Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Meeting the Challenge of Simultaneously Managing Digital, Electronic, and Print Collections

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Meeting the Challenge of Simultaneously Managing Digital, Electronic, and Print Collections

Article excerpt

The management of library collections has never been more difficult than it is today. The proliferation of new formats of materials--each with its own technical, business, and legal requirements--brings the need for ever more sophisticated tools and processes for libraries to manage collections responsibly and efficiently. Library automation technologies initially emerged during an era when collections consisted only of physical materials. Today, information resources span quite a variety of physical and electronic formats, prompting major changes in the nature of the resource management and discovery services created for libraries. The proportions of involvement in each of these formats vary according to each type of library. This further complicates the picture for the organizations that create technologies for collections management and discovery.

Handling a Mixed Bag of Resources

I think of the content of library collections as falling into physical, electronic, and digital formats.

* Physical resources are not only materials printed on paper. They include other tangible formats, such as microfilm, digital materials on physical media such as tapes or discs, and the increasing variety of physical objects that libraries may place in their lending collections. In response to community interest, some libraries lend paintings, tools, computers or tablets, and Wi-Fi hotspots. In most cases, the policies of this category of materials surround the basic characteristics of physical objects: They can be borrowed only by one entity at a time, with loan periods and other circulation parameters set at the discretion of the library, relative to factors such as potential risk to materials and addressing demand for access.

* Electronic resources fall into a less precisely defined category that includes subscriptions to electronically published content. The business models vary from traditional annual subscription fees and open access (OA) resources, which can be incorporated into the library's collection without payment for access. However, many libraries may provide financial support to researchers within their institutions for the article publication charges required by some journals. This category can also include local materials issued electronically on institutional repositories.

* Digital collections represent another category containing original materials that have been digitized or are born-digital. Examples include photographs or other images, manuscripts, maps, audio, and video. This category of materials may overlap somewhat with that of electronic resources, which increasingly include non-textual formats. For me, the main differentiator concerns whether the materials are generally available and selected by the library or whether they are digital representations of local or unique items. The digital objects and multiple categories of metadata would be housed and administered via some type of digital asset management (DAM) system.

Some libraries may also deal with materials that do not fit neatly into any of these categories. We should expect that future phases of technology may produce other types of new media of interest to libraries, which will bring new and unique challenges. I anticipate no end to the trend toward more complexity of resource management in libraries. The history of library technology can be seen as a trajectory of products and services designed to help libraries cope with new kinds of materials as they come on the scene.

The reality of collections comprising various combinations of materials spanning these categories--each with fundamentally distinct characteristics--brings many challenges for libraries as they acquire, describe, and provide access to content. They need technology tools designed to help in all aspects of the management of these materials and to facilitate patron access. Each of these categories of materials has its own distinctive set of issues, which must be addressed by library resource management systems. …

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