University library autopsy report, 2050


“Unresponsive to mortality and desperately fatal. “
– Shakespeare

The university library is dead. Despite an early diagnosis, a bold denial of her increasingly severe symptoms led to her deterioration and demise. The university library has died on its own, largely neglected and forgotten by a world that once revered it as the heart of the university. On his deathbed, he could be heard muttering curses at Google and something about a former library guru named Ranganathan.

Although the causes of death are innumerable, the following autopsy report highlights some of the key factors.

1. Book collections have become obsolete. The fully digital collections of almost every book in the world have made physical book collections unnecessary. Individual students now pay subscriptions to one of the leading e-book providers for unlimited access. The books can be viewed online at any time or downloaded to a portable device. Some colleges have opted for institutional subscriptions to digital book collections, managed by their IT departments. Most of these collections came from physical libraries, which signed their own death warrants with agreements to digitize their books.

2. Library instruction was no longer necessary. To compete with a new generation of search engines, database editors have been forced to create more user-friendly tools, on pain of being forgotten. As databases became more intuitive and easier to use, instruction from the library on using archaic tools was no longer necessary. Almost all of the remaining questions could be answered by faculty (see # 3) or IT staff (see # 4). It is in large part the work of university librarians that has led to most of these advances in database technology.

3. Information literacy was fully integrated into the curriculum. As professors incorporated information literacy into their teaching, it became part of the general college curriculum. It was the persistence of librarians, who in the last days of the university library lost confidence in their ability to impart useful knowledge to students, that led to the universal adoption of information literacy standards at campus scale developed by the Association of College and Research Libraries. Librarians also played a key role in developing new curricula that included information literacy.

4. Libraries and librarians have been subsumed by information technology departments. The library buildings have been converted into computer labs, study spaces and headquarters for information technology departments. The development of the collection has become a simple matter of maintaining the database subscriptions recommended by the professors. Cataloging has become the exclusive competence of sellers of digital book and journal collections (who have often hired former librarians to help them with the process). Some of the rest of the former librarians have now accepted jobs in the information technology departments of their colleges.

5. Referral services have disappeared. They were replaced by constantly improving search engines and social networking tools, as well as computer helpdesks that were relatively inexpensive to operate. Without having to worry about faculty rank, tenure, and professional salary scores, most colleges report roughly the same level of student satisfaction for a fraction of the cost. It was librarians who first provided the evidence – through the development of “tiered referral” services, in which initial questions were asked by non-librarians – that queries could be answered by low-cost employees. salary (including students) with minimal training.

6. The economy has won out over the quality. Some administrators admit that the old model of libraries and librarians produced theoretically superior results than the new model: personalized service, professional research assistance, access to quality sources of information. But so few students took full advantage of the resources available that the services were no longer economically justifiable. Since finding the right resources has become so easy and inexpensive, paying a lot more for the best was no longer an option for the perpetually strapped for cash. It was the widespread adoption of early tools like Wikipedia and Google Scholar by librarians that opened the door to the realization that academic libraries and traditional librarians were a consumable luxury.

At the same time, the death of the university library is hailed by many as a step forward and the next logical step in the evolution of information.

In summary, it is quite possible that the life of the university library might have been spared if the last generation of librarians had spent more time charting a realistic path to the future and less time chasing outdated trends while at the same time. mindlessly chanting mantras like “There will always be books and libraries” and “People will always need librarians to show them how to use information.” We will never know now what kind of treatment might have worked. Librarians have planted the seeds of their own destruction and are responsible for their own downfall.


Comments are closed.