The following post is the second in a new series from Leslie Lees, VP of Content Development from ebrary. Academic E-books – The Shifting Landscape discusses changes that are occurring with ebooks and implications for libraries and their users. –Mike
Recently at Book Expo in New York it was interesting to meet Steven Rosenbaum as he was signing copies of ‘Curation Nation.’ This new book was his contribution to the genre of meta titles on managing the flood of information that is being created on the web. Rosenbaum’s main point is that this flood needs to be filtered by people with expertise and passion for their interests and that the web provides many new tools for them to do so.
His argument is a positive one for the value proposition of academic librarians, who, after all, have been doing precisely this for centuries. But it becomes somewhat diluted when he stretches ‘curation’ to cover pretty much any and every example of user activity on the web — from home-grown news aggregations and hobby blogs to tweeting and reposting content and links on Facebook and YouTube.
If everyone is an expert then ultimately no one is. Andrew Keen’s point in ‘The Cult of the Amateur’ (quoted by Rosenbaum) is that curation in this sense is a democratic fiction. He makes the distinction that true gatekeepers must exercise professional judgment, a message which will surely resonate with academic librarians.
New user approaches to curation which leverage the “likes” and interests of digital communities represent significant challenges to the role for academic librarians as the collectors and authoritative gatekeepers for books and other information resources. To continue to thrive in this new environment, libraries must acknowledge that users are choosing whom to ‘trust’ as they navigate the flood of information available to them.
In the past, books in stacks were a physical incarnation of the library service. Librarians collected physical books because, as Rick Anderson tirelessly argues, they were bound in time and space, and libraries needed to have them on-site in case they were needed. Academic librarians understand that their collection development activities, far from creating a static pile of books, are, in fact, a valuable service. At the same time, they must also recognize that the user expectations for that service have changed. In the past, users had intuited that the aggregation and selections made by their librarians were enabling. Now, with books both ubiquitously available on the web and surfaced through a growing number and diversity of social media, users often perceive library channels for accessing this information to be limiting.
It would be difficult to prove the negative proposition that less (in the sense of selection) is better, but it is true that circulation statistics suggest that many of the selected books are not even read at all. In the digital age, when the constraints imposed by physical books are removed, libraries have the opportunity to deliver their services more directly and effectively to the point of need.
What is clear is that, as the new generation is turning away from gatekeepers whose authority they do not perceive intuitively, they are seeking out a new brand of authority that they can trust based on commonality of interest and on the ‘results’ generated by their recommendations.
Not even the most radical of digital futurists would wish that libraries would cease collecting books. They serve too many needs to vanish overnight. The challenge for academic librarians is to recognize how the trust of their users has been disaggregated and how this impacts user expectations for library services.
Corporate librarians have long dealt with the fact that they must share the trust of their users with colleagues, co-workers, and communities of interest. As librarians learn to understand and appreciate the ‘trust networks’ that are being created by the new generation of users, they will find new ways to contribute their expertise in support of a totally new value chain.
Deep understanding of user needs will be critical for academic librarians to embed their expertise into the research process and re-caste themselves within this new digital landscape by creating filters and tools that help users to navigate in a sea of diverse resources. Academic librarians must build a new brand of authority not through the curation of a collection, but instead through the curation of the discovery experience itself.