Library Technology

State of America's Libraries Report 2011

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The digital revolution: Tough challenges and exciting possibilities

A decade into the 21st century, the digital revolution shows no signs of slowing, and the library community is both struggling to keep up and envisioning future library services that incorporate new philosophies, new technologies and new spaces to meet the needs of all users more effectively than ever before.

The changes “go beyond merely incorporating technological advances to include rethinking the very core of what defines a library — the sense of place, of service, and of community that has characterized the modern library for the last century,” Jennifer C. Hendrix writes in a brief, “Checking Out the Future: Perspectives from the Library Community on  Information Technology and 21st-Century Libraries (PDF),” published by the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP).

The importance of these questions served as a major impetus for the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) to create the Program on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century in 2008. Library experts and leaders are now exploring all aspects of the future of American libraries and developing recommendations for the library community and its stakeholders.

The brief, one of several the OITP has published on the revolution in information technology and its implications for the future of libraries, presents a summary of the literature devoted to the future of public, academic, school and other libraries in the face of the technological revolution. It discusses how technology is changing the fundamental forms of information; how these new forms are changing the way people find, access, and use information; and the changes in core library missions and services that will result from these new behaviors.

The brief discusses how the technological revolution might:

  • Change libraries’ need for physical space (as a home for collections, a community center an online virtual destination, or some combination of these).
  • Alter the basic notions of what a book, or a journal, or a database ––.looks like.
  • Change library professionals’ ideas on how to organize, store and distribute information.
  • Affect school (and other) librarians’ support for information literacy in physical and digital environments.
  • Significantly alter the way library users find, absorb, even “read” information because of advanced metadata tagging, advanced search algorithms and networked books.

“The implementation of technological advances is accomplished most effectively by determining user needs,” Hendrix says. “Once these needs have been identified, librarians and administrators can design the flexible spaces, the innovative programs and the adaptable services that will provide information in a manner appropriate for individual users.”

Hendrix concludes: “By embracing the possibilities of the 21st century, librarians can ensure the relevance and value of the services they and their institutions provide. Yet even as the nature of the library and the work of the librarian change, the librarian will continue to play an essential role in the provision of those services. The nature of the landscape may shift, but the need for a navigator will remain.”

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IMLS project addresses need for 21st Century learning

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) organized a national campaign in 2010-2011 aimed at helping libraries, museums and civic leaders assess and meet the learning needs of their communities and contribute to a shared vision for 21st century learning.

“Making the Learning Connection” is helping libraries and museums envision and define their roles as institutions of learning in the 21st century and enhancing understanding among policymakers and other stakeholders about the integral roles libraries and museums play in creating an engaged citizenry and competitive workforce. Representatives from local public, academic and school libraries and museums are participating in a series of forums, each of which ends with a set of action steps designed to encourage collaboration among libraries, museums and community stakeholders.

Marsha L. Semmel, then acting director of the IMLS, defined 21st century skills as including “fluency in information, media and technology skills, the ability to analyze information and the ability to think critically about that information that is bombarding us from so many media sources every day.”

Semmel continued: “Really this is a national and international conversation that has arisen with the rise of the global economy, with the enabling of a whole new set of technologies that allow people to be connected in different ways, the need to understand non-routine, non-repetitive work and the need to be able to do that work. . . . Libraries and museums have always been about education and learning. They have always provided important collections, powerful experiences and sources of knowledge and information. So libraries and museums have been evolving and changing to meet changing learning needs. They’ve been evolving from places that simply present knowledge and information to places that share knowledge and engage their communities and work with their communities to co-create experiences.”

The campaign is part of the IMLS’s continuing initiative to engage libraries, museums, and community stakeholders and policymakers in meeting the educational, economic, civic, and cultural needs of communities. The campaign builds on the release of an IMLS publication, “Museums, Libraries and 21st Century Skills (PDF),” which provides an online self-assessment for libraries and museums to encourage a strategic approach to 21st century learning and a report for library and museum practitioners and policymakers.

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E-book use accelerates at academic and public libraries . . .


Library Journal and School Library Journal, and one-third (33 percent) of school libraries offer them

A few highlights from the survey:

  • Twelve percent of academic libraries circulate preloaded e-reading devices, while 26 percent are considering it. (Kindle topped the device chart at 81 percent, followed by Sony at 34 percent, iPad at 28 percent and Nook at 22 percent.)
  • Six percent of school libraries circulate preloaded e-reading devices, while 36 percent are considering it. (The Sony Reader led the way at 64 percent, Kindle followed at 47 percent, Nook at 15 percent and iPad at 4 percent.)
  • Five percent of public libraries circulate preloaded e-reading devices, while 24 percent are considering it. Kindle was the leader here.
  • Among academic libraries, social sciences was the discipline most likely to offer e-books (83 percent), followed by science at 82 percent, technology (80 percent), humanities (77 percent), medicine (69 percent) and law (51 percent).
  • In school libraries, children’s fiction topped the e-book charts at 51 percent, followed by reference (42 percent), children’s nonfiction (39 percent), children’s picture books (34 percent) and young adult nonfiction (24 percent) and fiction (23 percent).
  • And in public libraries, adult nonfiction led the way (86 percent), with adult fiction at 84 percent, bestsellers at 76 percent, young adult fiction at 69 percent and children’s fiction at 56 percent. Young adult nonfiction, children’s nonfiction, reference and children’s picture books “scored” less than 50 percent.

Highlights from the “eBook Survey” are available at No Shelf Required blog.

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. . . but a big publisher steps on the brake

In early March, HarperCollins, publisher of authors such as Anne Rice, Sarah Palin and Michael Crichton, announced that it will not allow any one copy of its e-books to be checked out from a library more than 26 times. After that, the license on the e-book will expire and libraries will have to decide whether to buy a new one, raising the possibility that e-books that are not repurchased would be available at the library for only about a year.

