UKSG Conference Report, part two

'Open, social, linked' content and the future of library collections discussed at UKSG's Harrogate event.

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Rick Anderson discusses the future of library collections

This sense of a radically different future for libraries was developed by Rick Anderson, Associate Director for Scholarly Resources and Collections at the University of Utah in his talk ‘The future of the collection is not a collection'. The purpose of a library, he argues, is not to build a collection - the purpose is to connect people to information.

In that context, the library today is a storefront, just one of many ways to access information, he notes. The traditional reference service is most often bypassed and is, in fact, unscalable. The University of Utah, for example, has a student population of 30,000 but the reference desk is staffed by just one or two librarians - if all the students actually used the reference desk, the service would collapse. OPACs, too, have been eclipsed as a discovery tool. With this in mind, Anderson looked ten years into the future and made some cautious predictions.

Patron-driven acquisition (PDA), the process by which acquisition is driven by library users, ‘is the new assumption,' according to Anderson, though he did note that it's not the only way. He described a future in which most academic print acquisition will be Print On Demand, and the smartphone will be the killer delivery app, ideal for content consumption in small chunks (though not for longer term reading sessions).

He forecasts that collecting behaviour will be bifurcated, with a small number of libraries such as at Harvard or Oxford Universities acting as ‘monuments to Western Civilization'. In contrast, local research institutions will focus on the local curriculum, and smaller scale institutions (such as community colleges in the US) will rely on Google Books and ‘just what's needed/just in time' delivery of materials. We will search primary documents, not proxy documents such as catalogue records, and the end result of all this is that library services will have become hard to distinguish from other educational services: ‘Collections still exist but their general marginality is now freely acknowledged'.

There are stumbling blocks to the adoption of this collection-less future, according to Anderson, not least ‘faint hearted library leaders' who are unwilling to help their libraries implement change - and implementing this change will lead to some difficult conversations. He also foresees tough times ahead for publishers in the face of customer focused competition from the likes of Google. ‘Some publishers will go out of business,' predicted Anderson, ‘because they can't make as much money selling people only what they want' compared to ‘bundling what they want with what they don't want'.

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