Institutions

The record

Lorcan 2 min read

I was interested to see a link to a story about Stanford on the Sun website: Building a digital library: digitizing 8 million volumes. The story is available as video in the Sun Feedroom. The Stanford story is the Sun News item for 06/03 (I couldn’t immediately see how to link directly to it).
There is discussion about the Google digitization project and the work with Groxis to develop a Grokker interface to Stanford resources among other things.
The discussion prompted a couple of thoughts about research libraries:

  • Mike Keller speaks on the video. He makes the point that libraries like his are ‘cultural custodians’ who make available the ‘records of our civilization’. This is a welcome emphasis, which I find strangely absent from much discussion about research and national libraries. Libraries have always been repositories of the scientific and cultural record, and have exercised that mission in various ways. The ‘citability’ and ‘availability’ of this record is central to library practices, and to scholarship in general. As we move forward, we are being questioned about what the scholarly record is and how we manage it. Ensuring that emerging digital resources are citable and available is not straightforward. Too often in discussion we narrow this issue to one of technical preservation, but even if we could preserve materials there remain organisational and mission questions. These come up in relation, for example, to the fact that we now ‘rent’ rather than ‘buy’ much of the scholarly material in e-journals, and to the fact that the curation of research data is of pressing interest. In fact, we need to ask ourselves what is the scholarly and cultural record moving forward, and how will its integrity be secured. Universities, research libraries, archives, national libraries and archives, learned societies, research policy and funding bodies: these and others all have an issue but as yet no shared pattern of response. (This topic needs its own entry 😉
  • The second is a more general point. One of the most interesting aspects of the Google Print Libraries project has been the media attention it received, and, more interestingly, the almost exclusive focus of that media attention on libraries as storehouses of books. It is as if the last ten years of digital library activity had not existed. It showed how much the brand of libraries is still associated with libraries as physical stores of books. This is good in some ways for libraries, but given the focus of library investment in recent years, this should be a big issue for us.
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