Riding the Waves of Content and Change

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Waves of change are crashing on the shores of the library profession. New media, new tools, new techniques, and new expectations collide to cause excitement, anxiety, confusion, and concern. It may be difficult to determine where we are and where we are going. At our present crossroads, it is useful to view the pressures and effects of change on our services as a matrix of commercial versus local on one axis and physical versus digital on the other. Interesting observations about the nature of content and our reaction to it can be made at the intersections of commercial and local with physical and digital. This essay uses these intersections to examine the waves of content coming to the library and our ways of managing it.

Jester's note: This is a slightly edited version of an article that appeared a recent edition of Panlibus Magazine from Talis.

The first wave

The first wave was that of commercial, physical material. This is what the library profession has been doing for a long time; selecting, acquiring, cataloging, shelving, and loaning content produced in a physical form by commercial publishers. The tools we had at hand (going back only through the 20th century) were physical items such as card catalogs for monographs, KARDEX for periodicals, book pockets and date due slips, and the emergence of computerized systems that replicated the workflow of these physical tools. This is familiar territory for most professionals, with time-tested policies and procedures as guidance.

Also part of this first wave is the management of local, physical material. This is usually in the form of special archive materials - content produced by the institution and/or curated one-of-a-kind items such as author manuscripts, correspondence, and other ephemera. An entire profession - that of an archivist - is devoted to this kind of material.

The second wave

The second wave coming to libraries was commercial, digital material. Starting in earnest during the previous decade, libraries received content - primarily electronic journals - in physical form from commercial publishers. Many of the tools from the first wave were repurposed to handle the workflow of this new kind of content while others, such as Electronic Resource Management Systems, were created. Initial experiments had libraries collecting the digital files themselves; more recently it is common for libraries to contract for access to content from publisher's websites. What it means to curate content under license from a publisher that may not be actually held within the boundary of the library's control, is a much-discussed topic, and we don't have the luxury of becoming comfortable with it before the third wave comes upon us.

The third wave

The third wave of content is now emerging: local, digital material. This is content that does not come through well-established channels from commercial publishers. It takes the form of article pre-prints/ post-prints, working papers, technical reports, datasets from experiments, slide collections, lecture notes and recordings, blogs, wikis, and corporate publications. To manage this new wave of content, a new suite of tools are emerging: content management systems, institutional repositories, e-print software, and collaborative writing applications.

Does the library have a role in managing local, digital material? Should the library have a role? The JISC/SCONUL Library Management Systems Study suggests it should. It described the impact of this new wave as "applying library expertise to new views of corporate intellectual assets, such as the long term management and 'exposure' of both research and undergraduate outputs, in a multimedia and collaborative world." ((Adamson, V., Bacsich, P., Chad, K., Kay, D., & Plenderleith, J. (2008). JISC & SCONUL Library Management Systems Study. p. 35. Retrieved April 17, 2008, from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/resourcediscovery/lmsstudy.pdf)) David Lewis, Dean of the University Library at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis, says the transition from purchased to open access content "will do more to reshape what libraries will be and do in the future… but this has not yet been carefully considered or broadly discussed." ((Lewis, D. W. (2007). A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century. College & Research Libraries, 68(5), p. 425. Also available from the IUPUI Digital Archive.))

In some sense, the break between the second and third waves is the difference between the management of content that is "done", versus the management of content as it is being created. In the first two waves, the library profession focused on the curation of knowledge published in a fixed form, usually by commercial publishers, in a reactionary manner towards the end of the content creation cycle. A focus on curating local, digital content, however, means that libraries can more directly insert their services at the point where content is being created.

One of the criticisms by authors of institutional repositories is the extra steps required to deposit their content into the library's repository, after going through the effort of submitting it to a publisher. ((For more on the difficulties research faculty see with institutional repositories, see Foster, N. F., & Gibbons, S. (2005). Understanding Faculty to Improve Content Recruitment for Institutional Repositories. D-Lib Magazine, 11(1). doi: 10.1045/january2005-foster.)) From their perspective, they are asking, "Why do I have to do this extra work for my published ('done') article?" What if, instead, the author stored their work-in-progress in a library service from the beginning? We could offer the promise of robust backups and versioning, collaborative writing tools, and access from anywhere. With the working draft on our servers, we could mine the text to suggest content from our curated stores, and even suggest potential collaborators based on similarities of works. And with the completed draft on our servers, "publishing" it in the institutional repository becomes a simple checkbox - "yes, make this public" - as we have already collected all of the necessary metadata that would go into the archive package in the repository.

Waves are crashing on the shores of our libraries. Waves of content that represent a fundamental shift from the physical to the digital, and the commercial to the local. Waves of change that form opportunities to evolve our services for library users by offering effective tools for the management of content, as it is created. Are you ready to ride the waves?

The text was modified to update a link from https://idea.iupui.edu/dspace/handle/1805/953 to https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/handle/1805/953 on January 28th, 2011.