The Changing Face of Libraries

Libraries have been changing, and for some time. As technology changes, and users adapt to meet them, libraries are not (and she not be) unaffected. Many of the traditional functions of academic libraries are maintained, such as physical repositories and research assistance. However, with the advent of huge technological advances, these areas have had to adapt and expand into the digital information age.

The Need For Change

The need, of course, has become about meeting the demands of an increasingly technology-reliant society. However, the reason libraries have had to adapt into this posture has partly been in response to their traditional roles being relinquished. Libraries used to be the storehouses of information. The Great Library of Alexandria was, for instance, counted one of the greatest man-made wonders of the world because of it's huge storehouse of information. Such was the regard that when the library burnt to the ground in the late Hellenistic period, the world lost a huge portion of its collective recorded history and knowledge. To this day librarians still carry a somber disappointed look about them when the topic arises.

I digress, though. The point is that librarians have traditionally been the masters of repositories; gatekeepers of information and knowledge, because we held and the physical information (e.g. books) and gave access to it. Although this role will never fully disappear, with the dawning of the digital information age, the front-line role of libraries as wardens of physical information has proven less and less needed. In the Google generation, libraries are not the "go to" sources for users. A significant number of academics, even, confess to using Google as their first port of call for information.

A New, But Not Altogether Different Way

Many librarians have seen this change and relinquishing of roles as something that has rushed upon us, and those of us who are younger and see this change as inevitable have admittedly had the benefit of hindsight to make that claim. There is a generational gap in libraries and amongst librarians; not unlike in the many disciplines that academic libraries like us serve. Particularly in the discipline of law, there are monolithic elements which are a positive edifice maintaining a solid status quo of integrity and tradition, but there are other positive forces promoting change within the discipline, such as the use of technology to service and innovate alongside that solid traditional core. There is room for change, although it is natural for many to resist it.

The same is abundantly true of the information discipline of librarians. The user needs of the discipline are changing, but not changing so much that the need for libraries or their services is drying up. Rather, the opposite is emerging. Libraries, instead of being mere monolithic edifices of physical information, library services are being provoked to become equipped to serve the new needs of users. We are still the gate keepers of information, but the nature and format of the information is changing. Libraries are getting onto the digital bandwagon, many adopting large-scale digitization projects (e.g. State Library of New South Wales), and others prioritizing provision of documents in eformats over retaining physical collections. The strength of a library can no longer be accurately measured by how large their physical collection is, because the nature of library services has moved beyond document retention, to document provision. 

Libraries as Information Hubs

Libraries are, more and more, becoming hubs of information. Digital and physical, the library is the space for those who need or want to move past a Google search and access resources that are more specific, more authoritative, and more highly regarded than the unvetted mass of Google results. The library assists users by giving them access to the best information. In a world that is being increasingly swamped with information, some of it sub-par quality, the need for a provider that can gather and make available the best information to users, is sorely needed.

It's the goal of TOP's Sydney School of Law and Business to take on this role of being the information hub for research; to make available and promote the best resources we can for the benefit of our students and faculty.

In following blog entries, I will talk about some of the ways, platforms and formats quality information can be accessed and provided.

Peter Smith, eLearning Librarian