There are several identifiable trends in the way American university libraries are approaching the issue of electronic formats and wide area networks. While typical university library directors are probably more conservative in their projections about the electronic format than many technologists, they have several reasons to be conservative.
Most projections maintain that the print format will remain the major format in the university library for the next twenty years. Realizing that for the next five generations of undergraduates libraries must be primarily concerned with their print collections, there are certain practical matters for librarians to consider. It would not be responsible to eagerly embrace the electronic format at the cost of downgrading services to print and other collections, which would result in patrons being poorly served.
University libraries have dealt with information in different formats for decades; however, information in an electronic format has the potential for a much greater impact on the profession. The leadership of university libraries has identified the importance of this particular format and the mechanisms for providing access to the information. They also have reconfirmed the fact that libraries exist to service information needs and that the format of information does not matter. The acceptance of locally mounted databases and CD-ROM products quickly brought the message to those library directors who had not already been converted.
University libraries individually and in consortia across the country are now actively engaged in negotiating contracts to mount appropriate commercial and private databases for their university communities. This trend follows very closely the movement of the late 1970s to "automate" academic libraries with local library systems. In fact, many of the libraries now mounting local databases are working to include them as part of that same local library system.
Ownership Versus Access
Another important trend is the growing recognition that ownership of materials is not the only yardstick by which to measure university libraries. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is again discussing the appropriate formula to evaluate its members and their collections. It seems inevitable that if ARL does not change its approach, some other group will develop its own mechanism to measure the value of research information resources.
Introducing New Technologies
Perhaps the most important trend is one that applies to the introduction of all technologies. When a new technology is introduced, the first services to be automated are old processes replicated by the new technology. It is after these basic services have been automated that the new technology is used in creative new ways to serve a constituency. Libraries have now arrived at am point.
Access to information in an electronic format and the availability of easy access to a campus network often provide an opportunity for institutional pride and excitement. However, university libraries must work diligently to see that the information resources available on such a network are appropriate and balanced to meet the institution's needs.
Electronic information is in most instances more expensive than its print counter-part. Libraries, already faced with rapidly increasing prices, especially in the area of serial publications, also must try to find a way of paying for the electronic products without negatively affecting their regular collection-building efforts. Unlike most previous information resources, many electronic products are leased and include ongoing fees.
As more products become available in an electronic format, there also is the general collection development question of what to purchase. …