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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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    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Changing needs and a responsive profession

    There is a thoughtful piece in the SINTO blog, on the two staples of our profession: books and electronic resources. Perhaps the writer's choice of title - 'Battle lines' - was unfortunate, especially as it notes:
    On reflection however, I feel that this image of a direct conflict is misleading.
    A shame then that it sustains the metaphor and ends with reference to a "bar-room brawl".
    The battle ground is defined by the problems facing libraries of all sorts. Update reported on the Laser Foundation report that claims that England has a failing public library service, and on a conference with the title Do researchers still need libraries? ... libraries must embrace the new technologies [vs.] the web sceptics [whose] battle cry is "Libraries are synonymous with books and reading. They always have been and they always will be".
    The debate, as SINTO points out, is critical to libraries. Libraries must respond to the informational and cultural needs of their users, and - within reason - should use any means so to do. Hopefully, on the one hand, we can ignore
    Yinnon Ezra, board member of the MLA and head of leisure services in Hampshire [who] has publicly questioned the need for fiction in public libraries

    "we have to ask whether fiction should remain in libraries when most people buy books" (Quoted in Good Library Blog)

    and, on the other, ignore the view that libraries are exclusively about books. But the way forward is in doubt. There IS a debate. Roger C. Schonfeld, Manager of Research for Ithaka, and Kevin M. Guthrie, writing in Educause Review (The Changing Information Services Needs of Faculty), note that
    most faculty members expect the library to become less relevant for them in the next years ... Faculty understand the importance of having libraries pay for research and teaching resources and support the idea of the library's preservation function. Librarians also view the purchase of electronic resources as a critically important function of the library, with over four-fifths believing that the library plays a more important role than any other source in providing this service. ... In the future, faculty expect to be less dependent on the library and increasingly dependent on electronic materials. By contrast, librarians generally think their role will remain unchanged and their responsibilities will only grow in the future.
    The debate, however, is not 'do we need libraries?' but 'what do we need from libraries?' And this is not - as suggested by SINTO - a battle between the electronic and the paper from which can emerge only one winner. It is a debate about priorities - perhaps based on
    what marketing people call a "Usage and Attitude" survey...These are methodical and professional studies which help to define the objectives of an operation and then the most meaningful measures they can use to see if they are doing the right things. When used properly they are incredibly valuable. (Attitudes to libraries)
    One thing we must remember is the value of the library in society. As founder of Greenwood Press, Jack Stauffacher, said:
    Without this working library, I would have no compass, no map, to guide me through the density of our human condition.

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