- scientific communication takes place through articles, whether pre-prints or post-prints, journal published or conference presented
- most articles of scientific value will be subjected to peer review of some form
- publisher websites provide acceptable access to articles, linked together online
- articles are also brief enough to be conveniently downloaded (and then typically printed)
Types of library:
- public library - provides access for general public to books (and secondarily to other published materials as well as transient formats like CDs, video cassettes, DVDs)
- academic library - provides access for university community to books and academic journals
- research library - provides access for researchers to books and academic journals
I assert that they public library still has some role to play as a community centre, and also because books are not (yet) convenient in electronic format.
Academic libraries have a role to play because undergrads don't know anything. Every year there are undergrads who need guidance, and the academic library is there to help them. Also, it is a good place to escape roommates, or find new potential bedmates.
Research libraries on the other hand, don't play any of these roles. There is no public to serve. There is no community meeting place role. There are no confused or desperate undergrads to help. So shouldn't a research library just
- digitize and index all of its current (out of copyright) paper holdings, and then send the paper into storage in some climate-controlled cave somewhere
- provide good licensed access to the necessary publisher websites for its researchers
- close down
Does anyone disagree that the traditional role of a research library, that of providing local convenient access to scientific publications, is erased by the presence of publisher websites on the Internet? That being the case, what value is left for research libraries to add? Researchers don't need (or want) the guidance or handholding that undergrads require. Is there anything left for the research library other than inventing new roles for itself? I can only see three roles that make sense:
- institutional repository for pre-prints and post-prints of the research organization's publications
- data repository for the research conducted at the organization
- providing advanced (data/publication/information/discovery/etc.) tools that integrate into the researcher's workflow
The first two roles are very much aligned with library and archiving roles, but may still require a bit of a revolution in how the organization sees itself. To put it more concisely, either your research library becomes part of the E-Science Cyberinfrastructure, or it gets paved over.
How is your research library dealing with this challenge? Have I missed something?
See previous and subsequent postings for some more ideas and thoughts in this area
- February 11, 2005 role for academic libraries: provide OA
- January 13, 2006 the role of the academic library and librarian
- February 12, 2006 academic libraries dislocated by technology?
- February 15, 2006 roles and challenges for the academic library in e-Science
UPDATE #2, 2006-02-15:
I have written my thoughts about the reaction to this posting in paved paradise: the future of (a particular type of) research library?