Libraries as Provisioner, Quartermaster, and Curator

Yesterday I heard Catherine Murray-Rust give a keynote at the Georgia Knowledge Repository workshop. She used the phrase, and I think I transcribed this correctly, “provisioning of knowledge” when describing the activities that institutional repositories can do. That phrase reminded me about a recent discussion on a mailing list (I can’t find it now) where people were seeking short definitions of what it is that libraries do. I think I have a new one: in your knowledge journey, libraries are your provisioner, quartermaster, and curator of resources.

Provisioner

pro·vi·sion \prə-ˈvi-zhən\ : to supply with needed materials (as food)1

This word makes me think of the task of setting up a ship for a long ocean voyage in the middle ages. Water, food, cloth, wax, tar — anything that would be needed. And that is one of the first things that libraries do. In the recent history of the profession I think the nearest analog would be just-in-case purchasing plans to put items on the shelf. Now it is a little more fluid — we seek to have the right e-journal subscriptions, e-book packages, and databases for our scholars, and those can change over time.

Integral here is the tension between over-provisioning and under-provisioning. Are we collecting content that will never be used? Are we not collecting and making available the content that is needed? Or are we getting it just right.

Quartermaster

quar·ter·mas·ter \ˈkwȯ(r)-tər-ˌmas-tər\ : an army officer who provides clothing and subsistence for a body of troops2

Making it easy to get to content. To be with you along the journey to help you get what you need at just the right time. This used to be a very hands-on activity — anyone remember mediated Dialog searching? The trends now towards self-service, or disintermediation, means that our systems have to be set up for users to serve themselves from our stores of content. But we have to have the right systems in place and put them where scholars can easily use them.

Curator

cu·ra·tor \ˈkyu̇r-ˌā-tər, kyu̇-ˈrā-, ˈkyu̇r-ə-\ : one who has the care and superintendence of something3

In addition to gathering resources and making them available to the scholar at the right place and time, we are also interested results and the major intermediary outputs of the research. We have a vested interest in ingesting the publishable results from research — if only to make them available to other scholars as the provisions on their journeys. We are also a suitable home for the datasets, conference proceedings, reports and other artifacts of the research process as granting agencies increasingly require these to be made available to subsequent researches as well.

Does this opening line to an elevator pitch about libraries — at least academic libraries — make sense to anyone else?

Footnotes

  1. Provision, Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary, accessed 10-Sep-2012 []
  2. Quartermaster, Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary, accessed 10-Sep-2012 []
  3. Curator, Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary, accessed 10-Sep-2012 []