So what is a comprehensive research library collection? We thought we knew
during the golden age of collection building, from the mid-19th century to the
last quarter of the 20th century. During that period we built and preserved
marvelous collections, often through the work of “the great bookmen” and
generous collectors, and then increasingly through routinized organizational
structures, professional practice and processes of selection and purchase
conducted systematically, and continuously supported through the expenditure
of the “collections budget.” And the organized competition around the size of
this annual budget or special collections endowments has been intense, and we
have worked hard to convince our universities that maintenance and growth of
this sum was what guaranteed the quality of research and education in our
universities. And for many years, this was true. It remains true in part, but it is
not the same.
A prescient elaboration of the coming change appeared in 1984 in an article
written by F. Gerald Ham, then State Archivist of Wisconsin, “Archival Choices:
Managing the Historical Record in the Age of Abundance.”2 Ham identified that
computer-generated information would change the archival challenge from
pursuing information to confronting a
confusing wealth of information.
In preparation for this session, I spoke
with my co-presenter John Lombardi. He
referred to this change as when the system
“broke.” I countered that perhaps
“disrupted” was a better word, but since
our conversation, the word “broke” has stuck in my mind. As suggested by
yesterday’s speaker, Rick Anderson, in his recent guest editorial in the Journal of
Academic Librarianship, in spite of our embrace of the digital environment, “we
hold many of our traditional organizational structures, practices, and mindsets
in an increasingly desperate death-grip.”3 Well, that system is broken. John
Lombardi knows it, and we do too.
So if we accept that our current collections model does not align well with
the digital environment in which we and our users live, how do we reframe the
dialogue. Several information types that effectively illustrate our dramatically
changing environment have been engagingly described by previous speakers.
I will speak to a couple of additional areas, suggesting concepts instrumental to
a holistic model of knowledge creation and use.
RLI 277
3
Rebalancing the Investment in Collections
(
C O N T I N U E D
)
DECEMBER 2011 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
So what is a comprehensive research library
collection? We thought we knew during the
golden age of collection building…
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