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Last Friday I attended the RLG Partnership Symposium. The topic – When the books leave the building – reflected the growing discussion around the management of legacy print collections across the academic library system. The balance between local print, offsite print (local or shared), and emerging digitised collections, presents interesting choices. These are tactical as competing interests are managed, and strategic as decisions are made about mission, sustainability and responsibility to the scholarly record. Interestingly, the outcome of one discussion was that maybe 25 libraries in the US might see it as part of their mission to remain committed to the management of the print scholarly record.
Constance Malpas provided some interesting empircal context, looking at volumes of materials already digitized and also at volumes of materials which had been moved into offsite storage.
The Western Regional Storage Trust is an interesting early attempt to model issues across a broad group of libraries. The deep integration envisaged by 2CUL provides another example of joint response amongst a range of other infrastructure issues.
Now, I had brought with me Nicholas Carr’s new book The Shallows to read on the plane. Early in the book, describing his time as a Dartmouth student, he contrasts his experience with emerging digital technologies at the Kiewit Computation Center with his experience in the library:
That was just a digital dalliance. For every hour I passed in Kiewit, I must have spent two dozen next door in Baker. I crammed for exams in the library’s cavernous reading room, looked up facts in the weighty volumes on the reference shelves, and worked part-time checking books in and out at the circulation desk. Most of my library time, though, went to wandering the long, narrow corridors of the stacks, Despite being surrounded by tens of thousands of books, I don’t remember feeling the anxiety that’s symptomatic of what we today call “information overload.” There was something calming in the reticence of all those books, their willingness to wait years, decades even, for the right reader to come along and pull them from their appointed slots. Take your time the books whispered to me in their dusty voices. We’re not going anywhere. [The Shallows, p.12]
It seems they lied 😉 While many of the books will remain on the shelves for some years to come, it is clear that the exodus has begun. The books are leaving the library.