2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College Columbia University

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Seminar on the Future of Libraries

Imagine activating a robot to find a book for you, scan the chapter of the book you need to use, and deliver it over the network to your office computer. According to James G. Neal, Dean of University Libraries and Sheridan Director of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins University, this system is not a just a sci-fi fantasy.

"The Future of Libraries" is a series of five lectures about libraries in general, said Gary Natriello, Associate Professor of Sociology and Education and chairperson of the Seminar Planning Committee. These lectures examine the needs of library users and society and also begin an intellectual discussion on possible changes to the TC library. Some of the lecturers and topics include: Allen Renear, "What Text Really Is - And What That Means for the Design of Digital Libraries" and Virginia Moore Kruse, "Supporting Instruction with Special Collections of Children's Literature."

The dilemma that libraries face, Natriello said, is that all of their resources are currently engaged. For example, today's technology may get rid of card catalogs, but more space may be needed for computer terminals. Also, when libraries make a change such as shutting down a reading room, the effects are felt immediately. Transitions are often tough.

The first lecture was given by Neal, a graduate of Columbia University (MA, History; MS, Library Science; and doctoral candidate in Library Science) and was hosted by the Milbank Memorial Library. His lecture was called, "Libraries of the Future: Will there be one?"

Neal said that libraries such as the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins are "advancing away from the traditional or industrial age library, a model which is not sustainable into the next century."

"The combined impact of digital and network technologies, globalization of education and scholarship, and increased competition for resources will produce a very different library at Hopkins by 2010," said Neal.

He said that user expectations are high in this era of electronic, network, and cellular revolution. Not only do people want fast results, but new generations want interactive, graphic and individualized information. Neal said that today's consumers control their own environments. They want to purchase goods and services on their time by using devices such as ATM machines and vending machines.

Neal said an answer to this problem is a "virtuous library," which is a library that is in partnership with academic units, the government, publishers and commercial sectors. This library would combine the advantages of digital sources such as accessibility, availability and searchability along with the advantages of print sources such as portability, durability and mark-upability.

There are also issues of preservation and copyright laws that apply to both digital and print information. Neal asks, What role does information have in society? Information can be sold, used and purchased. Questions of public domain and fair use come into play.

He sees the librarian as part of the "academic researcher team-not just in a customer service relationship with faculty members."

In order to change the libraries to keep up with this information revolution, according to Neal, libraries are going to need to reallocate funds, modify physical spaces and make changes at the organizational level.

Neal said the library is using technologies that already exist, but putting them together in different ways such as the robot that takes out books at remote locations. Not only does the robot get, scan and send the information to an office computer, but the scanned information will be translated into other languages. The images will then be deposited in an archive that will be available to future users.

The Digital Knowledge Center in the Hopkins library has also embarked on a series of "digital multimedia projects in collaboration with researchers in several disciplines."

One of these projects is "the scanning of the 25,000 item Levy Sheet Music Collection into a searchable database. Neal said that the next task is to apply a software program that will read the musical notation and produce a digital sound presentation of the work that would also be searchable by a user singing a phrase or humming a bar of the music."

All these different avenues of communication and research have caused chaos. Roles are not so easily defined. Anyone can play the roles of author, publisher, buyer or reader on the Web. Neal quoted, "order breeds habit while chaos breeds life."

Allen Renear, Director of the Scholarly Technology Group at Brown University and President of the Association for Computers and the Humanities, discussed how a conceptual model of information works, in order to help librarians understand how to organize information for easier retrieval.

In his talk, "What Text Really Is - And What That Means for the Design of Digital Libraries," Renear said the making of new standards is important with all the new technology used in accessing and processing information. Renear participates in groups that help to formulate these standards. He encourages the public to get involved in making standards as it will deeply effect the future of information technology. Currently, he is working on creating standards for the e-book.

By looking at how information is put together in a document, subparts can be organized better. Searching capabilities would include chapters of books and subheadings using powerful new tools of research, said Renear. These new search techniques will change research for the better.

Natriello described it as the architecture of information within a document, almost at a molecular level. "If you have powerful technical tools to process a document, you need to use the tools to get at different pieces of information."

Libraries need to think about the organization of information, physical space and the actual collections that they will have available to help their customers.

Virginia Moore Kruse, shared thoughts about the role of the library in support of teachers and other educators in her talk," "Supporting Instruction with the Special Collections of Children's Literature."

Kruse is the Director of the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC), a non-circulating library of children's books for adults with academic or professional interest in children's literature, in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The CCBC puts much time and effort into outreach in the state of Wisconsin and beyond. Some of their efforts include: appointments for students and faculty members who are thinking about their courses, providing opportunities for people on campus to hear from authors, illustrations, editors and publishers on specific topics, and multicultural events that target books from specific cultures.

The collection consists of three main parts: the collection of Wisconsin authors and illustrators, the alternative press, and the current section that includes all the books that are published for that year, said Kruse. Also, there is a historical section that is no longer growing, but has "a fine cross section of children's literature from the 20th century and earlier."

Since teachers need to be constantly kept up to date, the CCBC tries to help keep teachers informed without the retail environment that most conferences have. Kruse said this outreach to pre-service and in-service teachers will help to prevent them from falling back on favorite methods and ideas when they are teaching. The staff at the CCBC can give informed guidance on their up-to-date collections.

Kruse said that the CCBC receives about four to five thousand children's books per year from children's book publishers. The Center keeps about 400 in its permanent collection based on potential interest, the quality of the book and how it could be used for research purposes.

When Kruse was asked about historical books and how racially sensitive materials in them should be used, she responded that "people of color realize that they didn't see their heritage mirrored accurately in literature for kids."

With the understanding that kids won't be using them, she suggests keeping these older books and learning from them. "These books inform us of the understanding of what people thought children should enjoy. That's the historical record of this country, and there's a lot we can learn from that."

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