Many librarians fear that other publishers could adopt a similar model. They argue that the restrictions place an additional burden on financially strapped public libraries.

“This strikes at the heart of what we do,” said Mary Dempsey, Chicago Public Library commissioner, who described electronic media as the new virtual library. “With limited financial resources affecting all libraries across America, people are asking, ‘Why would you do this?’”

HarperCollins, the nation’s second-largest publisher (behind Random House), takes another view.

“We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors,” the company said in a statement.

For most libraries, e-books are only a small percentage of circulated items but represent the fastest-growing segment. The Chicago Public Library, for example, doubled its circulation of e-books, from 17,000 in 2009 to more than 36,000 in 2010.

Most e-books, like their hard-copy cousins, are loaned for three weeks, after which they become unavailable on the reading device and must be downloaded again. Librarians say the procedure should remain the same for e-books and printed books.

“When we purchase a print copy, we get to keep it for as long as we want,” said Audra Caplan, president of the Public Library Association. “It may eventually wear out or not circulate, but that’s our choice.”

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Technology briefs: Librarians (and others) learn to embrace the Cloud

Discussion among librarians has shifted from whether to embrace the Cloud to how best to use it, and its importance is evident from the fact that the ALA’s Library and Information Technology Association made the Cloud –– the metaphor for IT infrastructures that exist in a remote location and often give users increased capacity and less need for updates and maintenance –– the theme of its annual forum last year. In his keynote address at the LITA forum, Roy Tennant, senior program officer at OCLC, described cloud computing as a “huge paradigm shift” and, by way of illustration, created a website as he spoke using cloud-based tools (Drupal and Amazon Web Services). Tennant said much computing power is now available “on demand, like electricity” and highlighted some of the benefits of that to information professionals: outsourced infrastructure, greater flexibility, reduced barriers to innovation and lower start-up investments.

Teen Tech Week –– Who is the tech expert in your family? Many an adult would answer, “My child” –– or, perhaps, “My grandchild.” The question and its answers are of intense interest at public and school libraries nationwide, which responded by hosting technological workshops and events to help teens become safe and ethical users of social networks and technology. The programs were part of Teen Tech Week, March 6-12, an initiative sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association, the fastest-growing division of the ALA. The theme for Teen Tech Week 2011 was Mix and Mash @ your library, which focused on encouraging teens to use library resources to express their creativity by developing their own unique online content –– and safely sharing it by using online collaborative tools.

Individualizing technology –– Libraries are leveraging technology to create highly individualized experiences for an ever-growing scope of users, which Bipin Patel, chief information officer at ProQuest, calls “cracking the code of mass customization.” Jared Oates, SirsiDynix’s director of product strategy, told American Libraries that his company is looking at ways to be “local all over the world,” and Talin Bingham, SirsiDynix chief technology officer, said he imagines a time far in the future when neural network technology would produce relevant information to would-be searchers before they even begin searching. The unanswered question: How far?

Adapt to survive! –– The fragile national economy led some in the library community to warn that lack of money could derail the rapid adjustments necessary to remain relevant. “Libraries have adapted in the past, but we may not have the resources to adapt quickly enough to survive in the [future], especially if the public goes elsewhere for the services we are accustomed to providing,” John J. Callahan III, of Palm Beach County (Fla.) Library, told Library Journal. “For example, DVD circulation can be as much as 35 to 40 percent of current circulation. What happens when video is only downloadable? How will libraries fit into that model?”

Expanding high-speed Internet –– In an effort to expand broadband access and create jobs, the federal government awarded $765 million in grants and loans to 66 projects as part of a larger effort to stimulate the economy by expanding high-speed Internet to neglected communities. The awards, made in mid-2010 and distributed through the departments of Commerce and Agriculture, went to libraries, colleges, Internet service providers, communication companies and counties. “This is going to have an enormous impact on the country,” said Gary Bachula, vice president for external relations at Internet 2, a networking consortium that includes U.S. universities, corporations, government agencies, laboratories and international partner organizations. “We think that these technologies are capable of literally transforming the way health care is delivered, transforming the way education is delivered, completely changing the nature of how a community uses their library to be plugged into the world.” High-speed Internet, he said, will give rural communities more tools for education and better access to health care. All of that has an effect on moving the economy forward.”

A national digital public library? –– The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University announced Dec. 13, 2010, that it would host a research and planning initiative for a Digital Public Library of America. With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the center will convened a diverse group of stakeholders in a planning program Mar. 1 to define the scope, architecture, costs and administration for the proposed repository. Planning activities were guided by a steering committee of library and foundation leaders that brought together representatives of the educational community, public and research libraries, cultural organizations, private industry and state and local governments, plus publishers and authors, in a series of meetings and workshops to examine strategies for improving public access to comprehensive online resources.

Report on digitization –– Prospects for funding for digitization in the United States are much better than prospects elsewhere, according to a report released in December 2010 by Primary Reseach Group, with about 29 percent of U.S. survey participants considering the outlook for digitization funding good or excellent, while only 6 percent of those from other countries shared this optimism. The report is based on data costs, equipment use, staffing, cataloging, marketing, licensing revenue and other facets of digitization projects from almost 100 libraries and museums in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia and presents data separately for digitizers of photographs, film and video, music and audio, text and re-digitization of existing digital media. Data are also broken out by budget size, type of institution and other factors and are presented separately for various kinds of libraries and museums. Another key finding: 15 percent of the respondents used the servers of a third-party service for digital content storage; this was most popular in the United States, where one-sixth of respondents used a third-party service.

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