Instructional Designer from the University of Minnesota Libraries Paul Zenke recently released an in-depth interview with Steven Bell which discusses the future of academic libraries.   The video clip is embedded below but I also encourage you to take a look at the complete interview and post which are found at the Education Futures site.

Steven talks about opportunities and challenges for academic libraries which result from shifts in higher education, user needs and preferences, and technology and surfaces offers some new ideas and best practices which could help libraries to chart their course.   The interview discusses a number of critical questions for the future.  As the user landscape continues to evolve, what are the implications for  collection development?  How can libraries begin to transform the total user experience across all touchpoints and what are the implications for physical library spaces?   How can libraries position themselves to play an even more central role within the rapidly changing landscape of  learning and research?

Steven encourages librarians to l00k outside of their profession for ideas and inspiration, to raise their visibility and influence in the campus community, to capitalize on their collective intelligence about user needs, and to play an even bigger role in shaping their future.

 

What trends do you see reshaping the future of academic libraries?  What are you doing to position your library for the future and what opportunities and challenges do you see? 

Related Posts:

Interview with Steven Bell – Driving Innovation and Managing Change in Academic Libraries

Interview with Steven Bell — Keeping Up With the Things That Matter for Academic Libraries

Fast Forward to the Future

Posted by: mhdiaz | January 24, 2012

Sometimes You Just Have to Start Over

Jane Burke concludes her second blog series on InfoViews – Crushed by the Tsunami: Are Libraries at Sea?  The focus of this series is resource and data management challenges and their implications for demonstrating library impact and value.  In this post, Jane examines sustainability issues associated with ILS systems in academic libraries.

Over the past few weeks I’ve given a lot of thought to the shortcomings of current library collection management systems – fondly (or not) known as the “ILS” or integrated library system.  The problem with the ILS, of course, is that it is no longer integrated.  As library collections have become predominately digital, these systems only do part of the job.  Conceived in the 1980’s, the ILS was built to manage a print collection; it was not designed to meet the realities of today’s libraries.

Today, libraries don’t so much work with their ILS as around it for the majority of what they license and purchase.  The ILS does not easily or inherently manage database licenses, PDA agreements for eBooks, link resolution, or assessment of the digital materials.  To get the job done, libraries must invest in separate systems to manage their digital materials.  Ten years ago, when that was a small portion of the collection, it wasn’t a big problem.  Today, however, those digital materials are the majority of the collection, managed by separate staff in separate, often inefficient workflows.

Yet, libraries continue to want the ILS to reflect all of the library’s collection.  So staff perform duplicate data entry, at least at the bibliographic level.  They also replicate financial transactions in order to keep all of the fund balances in a single system.  In today’s budget climate, libraries can ill afford such inefficient, bifurcated workflows.

It’s time to start over.  Declare the old premise-deployed model broken.  Accept that it is past the point of usefulness.  Reconceptualize how libraries do the work of managing collections.  Reimagine!

Instead of an “island”, imagine a network-aware system.

Instead of separate workflows for print and e-resources, imagine a single, unified way of working.

Instead of every library entering and editing bibliographic and authority data, imagine a “customer union” knowledgebase, where basic updates and additions are automatic.

It’s a New Year.  It’s a critical time for libraries.  It’s time to give up the old model and embrace a new one.  If our libraries are going to properly serve today’s users, it’s necessary.

In order to pave the way for a fresh start in 2012 and to spearhead some creative thinking, idea generation and planning for the coming year, here are some of the most important academic library and user trends research reports that were featured in InfoViews library trends alerts during 2011.  All of these reports are available for review and download on the web.  I hope that you will find these  reports useful and that you will add some additional suggestions for research reports in the comments for the benefit of all InfoViews readers.

