As cloud-based content becomes increasingly popular, it’s easy to wonder whether libraries will remain relevant in higher education. Students can download research materials in the blink of an eye, and professors can offer digital or scannable course packets just as easily as they can refer people to original hard copies.
However, physical libraries still have plenty of offer. Despite their diminishing necessity for content storage, they provide people with the tools necessary for digitizing, disseminating, and even creating their own materials. Far more than social hubs and repositories for outdated media, twenty-first century libraries can become leaders in spreading digital information to ever-wider audiences.
For the last few years, it’s been somewhat difficult for higher ed libraries to increase their collections of online journals. Existing formats have been too cumbersome for academic purposes, and excessive digital rights management has prevented widespread access to scholarly works. However, EduCause’s 2011 Horizon Report indicates that many of these barriers are rapidly breaking down.
For instance, the Directory of Open Access Journals allows users to search for specific articles from thousands of digitized journals. Though DOAJ and similar services are accessible from most homes and offices, librarians’ expertise is essential in helping students and teachers maximize their potentials.
College libraries are likewise expanding their e-book collections, though not without difficulties. Both textbook and fiction publishers are hesitant to offer multi-license copies, even at drastically increased prices. Still, Duke University recently announced a program that will offer free access to millions of books with expired copyrights. Innovative publishing companies such as Aptara are also creating digital materials with true advantages over their hard copy counterparts. Now that many libraries lend e-readers and provide free e-book “rentals,” the advantages of digitized collections may be well worth the extra costs.
Aside from content storage and distribution, university libraries are the perfect places for students and teachers to innovate and create. A few new uses for old buildings include:
Even with the move to digital content, libraries will continue to serve their most basic function – provide students and communities with scarce resources. Facts may be free, but people still need access to the latest information technology.