the library of the future – Oxford 2009-04-02

In this and subsequent posts I shall explore some ideas on the library of the future, being catalyzed by the following invitation from Rachel Bruce of The JISC:

…I’m now writing on behalf of the JISC and the Bodleian Library to invite you to speak at an event that will explore the future library on 2 April 2009.

The event will be in the style of a question time panel, before questions are put to the panel a number of key stakeholders will present their perspective on their requirements. I thought you’d be a […] speaker and member of the panel able to give the perspective of a researcher. … we’d like you to speak about your information needs, how you undertake your research and what you, as a researcher, need to remain relevant and to produce new and innovative research.

The event will run from 2pm – 6.30pm and should have an audience of 150 -200. It will be held at the University of Oxford.

The purpose of the event is to consider some of the key challenges that will shape the library of the future. So in effect key issues libraries need to respond to if they are to survive. The types of issues we expect to be raised include: skills for the future librarian from marketing to data curation, the need to foster partnerships between public and private sectors as well as working across the organsiation ( university ); the need for a heightened understanding of the changing user base and increasingly diverse needs of users; future information needs of researchers and what will they need to undertake their research and how to serve the citizen.

We are hoping this event, with the aid of high profile speakers, will serve to make a high profile statement to libraries about how they need to respond to support research and society more generally into the future and in the digital age.

I’m very excited about this and I’m starting to think and do some browsing (I won’t call it “research”). I shall blog from time to time as I go through – I shall be provocative but, I hope, constructive.

The main question has to be “what is a library?”, moderated by “what is it for?” **in the current century**. Unless we can answer those questions, and the second one in a constructive manner – then the rest of the discussion is likely to be ill-directed.

So I have started by trying to ask “what is the Bodleian Library for?” I may try to moderate it by looking at colleges on Oxbridge, specifically Balliol and Churchill. Both have archives, but with a wide difference in content and approach.

I’m taking a pragmatic approach.

If, as a citizen of the world with no special privileges, I can’t find a resource on the web within 5 mnutes then it doesn’t exist..

I am not a historical researcher who can travel to read medieval documents – I require them to be online and transcribed into accessible twenty-first century documents. And although in practice I would probably enlist the actual help of librarians/archivists at Bodley, Balliol and Churchill I am doing this deliberately blind. I ask forbearance from anyone whose collections I may apparently criticize – I have unreserved admiration for all who curate the past and present and know how difficult this is with limited resources.

I am a scientist so will start with a hypothesis:

“The stated purpose of libraries at Oxford and Cambridge is to glorify God and promote His Kingdom on earth”. This purpose has not been formally modified

Since Cambridge and Oxford are about 800 years old (Cambridge celibrates its 800th anniversary this year) there may have been minor deviations from this purpose (kings and primeministers have sometimes tried to steer away from this) but our charters and other founding documents willl confirm the hypothesis. (I do not have enough resource to do a proper study, so in the spirit of the collaborative electronic age I will be delighted to see whether the blogosphere can help).

Let’s start with the history and statutes…

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2 Responses to the library of the future – Oxford 2009-04-02

  1. Peter, could I suggest a slight modification or addition to your project?
    I, as a librarian, have a strong allergy to thinking of libraries as buildings or materials. I am not a building. I am not a book. I am a human being and a professional, and I am not (or at least should not be!) constrained by the building I work in or the scope of object I work with.
    Please consider asking “What are librarians for?” I venture to predict that you will arrive at answers that are more useful for both librarians — and libraries.

  2. Pingback: Caveat Lector » Blog Archive » Provocative statements

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