    1. Horizon Report 2011 (New Media Consortium)
    2. ACRL Academic Library Environmental Scan (ACRL)
    3. Value of Academic Libraries (ACRL)
    4. Library Survey 2010: Insights from US Academic Library Directors (ITHAKA, May 2011)
    5. Digital Information Seeker  The Digital Information Seeker, Report of findings from selected OCLC, RIN and JISC user behavior projects
    6. How College Students Manage Technology When in the Library for Crunch Time (Project Information Literacy)
    7. ECAR – National Study of Undergraduates and IT (Educause)
    8. Video Use and Higher Education: Options for the Future (New York University, INT and Copyright Clearance Center)
    9. Redefining the Academic Library: Managing the Migration to Digital Information Services (Education Advisory Board For University Leadership Council)
    10. Supporting Research: Environments, Administration and Libraries (OCLC)
Posted by: mhdiaz | December 31, 2011

Thank You to InfoViews Readers, Contributors and Partners

Happy New Year!!

With the whirlwind of 2011 now coming to a close (or perhaps already here), I want to thank InfoViews readers around the world.  I have appreciated your interest, your comments, and your suggestions which have helped me to improve this blog during 2011.  I also want to thank my many content contributors and blogging partners and advisors who have helped InfoViews to reach important new audiences and to offer deeper content in critical areas for higher education, libraries, technology, and user trends.

I look forward to bringing you the best thinking and practical insight on academic libraries, higher education, user trends and technology again in 2012.  If you have any suggestions on how I might improve this blog, feel free to leave a comment here or you can send me an email at mhdiaz at aol.com.

Mike

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For quick and easy reference, here is a roundup of  the top 10 posts from InfoViews during 2011.  

  1. How Individual Book Buying Experiences are Reshaping Academic Library User Expectations for Ebooks
  2. User Perceptions of the Library
  3. Interview with Steven Bell — Keeping Up With the Things That Matter for Academic Libraries
  4. Interview with Steven Bell – Driving Innovation and Managing Change in Academic Libraries
  5. Interview with Slaven Zivkovic, CEO and Founder of Springshare
  6. Top New Technologies in Higher Education – 2011 Horizon Report
  7. Sustainability Challenges for Historical News Archives: Paving the Way to a Better Future
  8. Communicating Academic Library Value
  9. LITA Top Tech Trends at ALA Midwinter 2011
  10. Why Can’t We Keep Up?

Key InfoViews Blog Series from 2011

Discovery and the User Experience (Jane Burke)

Academic E-books – The Shifting Landscape (Leslie Lees)

Posted by: mhdiaz | November 8, 2011

The Past vs. The Future — The Problem with Cataloging

Jane Burke returns to InfoViews for a new series – Crushed by the Tsunami: Are Libraries at Sea?  The focus of this series is resource and data management challenges and their implications for demonstrating library impact and value.  In her fourth post, Jane discusses issues with cataloging systems and processes.

As I write this, I am reflecting on the key messages from the (wonderful as always) Charleston Conference.  Our keynote speakers were advocating that librarians take on new roles with linked data and research data sets.  When asked about the “business models” for these roles, the suggestion is that the library’s existing investment in cataloging could be redirected to these new efforts.

I am a proponent of linked data.  The use of RDF triples and URIs could make significant contributions to research, teaching and learning.  And I think librarians are the right ones to do this work.  But I do not believe that current staff resources can be successfully redeployed within the existing library technology environment.  The current ILS and its resulting workflows force staff to continue to perform duplicative work around standard published works.  This is because each ILS has a separate copy of the record.

Despite cries to “get rid of MARC”, the MARC format continues to dominate our descriptive work, partially because it is baked into the ILS.   The ILS allows – and assumes – that each library edits bibliographic and authority records, and so they do.  Maybe not every record — some bibliographic records are accepted from suppliers.  But even then, there is usually a manual process to add holdings and item records.

Original cataloging is creating descriptive metadata for data sets, web resources, etc. – work that is vital within a linked data research environment.  This has potential embed libraries’ vast expertise within the research environment.  Yet, libraries are locked into the repetitive work in managing their local instances of standard bibliographic metadata.   Recent research from the journal Library Philosophy and Practice noted that the average library spends 396 days a year doing copy cataloging.*  That’s nearly 2 person years of work.

