Library Deconstruction Libraries deconstructed

Libraries exist because the principle of localized storage for copies of academic works makes sense. The perceived needs of their customers and the height of their budget determine the number and nature of the copies they will store: it defines their collections. The location of storage is also the location of access. The customers know where to go when in need of certain copies and the library staff knows where to start offering their services. One location therefore serves at least three functions: storage, access and service. Without ignoring the importance of how financial, social, logistical, sociological and psychological factors have determined the nature of ancient and modern libraries, it is the sheer physicality of the collected items that is the most important raison d'etre for any library. Books have a size and weight: their spatial inertia is fundamental in bringing the three functions together on one spot.

With the advent of the Internet and the possibilities of online publishing a very large number of items have changed drastically in a large number of collections. In the move from atoms to bits the documents have become easy to transport and easier to store. It's easy to see, in abstract terms at least, that the three functions of access, storage, and service are no longer necessarily tied to one location. This deconstruction of the library is relevant for library staff, but it is not overly relevant to the academia in general. At least not yet. Relatively well understood inertia in the processes of scientific and scholarly communication almost guarantees that the pragmatics and semantics of the stored items in a collection have remained fairly constant over last ten years or so. Indeed, in the transformation form bits to atoms most documents are not substantially different from their equivalents on paper. The real difference is on the level of logistics, of handling the documents. This of course is why the Internet revolution has quite an impact on libraries, who have their natural habitat in this logistical domain, and less impact on the academia itself.

In the abstract the deconstruction is not hard to understand. If the functions can be separated spatially, they can separated organizationally. Storage, access, and services could become the core business of three separate organizations. The only problem is to make it happen :). Allow me a few quick remarks.

Storage: storage should become the main concern of those who produced the scholarly work. It in effect means that universities should provide on line access. Let's use the term repositories for this.

Access: access is ideally done by communities of scholars. Based on what is stored in the repositories, a selection has to be made. Access and distributed storage is the model.

Services: Services is also ideally done by the above mentioned communities. Quality control, alerting services, personalization, and what have, could be organized here. The question here is where to store the information the services are built on: in the repositories? or on portal like websites per community?

Ellermann (in-between blog)


What We Should be Thinking About -- Tue, 15 Jun 2004 09:46:20 -0400 reply
This list came from the ASIS conference:

Productivity and IT -- Thu, 23 Sep 2004 15:34:15 -0400 reply
"Emperiacal evidence indicates that decentralized organization characterized by sefl-directed work teams, with higher levels of individual decision authority introduce IT more quickly and effeciently.

What We Do -- Tue, 18 Oct 2005 12:28:44 -0400 reply
The computer- and network-mediated access of information acts as an intermediary between the people and their information assets. Enabled by modern software technology, this intermediary can have many capabilities and complex behaviors. Our challenge is to organize the functionality and interfaces of this intermediary in a way that is most natural, pleasant, and effective for its social context.

What We Do 2 -- Sun, 02 Nov 2008 10:10:28 -0600 reply
— Information design and architecture, working with information in a variety of forms including text, images, multimedia, and other data (including scientific data). The primary activity in this area is the Cheshire digital library system, which has been developed as a means of organizing and classifying information so that it can be navigated, searched, retrieved, and analysed.

— Document engineering, which supports the parsing, transformation, and reuse of data in a variety of formats. The primary activity in this area is the Multivalent digital preservation architecture, which has been developed as a means of presenting and reusing information.

— Computational Linguistics, which includes developing and implementing methods of lexical parsing (based primarily on the work of Professor Mike Hoey in the School of English); vocabulary and thematic analysis; metadata reuse; ontological and lexical resources; scalable information retrieval, and scalable data mining.

— Digital Preservation, which supports the long-term management of data and all aspects of information lifecycle management. The primary activity in this area is in the joint development and use of data grid middleware, in particular the iRule Oriented Data System project at SDSC, to build the next generation of data management cyberinfrastructure.

— Digital Library Services, which supports the ongoing service infrastructure of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). We use the technologies in a variety of library and archives services, including the Archives Hub national service and the Incunabula Short-Title Catalogue (ISTC) for the British Library.

— Virtual Research Environments, which support the use of the above technologies to enable researchers to collaborate virtually on analytic applications. Our primary work in this area is with the JISC VRE programme as well as the EU funded BERNSTEIN project on the analysis of paper and bibliographic materials.