What is a Library? The Issue of Library Collections

I have recently been approached by some faculty who believe that we are removing important items from our print collections and that this is evidence of a lack of support for faculty, for research, and for scholarship. I respect their concern and expect to be engaging in many more conversations about the changing nature of libraries and library collections in the near future. As I try to respond to their concerns, it makes me ponder the question of what a library is. Today, I want to focus on library collections.

Traditional dictionaries like Merriam Webster define a library as “a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (such as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale.   The Oxford English dictionary defines a library in similar fashion as “A building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for use or borrowing by the public or members of an institution.” There are some for whom this is the only valid definition of a library.

There are others who think (and have said to me since I’ve been Dean of University Libraries at FAU) that: “Since everything is available digitally, why do we need a library anymore?” If you do a Google search on the question “do we still need libraries in the digital age?” you will turn up link after link to articles from the New York Times, the Washington Post, PBS, the Guardian, the CBC, and many more that ponder this question, all with their own twist on the issue.

It is interesting to be standing in the middle of these two opposing views and trying to find a middle ground.

Unlike some of my colleagues or the popular press, I don’t foresee a day when the traditional definition of a library will be completely eliminated. I don’t believe that all knowledge, scholarship, or creative output will be available digitally anytime soon – or ever. I’m not even sure I would consider that desirable.

However, as the world’s scholarly output continues to increase, libraries are able to own or even provide direct access to a smaller and smaller percentage of it. A 2014 posting on the Nature Newsblog noted that “Bibliometric analysts Lutz Bornmann, at the Max Planck Society in Munich, Germany and Ruediger Mutz, at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, think they have a better answer. It is impossible to know for sure, but the real rate is closer to 8-9% each year, they argue. That equates to a doubling of global scientific output roughly every nine years.”

Libraries cannot hope to own or provide immediate electronic access to all the resources that their patrons want and need. Not only do we not have the funding to keep up with the world’s production of scholarly output, we also don’t have the space. Our collections budget are usually stagnant and not keeping up with the pace of inflation (as detailed in a April 2017 article from Library Journal on the Periodicals Price Survey) and there are new demands for the use of our space all the time. In the face of this new reality, libraries around the world are reviewing what it means to be a library.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is an elite group of  123 research libraries in the U.S. and Canada. Membership in this elite group is hard to come by and, in earlier years, members could lose their standing and slip in the rankings if their total volume count decreased and if their budgets for collections were deemed to be inadequate. However, this traditional definition of a research library is being challenged, even within the ARL. In 2012, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) commissioned an issue brief on 21st Century Collections.   ARL has been moving away from its decades-old means of determining eligibility to join ARL that was based almost entirely on volume count and it is looking for new metrics that matched today’s research environment. A couple of phrases from that report have stayed with me: “Twentieth-century research library collections were defined by local holdings, hailed as distinctive and vast. Twenty-first-century research library collections demand multiple strategies for ensuring broad access” and “As libraries transition from institution-centric collections to a user-centric networked world, distributed collections should grow correspondingly. Traditional practices cannot easily scale to support this new environment. Emphasizing the shift from paper to e-texts understates the change. Rather than focusing on acquiring the products of scholarship, the library is now an engaged agent supporting and embedded within the processes of scholarship.”

To my mind, the world is everyone’s research library and we serve our faculty far better by assisting them in discovering and gaining timely access to the world’s scholarship rather than simply by holding onto specific journals or monographs. The ARL states on its Collections site that “Research collections are at the heart of the research library, but in the digital age the nature of information resources and library collections are undergoing profound transformations. New kinds of content, new formats and reformatting, new publishing models and access arrangements are rapidly reshaping research collections. As digital information resources increasingly predominate collecting, bringing new kinds of content within the research library’s sphere of responsibility, value propositions of traditional collections are altering apace.”

As far as our collections of published content are concerned, the FAU Libraries cannot be an archive or a museum. As reference and instruction librarian Joe Hardenbrook from Carroll University wrote in 2014,  “For most academic libraries, our mission is not to collect the whole of human knowledge. We have limited space, limited resources. We are not a warehouse for books–a warehouse is a storage facility. Books are for using–not for sitting on a shelf for years on end.”

In the realm of scholarly or creative output, at the FAU Libraries, we strive to:

  • be a portal to the world’s scholarship, through providing immediate access to select, high-quality content in print and through electronic subscriptions, as far as our funding and space permits.
  • enable our students and faculty to gain access to much of the rest of the world’s scholarship and creative output through rapid and efficient interlibrary loan.
  • provide better awareness of, access to, and use of our distinctive special collections.
  • create local digital collections of unique materials that can be accessed anytime, anywhere.
  • help our faculty and students create their own content and publish it in some form.

In this imperfect and rapidly changing world, the FAU Libraries will continue to select new materials; we will continue to deselect some materials to make room for new content or for other uses of the space (as explained in the LibGuide on our Weeding Project ); we will continue to help our users find the information they need, create their own scholarship, collaborate in their study and research endeavors, work quietly on their own, explore the world of rare and unique materials, and be as successful as we can possibly help them to be.

