curl up in bed with a book’ feel good factor, I prefer to read large amounts of text in print. However, I’m not much of a book buyer. I borrow books extensively from libraries (and friends), as the cost of feeding my reading addiction at ~$30-35 a time is simply not financially viable for me. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way. When comparing the cost of buying books in New Zealand compared to somewhere like the UK or US, it’s no wonder that bookworms turn to Amazon or The Book Depository, who can ship a book to your home for far cheaper than buying it from a local retailer (who may or may not have it in stock or even available in their catalogue). I have spoken to bookshop owners who agree that their business has been hurt by online trading and see it as a sign of the times.

Bookshelf animationShould traditional bookshops be more proactive in responding to consumer demand in order to maintain their place in the market? Think about it: a similar thing happened in the music industry with record and CD stores and chains going under after MP3s and suppliers like the iTunes store really took off. Sure, listening to music on my iPod does not give me the same experience as playing a CD or record on a stereo with surround sound, but I am able to make personal selections what I listen to and when from the comfort of my work desk. The same goes with buying books; book buyers have access to literally any book they want when shopping online and are not restricted to what is simply available in store.

So, although I am definitely sad at the potential demise of another book seller, I’m not overly surprised. Perhaps this is a sign that how we read has more of an influence on the book retail industry than what we read or whether we read at all?