Monday, July 04, 2005

The network and the library

Lorcan Dempsey writes: "In the print world, library services were concentrated in those nodes. The library was vertically organized around the management of its collections. Distribution networks grew up to support this model, supported by various agents, jobbers and others.

Over time, more was given from the local node to the 'network cloud' of consortia, shared services, commercial third party services, and so on. Digital networks reduced the friction in organizational networks and provided more opportunities for interaction with suppliers and users."
Thinking about Lorcan's observation, I wonder if we are seeing three stages/models of libraries.
  • An old classic style focused on building a collection is more or less autonomous. The resources of the library were normally mediated by the librarian and in those situations when the library didn't hold the desired material in its collection, the user traveled to a library that did.
  • With the post World War II publishing boom and a rapid expansion of educational institutions, libraries began to recognize that no single library could collect everything. Networks were developed that facilitated collection sharing to allow libraries to serve their users even when their own collection didn't hold the material that the user required. Materials were loaned from the owning library to the library of the user who needed to access them. These networks were typically mediated by librarians, but provided a reasonable way for the user to acquire the information she desired.
  • Perhaps a new model is being developed that moves beyond this model by digitally distributing the collection and removing the need for access to be mediated by a librarian.
One of the challenges is how to provide services that have been traditionally offered by librarians along with mediated access. Users don't necessarily need mediated access, but they may need a wide variety of services that librarians have slipped in along with the mediated access.