The value of the library as the “describer” of scholarly resources continues to be recognized.  As researchers look for help navigating across the vast landscape of electronic research, the need for better description and for linking resources grows.  Libraries can and should emerge as real contributors to research by taking on this role.  But the ILS, with its fixed MARC metadata model and print-based workflows, prevents libraries and librarians from realizing their full potential.

Librarians are powerful.  We can do anything, but we can’t do everything.  We need tools that give us flexibility to create better roadmaps for our electronic collection and the new digital world.

*Source:  Library Philosophy and Practice 2007, Special Issue on Libraries and Google,ISSN 1522-0222 , A Rough Measure of Copy Cataloging Productivity in the Academic Library, John Buschman Professor-Librarian and Chair, F. William Chickering Dean of University Libraries Rider University Library.

In her next post, Jane will talk about systems and process challenges in the management of libraries’ physical resources, including the handling and management of print collections.

I was pleased to catch up with Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University and the Association of College and Research Libraries vice-president/president-elect.  Steven is an expert on academic librarianship, learning technologies, design thinking, user experience and library management.  Steven blogs at Kept-Up Academic Librarian, ACRLog, and Designing Better Libraries, a blog about design thinking and library user experiences. His column “From the Bell Tower” appears weekly in Library Journal’s Academic Newswire. 
 
In the second segment, Steven shares insights on the training, skills, and spirit needed to drive innovation and manage change in academic libraries.

 

Mike: You have often highlighted the need for today’s academic librarians to develop an even greater capacity for innovation and user-centered design thinking.  How do you recommend that librarians expand their horizons in this area?

Steven:  In the area of innovation and design thinking, librarians need to follow developments within the profession but it is also critical to look for user experience insight from completely different organizations such as retailers, newspapers, airlines and other service organizations. Why are other airlines struggling while Southwest Airlines continues to innovate and achieve profits? Southwest has an innovation culture in which employees at all levels are empowered to be creative in the workplace and contribute their ideas for improvements. Studying the principles of design and understanding how to implement the design approach provide strategies for promoting an innovation culture. Even something as simple as an “idea project” can help a library organization expand its capacity for innovation.

In all types of organizations, work teams need to be led with a delicate balance of control and innovative spirit that empowers employees to harness their creativity in a way that enhances the customer or user experience.  This has important implications for how employees are managed and what you need to do in terms of training and development of work teams.  For some additional insight on how a vast array of organizations are tackling this challenge, I would recommend Joseph Michelli’s books When Fish Fly: Lessons For Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace From the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market and The New Gold Standard.   The first book talks about the great strides made not just at the Pike Place Market but also at Starbucks and the UCLA Medical Center.  The second talks about Ritz Carlton Hotel and their extensive system of staff development.  It is also important not just to think about what your organization does but also why it does what it does – what is its purpose, its beliefs, and its reason for existing. Simon Sinek has written extensively about how this distinction plays a critical role in optimizing the experience of customers/users. 

Mike: In what ways do you expect that academic libraries will look different over the next 5-10 years?

Steven:  Five years ago, John Shank and I had just co-developed the concept of Blended Librarianship, along with the launch of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community.  We identified a critical library education gap and advocated for academic librarians to add more instructional design and technology skills to their existing library science skillset. Now it is much more commonplace to find academic libraries advertising for instructional design librarians or information literacy librarians who are expected to understand the latest instructional technologies and how to apply them for effective pedagogy.  Looking ahead, I can see more job descriptions for user experience librarians and an expectation that new academic librarians will be skilled in design approaches and employing user studies for designing better library services. While I don’t know with great specificity how academic libraries will look in 5-10 years, I do believe that new academic librarians with these new skillsets will lead to libraries that are far more focused on our user communities and building relationships with them than what we accomplish in our academic libraries today.

It is important that we appreciate the wide variety of skillsets that could be needed for the future academic library work force.  It is expected that the MLS will continue to be an important part of the academic library skillset, but it is also necessary to consider how profound changes on the academic library landscape could result in the need for stronger technology, business, communications, and human resources expertise.

The definition of the library will also continue to change. Librarians will continue to struggle in determining the optimal print to digital mix to serve their mission. On many campuses, aging facilities will also mean that libraries will need to re-evaluate their objectives and priorities for maximizing library space.