 

 

 

New Assistant Dean for Research and Collections

Following a national search, the FAU Libraries are pleased to announce that Mr. Jeff Sundquist will be joining FAU as the Assistant Dean for Research and Collections effective July 10, 2017.  Mr. Sundquist is a Ph.D. candidate in Scandinavian Languages and Literature (ABD) at UCLA. He completed his Master of Library and Information Science (with distinction) from UCLA in 2003 and his Master of Arts, Scandinavian Languages & Literature, also from UCLA in 2003.  Since June 2014 he has been Collection Management Librarian at Eastern Washington University, where he has provided leadership and coordination for the creation, assessment, and analysis of the Libraries’ collection policies and activities. From April 2011 to May 2014 he served as Associate Librarian / Coordinator of Acquisitions & Cataloging at Chapman University where he provided leadership and oversight of the work functions in Cataloging and Acquisitions. From August 2007 through December 2010, he was an Associate Instructor, at the University of California, Berkeley where he taught semester-long, four-unit courses of Scandinavian R5A & R5B in the College Writing Program, offered through the Scandinavian Department.  From August 2006 through October 2007 he served as Librarian, Scandinavian Department, at the University of California, Berkeley. Between January 2005 and August 2006, Mr. Sundquist was UC/JSTOR Project Manager/Associate Librarian, in the University of California, California Digital Library (75%) and the UCLA Libraries (25%) He was a Fulbright Research Librarian from July 2003 to May 2004 at Statsbiblioteket (The State and University Library), Århus, Denmark. Mr. Sundquist is professionally active and has authored peer-reviewed articles, a book chapter, and co-authored the monograph entitled “The craft of library instruction: Using acting techniques to create your teaching presence,” published by the Association of College and Research Libraries in 2016. 

 jeff_fau

As the first Assistant Dean for Research and Collections for the FAU University Libraries, Mr. Sundquist will be working to develop, strengthen, and promote collections and services that support faculty and student research. As Assistant Dean, he will provide strategic vision, policy and program development, and leadership as the Libraries redefine their collections and support for research in the context of emerging trends in scholarly communication, changing formats and access models, shared collections, and new definitions of research collections. He will also provide leadership for innovative program and content development in support of the University’s mission through the Libraries’ units that comprise Special Collections, Interlibrary Loan, Government Documents, and Collection Management.

 

A welcome reception will be held for Mr. Sundquist in the fall to introduce him to the FAU community. During the summer, he will be reaching out to many departments and units across the University to familiarize himself with the University’s programs and services and to look for opportunities to strengthen partnerships and build on existing library services.

 

Copyright

Academic libraries exist to enable the students and faculty of their institutions to be successful in their academic careers and also to provide them with the skills they will need to be informed global citizens. We do this by providing access to the world’s scholarly output, by helping them develop and pursue individual research, by keeping them apprised of changes in the scholarly communication landscape, by helping them make connections with other people and ways of thinking, and by connecting them to technology and other tools to be effective critical thinkers and lifelong learners.

One of the primary challenges facing faculty and students today is understanding their rights and responsibilities when it comes to creating, sharing, citing, and repurposing intellectual content. Copyright. When is an image or video on the Web able to be inserted into a presentation or paper without first getting permission? What does fair use allow me to use in my teaching? What questions should I ask before I sign over my copyright in order to have my research published? How do I properly cite and quote someone else’s work in my own work? When am I allowed to build on someone else’s creative work in order to create a brand-new play, work of art, or musical composition? These questions have been around for a long time but have become more complex because of the prevalence of so much content that is freely available for viewing, reading, and listening on the Internet.

The FAU Libraries will be working to offer more workshops, generate more discussion, offer access to webinars, and bring in respected speakers to help address these and other questions facing today’s faculty and students.

On February 24, the FAU Libraries and the Center for eLearning are hosting world-renowned copyright expert Dr. Kenneth Crews to discuss copyright and its impact on faculty and students. Dr. Crews is an attorney, author, professor, and international copyright consultant. For over 25 years, his research, policymaking, and teaching have centered on copyright issues related to education and research. He established and directed the nation’s first university-based copyright office at Indiana University and was later recruited to establish a similar office at Columbia University. He currently serves on the faculty of Columbia Law School and has a law practice and consultancy with the firm of Gipson Hoffman & Pancione. He is the author of numerous publications including Copyright, Fair Use, and the Challenge for Universities (1993), a reevaluation of  the understandings of copyright and fair use at universities, and the well-received, Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators (3rd ed, 2012). He is the recipient of the Patterson Copyright Award from the American Library Association and the 2014 Mark T. Banner Award from the American Bar Association.

To learn more about the program and express interest in attending, faculty and students should visit http://libguides.fau.edu/scholarlycommunication/CopyrightWorkshop