When libraries faced the future
It\'s rare to find someone who says so many nice things about
librarians in one article. Th
is article I found in the magazine University
Business has nothing but praise for the foresight
librarians have when dealing with technology.
THROUGH the university library used to be a walk down memory
lane for returning alumni. Cavernous reading rooms evoked
similar memories for both the 50th reunion class and the
5th. Not anymore. During the past decade, card catalogs have
become little more than decorative furniture, and the
periodical room is now likely to be full of terminals to
access online journals. Not even the class of 1995 would
recognize the Encyclopaedia Britannica; it has abandoned
hard copy and CD-ROMs for a Web-based product.
What\'s really different is the way the library does
business. At universities across the country, librarians
have been forced to master new skills. Where they once
devoted themselves primarily to acquiring resources for
specific fields, they must now be adept at negotiating with
publishers, setting policy for using online material, and
building consortia to increase their economic clout.
The result is a revolution. In just a few years, librarians
have invented electronic media acquisition strategies that
are as different from buying books as surfing the Web is
from browsing the stacks. They have rolled back--or at least
stalled--a publisher-driven assault on fair-use copyright
law, and they have come up with standards that--for the
present--are more influential in structuring research and
scholarship than copyright law itself once was.
Thorny issues remain. But at a time when digital technology
can seem out of control, posing a threat to traditional
academic values, libraries already look like a