31 March 2010

The future of national libraries

Just out online is THRIVING or SURVIVING? National Library of Scotland in 2030, by David Hunter & Karen Brown.

It contains food for thought for policy folks dealing with reorienting their memory organizations.

According to the report the key challenges faced by national libraries in 20 years’ time were identified in the research as:

• making sure national libraries’ services are relevant to a wide range of users; developing beyond traditional user groups to embrace the general public and society as a whole;
• seizing the opportunities offered by digitisation and being proactive in coordinating digitisation in the library sector taking the lead in finding solutions to the legal issues around Legal Deposit in order to ensure that digitisation programmes are fully realised;
• making use of the latest technology to offer innovative services to the public, particularly important in meeting the challenge from other information providers such as Google;
presenting the case for funding effectively to governments by actively lobbying and promoting national libraries and their role as the ‘keeper’ of the nation’s cultural heritage; (my emphasis)
• creating organisations whose leaders can implement change and whose workforce are flexible and appropriately skilled;

The number of times Google was mentioned struck me. Here are a few:

Many of these mass digitisation initiatives have been partnerships between commercial organisations and major research libraries, most notably the Google Library Project.

If Google Scholar has everything at the click of a mouse, will customers of the future need to or want to use a national library for online research?

... over 70 percent of researchers go to Google routinely for scholarly content

“I sit in one of the largest national libraries in the world and if I want to know something, I Google it.”

... if they can get the information they want independently (currently from services like Google or Wikipedia), then they will do so.

“National libraries will find it difficult to justify expenditure on preservation and physical access when funders will say ‘you can get this on Google’.”

“National libraries need to show they can answer your question better than Google - a more in-depth experience.”

“We have a lot to learn from Google Scholar as we don’t create interactive user experiences very well (libraries have a very ugly interface) and we are competing with other, better services offered to the public.”

“Whoever the Google is in 20 years’ time it is important that national libraries collaborate with them. It is unlikely that national libraries will have the funds to compete directly therefore we need to work with these organisations in mutually beneficial ways.”

Read the full report in pdf at: www.nls.uk/about/policy/docs/future-national-libraries.pdf

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