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Richard Akerman - Paved Paradise: The Future Of (A Particular Type Of) Research Library

.: Richard Akerman offers another very interesting and thought provoking post on the future of research libraries, this one in reaction to the responses he received to his original post. Excerpt:

In all references to "library" below, I am talking ONLY about a library that serves solely a research community in the anti-social :) sciences: physics, chemistry, computer science, nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetics, astrophysics, ... I think you get the idea. Not a public library, not a university/academic library. It is purely total coincidence that I happen to work at a library that meets that exact description...

And no, I'm not a librarian. Former Computer Science and Physics grad student, current Enterprise Architect. As an Enterprise Architect, I worry about achieving strategic business target state, which for my organization is currently mapped out to 2010. That involves, amongst other things, considering transformational technologies that may present a risk of say, the entire organization no longer existing in 2010.

Below is the comment I submitted to his blog in response to his post:
Apologies for incorrectly spelling your name in my post on STLQ. It has been corrected.

I think you're being hard on those of us who chose to respond to your post, which I found to be thoughtful and challenging. You note that "The other thing I found very striking about the response to my posting is that I held out transformational hope: be an institutional repository, be a data centre, provide advanced research workflow services and... not a single person responded to these ideas. As I read it, the general tone was in the "we currently provide great service, we will continue to provide the same service, all will continue forever into the research library future..." No one talked about the transformational possibilities at all." That none of us responded to your transformational hope doesn't mean none of us agrees with it or doesn't share the same concern. We need to transform what we do on a daily if not hourly basis; this is often easier said than done, given the various restraints within our own institutions, often defined by ambiguity and uncertainty. It's all changing, all the time.

The one thing that I found missing in your original post was consideration for the human factor. You wrote, "Research libraries on the other hand, don't play any of these roles. There is no public to serve. There is no community meeting place role. There are no confused or desperate undergrads to help." To me, this is the utopian virtual research library, where none of its users is confused or has difficulty searching for data, articles, patents, standards, conference papers, what have you. I don't know if such a clientele for such a library exists. As far as I know, my colleagues and I, here at the U of Alberta, and at other academic or research libraries, deal with a regular stream of confused or desparate grad students, faculty, post-docs, and research associates on a daily basis! :-) In reality, very few fit such an unforgiving description, but you know what I mean.

You write, "In all references to "library" below, I am talking ONLY about a library that serves solely a research community in the anti-social :) sciences: physics, chemistry, computer science, nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetics, astrophysics, ... I think you get the idea. Not a public library, not a university/academic library. It is purely total coincidence that I happen to work at a library that meets that exact description... " I'm assuming you don't mean anti-social in the traditional sense, but rather in the practical sense. Is this indeed how CISTI's library works? Is there no social role in CISTI's library service?

Understand that I find this fascinating, given that I am now working as the Research Services Librarian for NRC's National Institute for Nanotechnology, on the U of Alberta campus, which means I now have access to all of CISTI's online resources. While I have been working in this position for only three days, I am already sensing that there are some researchers who are comfortable with what access they have to whatever online material they need, whereas there are others who rely on the web, short of the time to do deeper mining into the available resources, but very open to assistance and guidance. Additionally, in either camp, there are major e-resources of which they are not aware exist, now are they aware that they have access to them as well. The real surprise for me so far has been CISTI's e-resources. I was not aware that there is no subject or keyword breakdown of the databases, encyclopedias, etc. Maybe I need to dig a bit deeper myself, but at first glance, it wasn't obvious to me.

Without the human factor, the future completely digitized anti-social research library might as well be serving automatons, replicants or robots. Darla's comment on the LIS post, which summed up the issue for you, really concerns me: "I have found things that they have been doing incorrectly, that have been effecting their productivity and dissemination of their work, and have tried to bring these things to their attention, but they just don't care. They don't care if they do it right or not." Um...hello? If this is true, what does that suggest about the credibility of her research organization? How would other scholars, researchers, faculty, and so forth, working in nano-whatever, think of NINT or any other NRC institute if the researchers there didn't care if they did it right or not, especially regarding the productivity and dissemination of their work? I've worked with engineering faculty and students here at the U of Alberta for 22+ years, and believe me, they care about whether they do it right or not. Three days into my NINT experience, it is my strong sense that the same philosophy applies there as well.

Just my two cents from the Canadian west. Thanks for kicking the dust up about the future of what we do.

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