Thursday, June 2, 2011

Should librarians still be running libraries?

This is a provisional title question for my thesis. It could easily be "Should archivists still be running archives?" or "Should museum curators still be running museums?" and so on - the point being that with the growing influence of digital technology on the cultural sector, and all aspects of life, should the traditional roles that have always held dominion continue to do so? Should those roles be expanded upon, altered or relegated to sit alongside digital curators, digital librarians and the like?

And what is a library now anyway?

It can be observed that many cultural organisations have already ceased to be run by individuals trained inside the respective professions of the institutions they oversee, and, for good or ill, this decision often appears to have been made with fundamental business considerations in mind. The overall aim of this thesis is to examine the case for wider strategic considerations in digital library development specifically (in 'public' organisations), examining how digital collections can become linked to an organisation’s core business objectives while situating digital library activities within the larger picture of political, economic, social and technological interdependency in society.

Contained within this broad aim are various sub-objectives. A strong underlying question from a strategic point of view is whether current library organisational models should be adapted for digital collections or if an innovation model is essential to develop them. From another perspective: within the digital library domain (a largely collaborative environment with financial constraints), is it better to lead or to follow? If an organisation chooses to lead, what sort of strategy should they adopt, and with what level of risk? If they choose to follow, can they trust the accepted leaders in the domain? How does all this engage the next generation of users, in particular those from the massive majority that have no interest in a traditional library model?