All of this will be shaped by the value of academic library conversations that are happening.  Why do we need to have academic libraries and librarians and what specific contributions are they making right now? What contributions do we need them to make in the future? The entire academic library profession has to engage itself in answering these difficult questions. We must be able to articulate to our superiors and constituents – in words and actions – that we provide added value to their professional lives that enables them to achieve success. Based on that proposition, while I don’t expect our facilities and collections to change dramatically, I hope we will focus more on the relationships we build and the staff who develop these connections and perhaps less on conventional library content as the primary purpose for our existence.

Mike: How can current library leaders best help their teams in navigating these changes?

Steven: It is important to underscore that leaders in the academic library context are not just library directors or senior management, but my definition includes anyone who wants to begin to influence the libraries’ direction in some small way. We need people who will step forward and take risks to help their libraries develop better experiences for the user community members. The best ideas do not always come from the top, and the best library leaders will seek to empower their staff to contribute not only to the navigation of change, but to the identification of purposeful change itself.

In addition to keeping pace with developments in libraries and other relevant fields, I would recommend learning about change management.  A good book to read to start to think about this is called Switch.

Inspiration and diversity of views are critical tools for effective leadership so I also recommend viewing TED Talks, which draw from key experts who are dynamic speakers and thought leaders in lots of fields

Self knowledge and reflection are also important.  Being a pioneer with new technologies or processes can involve enormous risks but also big potential rewards. As innovations become tested and mature, you can benefit from the insight of those who came before you.  There is no right or wrong in these types of decisions, only what works for you and for your institution.

Mike: As you look at the rapid pace of change for academic libraries, how does that inform your objectives as vice president/president-elect for the Association of College and Research Libraries?

Steven:  While I was at ALA, I was particularly amused with a cartoon that I saw in Cognotes.  One librarian who has just attended a session exits and the caption says “We are doomed!” A second academic librarian emerges from a session and the caption says “I’m still relevant!”  It is hard to predict how the myriad changes that are occurring today will impact academic libraries. The most important thing for us to figure out is how to increase the odds that academic libraries can continue to stay highly relevant and important in the future. As I’ve said before there is only a crisis in academic librarianship if we allow it.

ACRL has a very clear and focused Plan for Excellence which is only two pages long.  There are a lot of things that I want to accomplish but I expect that the expectations for  my new role will be to support teaching and learning, scholarly communications, and the Value of Academic Libraries Initiative – those are the three goals of the Plan for Excellence.   Since there was vigorous interest in ACRL’s initial Value of Academic Libraries report and the associated tools and podcasts, we are looking at how we can continue to build on this research.  It is critical that academic libraries have tools to surface where they are adding real value and to be more effective in sharing this information with people.

I am also continuing to reach out to as many ACRL members as possible to better understand their goals and expectations.   As a new executive officer, I am focused on gaining a deeper understanding of the structure of the organization and its committees, how it functions, and the impacts of its programs. Getting to know ACRL really well is critical so that I can help to create an even better and more sustainable organization that anticipates and serves the future needs of academic libraries. What’s good for our academic libraries is also good for our association.

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I was pleased to catch up with Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University and the Association of College and Research Libraries vice-president/president-elect.  Steven is an expert on academic librarianship, learning technologies, design thinking, user experience and library management.  Steven blogs at Kept-Up Academic Librarian, ACRLog, and Designing Better Libraries, a blog about design thinking and library user experiences. His column “From the Bell Tower” appears weekly in Library Journal’s Academic Newswire. 

 

In the first of two segments, Steven shares some of his own strategies for keeping up with the key trends on the library landscape.

Mike:  As you look at the academic landscape, what trends do you see that will have important implications for academic libraries and librarians? 

