Divergence and Convergence: Trends in Academic and Public Libraries: Although Public and Academic Libraries Face Different Realities, They Have a Lot in Common

By Breeding, Marshall | Computers in Libraries, July-August 2016 | Go to article overview

Divergence and Convergence: Trends in Academic and Public Libraries: Although Public and Academic Libraries Face Different Realities, They Have a Lot in Common


Breeding, Marshall, Computers in Libraries


Public and academic libraries currently face distinctive challenges. A different set of trends can be seen in the composition of collection materials and in the services they provide to their respective clientele. To accommodate these differences, public and academic libraries have, in recent years, gravitated toward different strategies related to the technologies they employ to support their respective operations. Looking forward, we can also expect to see increasing points of commonality in libraries of all types as the production and consumption of content become increasingly digital and oriented to social platforms.

Academic Libraries Centered on Electronic Content

Academic libraries have seen an almost complete transformation of their collections from mostly print to largely electronic in the last 2 decades. The typical academic library devotes an overwhelming majority of its collections budgets to subscriptions to electronic resources. This reality has driven these institutions to adopt library services platforms primarily oriented to the management of electronic resources. Academic libraries continue to deal with print collections, but in diminished quantities, both in terms of new acquisitions and in circulation transactions.

Print Dominates Public Libraries

Public libraries still see intense interest in physical collections by their clientele. I Circulation transactions of physical materials remain strong. These libraries continue to acquire and manage print collections and require automation systems rich in features to support these tasks. The ILS, tracing its heritage to the time when libraries dealt exclusively in print, has continued to evolve, gaining more sophisticated capabilities for physical materials.

Ebook-lending services have become enormously popular in public libraries. Many of their patrons enjoy reading as much on tablets and ebook readers and appreciate the downloadable digital offerings increasingly provided as a benefit of their library card. Most public libraries offer some type of service to lend ebooks, audiobooks, and other digital materials, relying on external providers such as OverDrive's service, Bibliotheca's Cloud Library, or Baker & Taylor's Axis 360. The lending of digital titles generally extends a layer of new services and does not lessen the volume of circulation transactions for print materials.

Lending print and ebooks fits reasonably well into the feature set of the ILS. Challenges include more thorough integration between external ebook-lending platforms, such as those from OverDrive, and the online catalogs and ILSs to produce a more seamless experience for patrons. In the current phase of library technology, evolved ILSs, plus enhanced discovery interfaces, have persisted as the prevailing technology infrastructure for public libraries to support lending of both print and digital materials.

Layers of Nuance

These trends of divergence among public and academic libraries are not absolute. Print will never become extinct in academic libraries, and public libraries will inevitably become increasingly more involved with electronic materials. Automation systems for both types of libraries must have capabilities for managing resources in multiple formats, with specialized functionality as needed. The distinctions in automation strategies that seem quite prominent today may converge over the longer term. Academic libraries may benefit by tapping into technologies crafted for or by public libraries to foster end-user engagement. Public libraries will likewise need more capability for managing electronic resources as their magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals shift exclusively to digital delivery.

Although public and academic libraries face different realities, they have a lot in common. Academic libraries, for example, have pioneered the path of transition from a mostly print to a mostly digital reality. …

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