Web Redesign
Art & World Cultures
Collection CoNEXTion
Dean's Desk
Book Repair
Why is it?
Librarians Who Read
Editors' Page

 Dean's Desk
Ralph Alberico, Dean of the Libraries & Educational Technologies

Nobel laureate Arno Penzias speaks of killer technologies.  A killer technology is defined as technology so revolutionary that it eventually kills off the technology that preceded it.  For example, the telephone killed the telegraph and the automobile killed the horse and buggy.  There is an emerging perception in some quarters that the technologies of digital storage and communication are having a similar impact on libraries.  While it is true that digital technologies have had a dramatic impact on everything that the library does, it is unlikely that digital technologies will kill the library.

The articles in this newsletter reflect the range of services and collections offered by the library. This snapshot of our library provides support for the idea that the technologies of ideas are cumulative.  New media for expressing and conveying ideas do not replace older media; new media take their place alongside old media adding to the complexity of the work done in libraries and expanding options for patrons of libraries.  At the same time that the library is concerned with repairing and preserving damaged books, it is redesigning its web site to serve as the gateway to an ever-increasing array of digital information services and resources.  The same library that serves as a repository for ancient artifacts in the Center for Art and World Cultures also houses videotapes and DVDs in the Media Resource Center.  The library still subscribes to journals yet electronic delivery of journal articles to student and faculty desktops is emerging as an alternative to expensive subscriptions. To be sure, libraries are still about books, journals, microforms, disks, tapes and other physical objects that carry ideas and information.  But there is more now.  Digital media have opened up entirely new modes of scholarly communication that extend across disciplines.  The ways in which students and faculty get and use information have changed, as have the ways in which libraries pay for and manage that information.

The library has been engaged in strategic planning for the past year.  Much of our planning is intended to address issues that arise from a rapidly growing and increasingly heterogeneous store of knowledge.  In other words, our challenge is to find effective ways to deal with both books and bytes. 

The outcome of that planning process is a strategic plan that emphasizes the library's more expansive role in providing quality information to support of the work of the university.  Quality is the operative word.  The library is committed to acquiring high quality information and equally committed to helping students and faculty evaluate information available from sources outside the library.  Quality information can easily be lost amid the confusing mass of spurious ideas, half truths, and inaccurate information found on the Internet.  One of the nicest things about working at James Madison University is the level of cooperation that exists between the library and the rest of the academic community.  Librarians are working in partnership with faculty in academic programs to promote information literacy among students.

The library's strategic plan emphasizes the library's role in connecting students and faculty to ideas.  In this case the word ideas is a broad heading that includes everything from books to image databases.  As new forms for conveying ideas evolve, it is all the more important for the library to focus on ideas themselves.  Since ideas are now available in many forms the library often faces a choice about which delivery medium is most effective for a given collection of ideas.   Our strategic plan emphasizes solutions that provide the greatest flexibility and accessibility to students and faculty.  

An additional consideration is the way in which ideas are discovered and interrelated.  It is not enough to simply collect ideas; it is also necessary to provide pathways that lead to ideas.  For example, the Web of Science® database that the library licensed recently allows researchers in science and the social sciences to follow networks of citations across peer reviewed scientific papers.  References include abstracts and links to articles for journals that we have licensed.  We have had the paper citation indexes for years; citation searching is powerful way to discover ideas, until now, awkward in execution.   I think that students and faculty will find the web version a qualitatively different experience; it will increase their ability to understand the process of scientific communication.  

The level of granularity in which ideas are packaged and exchanged is changing.  This is especially the case when it comes to journals.  On one hand decisions are being made on a larger scale.  Because the library is a member of VIVA, the Virtual Library of Virginia consortium, our constituents recently gained access to Annual Reviews Online and Journals @ Ovid Full Text a full-text collection of nursing and core clinical medicine journals.  This level of collaboration allows libraries across the state to acquire access to more information than all but the largest could acquire on an individual basis.  Libraries work together to develop quality information collections and provide information access for all levels of higher education institutions across the state in a manner that would have been unimaginable a short while ago.  At a much finer grain the library is moving in the direction of buying individual articles in support of topics that are currently being investigated by faculty and students.  Journal subscription costs are escalating at an unsustainable rate.  The article on the library journal review project in this issue reports on a process in which librarians and faculty worked together to develop a more sustainable approach to providing journal articles.  In each of these examples, the success of the library depends upon strategic partnerships.

By looking at a few recent developments, I hope that I have provided a sense of the sort of changes that are happening in libraries.   Technology is transforming libraries but it isn't killing us. This is an interesting time for libraries; the depth and breadth of ideas offered by libraries is unparalleled.   I encourage students and faculty to explore the collections mentioned in this article and in this newsletter.  Visit the libraries on campus and the library's web site.   I think that you will discover that the library is something more than either of its stereotypes.  The library is not only about books.  Nor is the library only about online information.  The library is about ideas.

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