Steven:  Assessment is a critical focus for academic libraries today.  Libraries make enormous investments in databases, monographs and journals that are needed for teaching and research and yet we continue to face significant resource challenges on a number of fronts.  A range of economic challenges is putting a dampening effect on endowments, grants and gifts.  Constraints on state funding have been a particular challenge for public institutions lately, such as in Pennsylvania where we were hit with a 20% cut in state funding for higher education.  To maximize limited resources, there is pressure for institutions to be more productive, to focus on meeting user needs, and to quantify outcomes in terms of teaching, learning and research. Our institutions, and our libraries, need to demonstrate and provide evidence that students are graduating with the skills we claim they earn here – and that we are improving our graduation rates so that students end up with diplomas and knowledge for the workplace – not just the burden of debt.

There is also a challenge in terms of sustainability.  How can a higher education system with 3,000 to 4,000 institutions continue to scale in this type of environment?  New online, low cost institutions also present a challenge since many people do not care for traditional higher education and are looking to find an easier and more direct way to get their diploma and advance their career.

Technological change is happening at such a rapid pace that libraries need to be looking for disruptive innovations which are on the horizon.  Think for a moment about the new Piazza service which allows students to talk together about the best way to complete a homework assignment.  How could an academic library be part of such a service?  Would the library want to be part of such a service?  We need to be asking these questions.

Mike: In “From the Bell Tower” you have highlighted the importance of newly minted academic librarians making an effort to stay up to date with the changes that are occurring on the academic landscape.  Why do you feel that this is so important?

Steven:  Typically, academic librarians are reading Library Journal and American Libraries and many are following library blogs that they started reading early in their careers.  They are also tracking key developments in the field through more in-depth academic library publications such as College and Research Libraries, College and Research Library News, and The Journal of Academic Librarianship.  These sources are important to stay current on what is happening in libraries and the research domain, but I have long advocated that librarians move beyond core publications to gain an even deeper understanding and appreciation of what is happening in the broader academic environment.

In the larger scheme of things, it is critical for both new and more established academic librarians to develop their own personal e-strategy for keeping up.  We need to cast a wide net to understand opportunities and challenges that are on the landscape.  We must strive to anticipate impacts from challenges to state funding, shifts in technology, or the recent sale of Blackboard.  By keeping up, academic librarians add value in new ways and increase their leadership role on campus. Even though they’ve recently graduated, new librarians are not exempt from this responsibility, and in that column I urged them to go beyond the literature of librarianship to explore the issues of the day confronting higher education.

I know that the demands on librarians continue to increase and that keeping up is not easy and can be very time consuming. Initially, I would suggest that you start with only 30 minutes per day if that is all the time that you can spare. Keep your commitment manageable and try to expand it over time.

Mike: What tools and technologies do you recommend for doing this successfully?

Steven: More than a decade ago, I created my Keeping Up web site which offers good information on tools and sources for staying up to date.  It has a lot of good ideas to get started.  I recommend beginning with RSS feeds and email alerts from web sources and then experimenting with web page change detection services.

Also, it is important to point out that libraries often overlook their own database services as a source of RSS feeds and email alerts.  As an example, I do saved searches and alerts for “design thinking” and I get table of contents updates from many business and library publications. Alerts and RSS feeds from ProQuest and other information services consolidate updates from many sources and this can result in significant time savings.

Mike: What are the news sources that offer the most current, reliable, and insightful information on key academic library trends?

Steven: I also have created a blog to support librarians in following latest academic trends, The Kept Up Academic Librarian.  In addition to subscribing to this blog, I recommend that librarians subscribe to updates from Inside Higher Education and The Chronicle of Higher Education to follow the latest developments in academia. ACRL and ARL are good sources of special reports relevant to academic libraries, such as the ACRL Environmental Scan and the Top Ten Trends reports. You won’t miss these if you subscribe to the ACRL Insider newsletter.

I also recommend The New York Times Education, Business and Technology sections.  Months ago, I learned in The New York Times about the social networking service for students helping students in doing their homework called Piazza. I had not heard of this emerging service anywhere else and it could have important implications for librarians who often play this role.  Other good sources to surface this type of insight include University Business, Library Journal Academic Newswire, MIT InfoTech Updates (some content is fee-only), and Harvard Business Review Blogs.

Mike: What about Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn?  How can academic librarians best use social media to keep up with the latest developments? 

