Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Reengineering Library Services for the Digital Age

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Reengineering Library Services for the Digital Age

Article excerpt

Abstract The digital age has changed the face of libraries forever and libraries must continue to change if they are to remain viable and respected institutions. The challenge is finding the balance between conservatism and technophilia

Charles Robinson sees five challenges facing libraries in the next decade

* How are we going to run two libraries simultaneously?' One is traditional .... the other electronic?

* Since we will need to operate two kinds of libraries, who will give up some of their money to us?

* ... we'll have to have all sorts of people to operate the electronic library. Even if we can afford them, they will have a major impact on our organisational culture.

* We have to retrain ourselves in a whole new area in order to assist the public to use these new services.

* Everyone's getting into the act: telephone companies, cable companies, and computer companies all want to be the public supplier of information and entertainment.[1]

It is technology, how we use it and when we use it, which lies at the heart of each of these challenges.

Libraries have always had the ability to respond to the challenges of technology, from the printing press of the middle qages to the print explosion of the twentieth century, to the digital `print' of today.

However, modern economic rationalism demands that libraries become more accountable for both the services they provide and the funds they expend. Such accountability requires libraries to investigate, analyse and, where necessary, change the methods and processes they have traditionally undertaken to justify their very existence to funding bodies.

How we meet these challenges in the next decade and beyond will determine the future viability of the library.

Many possible solutions will be suggested; some will be implemented. One such solution may be the reengineering of library services to take advantage of, and cope with, the effects of the digital age.

Reengineering: the definition of terms Reengineering library services for the digital age -- what does it mean?

Reengineering is 'the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical contemporary measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service and speed'.[2]

In other words, putting $3000 worth of pc on someone's desk does not mean they have been reengineered for the digital age. It is not the technology itself which defines reengineering, but rather how that technology is used as part of the redesign of business processes.

Reengineering is about changing to the way we do things. Libraries need to note that the key terms within the definition are `fundamental', `radical' and `dramatic.' These are terms which are not often seen in conjunction with this profession, but which will need to be not just accepted but embraced as libraries move towards an uncertain future.

All library services are candidates for reengineering. Not surprisingly, when digital reengineering and library services are discussed, it is usually information retrieval and document delivery which takes precedence. In fact, most `digital library' or `elibrary' or `virtual library' projects currently undertaken concern these services.

However, for the purposes of this paper, I would like to take a more general view, involving both customer and support services.

The digital age is really about the electronic storage and transmission of information. For libraries, this provides either challenges or opportunities. Which, depends on each library's attitude; reactive or proactive, negative or positive, conservative or willing to take a risk. Successful libraries will see only the opportunities.

The digital age provides us with information, which has three facets: the abundance of information; the currency of information. and the accessibility of information. …

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