Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Strategic Planning to Avoid Bottlenecks in the Age of the Internet

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Strategic Planning to Avoid Bottlenecks in the Age of the Internet

Article excerpt

W David Penniman currently serves as professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee and is director of the Center for Information Studies. He is also a consultant to senior management in information systems, resources, and services. He holds an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Illinois and a PhD in behavioral science from Ohio State University. His e-mail address is

When the early libraries of Mesopotamia and Egypt were in their heydays, their respective staffs must have been concerned with dramatic changes in materials, the growth of sources, and the demands of users. They probably also worried about adequate support for their efforts and lack of appreciation of what they did for society. For them, these worries were undoubtedly no less bothersome than the worries and concerns of today's librarians. They, like us, had concerns about the future. And like us, they had no better grasp of how to accurately predict the future. (If they did, they would undoubtedly have been appalled at the sad fates of their libraries and might have given up right then and there.)

Putting Planning in Perspective

When might be equally dismayed if we had perfect insight into the future. We have to contend with increasing costs of materials, increasing sources of materials (many of these sources now electronic), and increasing options of (and competition for) delivery channels to our users. All of these lead to a dismaying array of demands from a planning perspective. At the university level, for example, we must plan for and maintain three kinds of libraries.

* The library of the past, which focused on building collections and providing direct physical access to printed materials.

* The library of the present, with extraordinary added costs of inflation, automation, and for many, the preservation of decaying material.

* The library of the future that we must plan for, and that includes not only the development of new ideas, but the implementation of new prototypes for publishing, acquiring, storing, and providing access to information through new technology and new attitudes about such fundamental things as ownership and [access.sup.1].

Building on Past Assumptions

At the same time that these three types of libraries are being maintained, we are seeing significant strains on the physical structures we call libraries." The design considerations of today are different from those of [yesterday.sup.2]. Unfortunately, the fact is that, for many institutions, the library of the 21st century has already been built and it is too late to do any planning for the structures themselves During the 1970s and 1980s we completed new academic libraries at the rate of almost 20 per year. We added to or renovated about half as many each year. In any given year there were about 100 academic library building projects in progress. In the 1990s the rate of completion of academic libraries has held constant while additions and renovations have doubled. To quote Library Journal, "There don't seem to be financial concerns in the construction/design industries when it comes to building libraries Academic libraries in particular seem little affected by the economic or political [climate.sup.3]."

Most organizations will have to live with those decisions that were made years or even decades ago and attempt to serve their users on the basis of those assumptions. The assumptions made in the 1970s could not have been nearly as insightful as those in the 1980s regarding technology. We were only beginning to think in terms of mainframes dumb terminals and centralized databases at that time.

The '80s reflected new technologies and more emphasis on stand-alone systems as well as new networking concepts. The design ideas of the 70s no longer seemed valid. More space was needed for CD-ROM or other disc-based systems, and more room was needed to pull cables through undersized cableways. …

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