Steven: These sources are great in some ways but the amount of noise within these channels can be problematic.  You need to limit yourself to following a handful of people within these communities. It is critical that they be people who have demonstrated ability to stick to the meaty stuff.  You need to determine the noise level that you are willing to accept in exchange for an occasional timely article or unique insight.   

Of course, these tools can be useful and valuable to achieve a variety of other objectives, beyond your keeping up efforts. Personally I do not use LinkedIn owing to the overload of unsolicited requests for contacts, but I do understand its value for jobseekers and those who want to establish a professional network – although I think there are better ways that academic librarians can make those connections.

Mike: What advice would you give to new librarians who are just entering the profession?

Steven:  It is really important to get out of library and talk to other librarians in order to keep learning. You can just start locally by finding good people to talk to and identifying libraries to visit.  I have been doing this for 30 years and it is an important strategy to keep up and to continue to learn more.   If you stay focused just within in your own library, you can have blinders on and miss some of the most important things that are happening within the library profession and the academic environment.

I would also encourage new LIS graduates to be active in professional organizations.  There is a time commitment involved but organizations are an important vehicle for networking, sharing best practices, and continuing education in the profession. Many organizations offer webinars that are free or no cost. These learning opportunities offer an excellent vehicle to learn new skills and expand your horizons.

Finally, it is important to remember that library science as a discipline is really all about doing research which enhances libraries and their ability to make a difference.  For this reason, I think that a key focus for new graduates should be identifying new research needs and conducting research which identifies answers. It is important for new professionals to contribute their research talents in a way that contributes to the continued development and enhancement of the field.

That said, I know it is a significant challenge to start a research agenda, especially when new to the profession. Those who go into academic librarianship may find themselves on the tenure track, and they must engage as researchers for career success – and their institutions will likely encourage and support it. I’ve always advocated research, writing and presenting as important professional development activities, regardless of whether one has tenure status or not. Those who need help will be glad to know that ACRL offers several different mentoring programs for those seeking support for research and writing from experienced colleagues.

Tomorrow in the second segment, Steven will focus on Driving Innovation and Managing Change in Academic Libraries.

Posted by: mhdiaz | October 25, 2011

Why are Our Library Collections Managing Us?

Jane Burke returns to InfoViews for a new series – Crushed by the Tsunami: Are Libraries at Sea?  The focus of this series is resource and data management challenges and their implications for demonstrating library impact and value.  In her third post, Jane discusses issues with selection and acquisitions. 

- Mike

Last week, I said that lack of interoperability to and from the ILS is one major challenge impacting staff productivity.  Another one is the current “un-integrated” state of selection and acquisitions processes.

In the olden days of print collections, selection was done on a title-by-title basis, with decisions usually recorded on cards.  When it was deemed time to order a title, it was entered into the ILS as a “brief” record, and a purchase order was generated to the supplier chosen at point-of-card.  Once received, the physical item was routed to cataloging, where a full bibliographic record was imported from OCLC.  This workflow preceded the ILS, but the ILS was then designed to support this workflow.  It was also a monographic workflow, since selection of print journal titles typically went through the selected jobber.

Then along came approval plans, journal full text databases and ebooks.  Selection of resources, especially e-resources, became more package-based.  Negotiating a license agreement with the publisher or aggregator became a necessary, added step.  The selection librarian spent more and more time on the suppliers’ sites, establishing lists and fund information there.

The unprecedented pace of change in library collections has been hard on library staff.  Subject specialists are forced to “shop” multiple supplier sites, and then to negotiate every price.  (At a recent focus group, a librarian told us that she felt that this was an unsolvable situation, due to the myriad of agreements, buying clubs and discounts.  The data entered on the supplier site must be re-entered into the ILS , since this is where the fund accounting for the library lives.)  And then the invoice comes, the actual pricing gets re-entered into the ILS.  Or maybe not – maybe it’s entered into the ERM system, also not integrated.  Or maybe it’s entered into both.

PDA (patron-driven acquisition) has further increased the pain associated with collection management.  While users are able to automatically “acquire” items, there are numerous duplicative processes behind the scenes.  Bibliographic records from the e-book supplier need to be loaded – and often modified – to be available to users.  The financial controls exist only in the supplier systems, and not in the ILS.  More duplicative data entry takes place later to reconcile the sources.

