Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Collection Development in the [Begin Strikethrough] Age [End Strikethrough] Day of Google

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Collection Development in the [Begin Strikethrough] Age [End Strikethrough] Day of Google

Article excerpt

This paper sets out several challenges for libraries and collection development librarians as they seek to remain relevant in a rapidly changing environment. These include changes in ease of information access, increasing interest in unmediated access, ubiquity of similar (even identical collections), and the need to develop unique collections that meet local needs and interests and to develop and promote tools that enhance the use of these collections.

Change is hard to pin down. It can be as jarring as an earthquake: dislocating, disruptive, cataclysmic. More commonly, it is as slow and unexceptional as watching grass grow: glacial, evolutionary, but relentlessly steady. Both kinds of change--sudden and gradual--are natural. What is unnatural is the human predilection, despite all evidence to the contrary, to plan social systems as if they are forever. In the heyday of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, Mario Savio famously dubbed "an end to history" the bureaucratic worldview that led campus administrators to act as if our systems of higher education had evolved to a point where further fundamental changes would be unexpected and unlikely. (1) Ignoring the precedent of all that has come before, humans too often lay their plans as if the next best thing will be the last thing.

"Sameness" encourages "saneness"--it is an enabling assumption for daily life. We wake up each day blanketed in the comfort of the familiar, assuming that our homes, family relations, cars, offices, and computer desktops are the same as we left them when we drifted off to sleep the previous night. In fact, none of these are likely to be the same, but sane people choose to overlook the differences as inconsequential--not worth the time and energy required to recalibrate our understanding of our surroundings. While this is a normal, natural, and efficient human response in the short term, it can become dysfunctional in the long term, as small changes accumulate into more significant changes that require adaptation or, at the very least, recognition.

Books, for a Change

It is a challenging question as to when, or if, recent changes in our information world have aggregated to such a level that libraries need to become fundamentally different institutions than they were twenty years ago. Sociologists have coined the term "tipping point" to characterize that moment when quantitative or incremental change crosses the line to become qualitative change. (2) The changes affecting libraries have been driven by incremental technological developments, but technology is always wrapped in a social and economic cocoon that nurtures innovation and gives it license to take root and flourish. More than technology per se, the changes in social and cultural values that surround technology are what trigger a fundamental shift in institutions like libraries and education. The ubiquity of the personal computer, the development of the Web, the emergence of Web commerce enabling and responding to consumer desire to access goods and services online, and the hegemony of a digital culture as the defining characteristic of a global generation of young people, are the kinds of fundamental social changes tugging at our libraries. For some, these changes are perceived as a revolution--a shaking of foundations of the nation's libraries. Others see it as business as usual; change is a constant, and librarians have been continually adapting for centuries, sometimes themselves driving significant change.

However, a vocal group of observers--and these are the scary ones--view the contemporary changes in technology and culture as inconsequential; a tide that could be turned by eloquent rhetoric. They encourage librarians to eschew emerging cultural patterns, urging us instead to celebrate and invest in yesterday's technology as the path forward. This atavistic group, some who speak from the rostrum of high office in our professional associations, would allow our libraries to fall out of step with contemporary culture in deference to a nostalgic view of the libraries they remember from their youth. …

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