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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.
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    Sunday, May 13, 2007

    Libraries: 1st or 2nd (or any) life?

    There's an old joke about asking the way to somewhere and being told it would be best not to start from where you are. It's a good way to frame some thoughts about whether our present system of scholarly communication aids the progress of science or gets in the way.

    If we could start now, equipped with the World Wide Web, computers in every laboratory or institution and a global view of the scientific research effort, would we come up with the system for communicating knowledge that we have today?

    So began Alma Swan in an article in American Scientist Online dealing with open access (thanks to Information Research for the 'heads-up'). It made me wonder.

    "If we could start now, equipped with the World Wide Web, [etc]" what would we make a library look like? Would we even bother?

    Libraries are having a hard time - witness another quotation from Swan, this time from her weblog:
    The library is a woeful brand. Look on the website of almost any UK university and the library features under 'services' (or in some cases 'facilities') if it's lucky, or has to be specifically entered into the search box if it's not. And yet it is not so everywhere. In other parts of Europe, it is common for the library to be considered part of the academic fabric of an university, rather than a service department. Senior members of academic staff assume the role of university librarian for a period and then return to their department, while another takes over. In this way, the library is embedded in the academic framework of a university and is valued in a way that seems quite different to how libraries are valued in the UK.
    SO - if we started from here, what? It is worth noting that almost anything 'informational' on the web is built on either a conventional publishing or a library metaphor, but it remains an interesting question. Obviously (?), we would still need libraries as storage facilities for our print heritage, but we are all familiar with those huge digitization programmes and Bill Gates (see a posting later today) is once again forecasting an end to print.

    Is it time for a re-think? A fresh start?

    Perhaps, the answer may lie in Second Life, where Eduserv ("a not-for-profit professional IT services group, offering leading edge technology to education Institutions and public sector bodies") has been hosting a parallel RL (real life) and SL symposium - The Eduserv Foundation Symposium 2007 looking at whether virtual worlds such as Second Life offer real opportunities for learners at UK educational institutions.

    So, there's the mission (should you choose to accept it, and all that Mission Impossible stuff): clean slate, no history, no baggage - design me a library (of course you may choose to call it something different, but, essentially, design me a library). Answers on a postcard, please (or here)...

    [Added at 15:10] For a longer discussion on this topic - which I came across when it was published after I had posted this - see Walt Crawford's June issue of Cites & Insights (pdf), which has an article, 'The Future Lies Ahead' on page 7 beginning,
    Lynn Scott Cochrane (Denison University) starts off
    with “If the academic library ceased to exist, would we have to invent it” from the January/February 2007 EDUCAUSE Review.

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