Because the library system is made for print collections, it is getting harder and harder to work with it.  Multiple manual data entry steps are necessary to have it be the “system of record” for acquisitions.  In many cases, libraries no longer spend the time, and are thus forced to be looking at and reporting from multiple systems.

At a time when the library must become more metrics-based, these flaws in our systems are in our way.  It’s no wonder that librarians are increasingly “feeling the pain” as their collection continues to evolve.

In Jane’s next post, she will discuss challenges related to cataloging processes and workflows.

Chris Cowan, ProQuest’s VP Publishing, continues his occasional series on InfoViews.  Unlocking the Value in News Content and Solutions focuses on the transformations that are occurring in the news sector and implications for cost, quality, and accessibility of news content for libraries, researchers, and the wider world.

–Mike

 

My family lives on the edge of small town (4,300 pop.) about twenty miles west of Ann Arbor, MI. We enjoy the quiet pace of life in the town, the friendliness of the community and its commitment to the local library.  As you drive into town, welcoming signage boasts of ALA’s 2008 recognition as the best small library in the U.S., in addition to various state championships won by the local high school athletic teams.  Chelsea is a small town and proud of it.

As I type these words in the evening, I imagine sitting on our deck facing the south and gazing upon a large, vibrant flower garden which my wife so patiently nurtures. Her garden commingles with our backyard which, in turn, yields to fields and then woods.  As dusk descends at the end of this summer’s day, the magic of the evening begins with a growing crescendo of at least four species of frogs.  In the midst of bucolic splendor, I can hear their distinctive calls. They croak, chirp, and bellow while assuming center stage as the sun disappears.  The day’s final act closes in the midst of their rhythmic banter and the night descends. 

Similarly, there is a night that has descended on the research community.

A little more than three years ago, Google made a bold move to extend beyond its well known Google Books initiative.  Google announced its intention to digitize a massive amount of newspaper archives. Google’s move created quite a stir especially in the library market with an audience of researchers eager to dig into digital historical news.  Visions of the world’s newspaper archive freely available on the web excited researchers and librarians alike.  And with its massive operational capacity for digitizing books now taking aim at newspapers, the landscape of historical newspaper research was certain to change.  There was much croaking, chirping, and bellowing in the research marketplace.

By applying highly efficient scanning and OCRing technology, securing digitization rights from numerous newspaper publishers, and including ProQuest as a partner, Google proceeded to unlock physical microfilm archives and made old news content accessible on the open web.  A total of 61 million pages from 2,400 newspapers were added.  And while Google achieved a significant accomplishment in building its archival news site and digitizing so much content, the project was not meeting Google’s expectations.  While some researchers appreciated the digital archive, they were apparently not numerous enough.  Google’s business opportunity was not sufficient to sustain the ongoing investment in building the site.

Almost as suddenly as it began, Google unexpectedly announced in May that it was changing direction with its newspaper initiative.  While it would continue to support the archival site and keep it running, Google would shut down its manufacturing operation and would not build further enhancements the Google News Archive site.  Very recently, there have been noticeable changes in the accessibility to the archives; there are likely to be more changes in the future.  The research transformations expected three years ago did not quite materialize.

So now there is a vacuum for historical news research on the open web. A night has descended, and the fanfare about a new day in digital news research has been quieted.  

But, I have to believe that the power of these digital archives to illuminate the past will not die.  There is important research value in securing and protecting these archives, in making them searchable in new ways and in utilizing new research tools to mine the richness of the written word on the “first draft of history.” 

So it prompts my questions. Do you see large-scale digital news archives having an opportunity to reemerge for a new day?  If so, what would be the best approach to enrich and viably sustain digital news archives and to secure their future?    

Chris will be speaking about the Future of Online Newspapers on Friday November 4 at 4:30 PM in the Carolina Ballroom at the 2011 Charleston Conference.

Related Posts:

Coming in From the Cold —The Changing Landscape for News Content

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