Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Future of Libraries and Digital Repositories

Robert Darnton, “The Library: Three Jeremiads,” New York Review of Books 57 (December 23, 2010): 22, 24, 26.

In his continuing series of essays on the future of books and libraries, Darnton examines “three especially difficult problems” challenging the future of academic libraries. These challenges include the costs of periodicals and the devastating impact on other library programs, the sustainability of libraries, and the prospects of a true national digital library rather than the commercialization of e-books. One of Darnton’s persistent comments is that how these challenges are generally not well understood by university faculty. One might surmise that faculty at a school like ours might be in a position to grasp the issues. I doubt it, at least when looking at our actions. In the discussion about the second jeremiad, Darnton considers open digital repositories, noting the reason why they exist as follows: “While prices continued to spiral upward, professors became entrapped in another kind of vicious circle, unaware of the unintended consequences. Reduced to essentials, it goes like this: we academics devote ourselves to research; we write up the results as articles for journals; we referee the articles in the process of peer reviewing; we serve on the editorial boards of the journals; we also serve as editors (all of this unpaid, of course); and then we buy back our own work at ruinous prices in the form of journal subscriptions—not that we pay for it ourselves, of course; we expect our library to pay for it, and therefore we have no knowledge of our complicity in a disastrous system.” Well, we have such a digital repository, and only a few faculty members here have used it.

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