Putting Books “Before” People: The Value of Academic Library Collections in a Digital Age

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Putting Books “Before” People:
The Value of Academic Library Collections in the Digital Age

After decades of research during the 20th century extolling the educational benefits of books, libraries and reading on children and young adults–and the detrimental impact of booklessness particularly on minority and disadvantaged communities–it would be hard not to consider the “new academic librarianship”–which emphasizes “buildings, not books”to be the proverbial emperor without clothes.

What would compel legislators across the country to allocate hundreds of millions to new buildings called libraries but with nothing inside of them, and moreover nothing meant to go inside of them in the future? Why are proposals to build libraries without books, or any emphasis on library resources at all–so called “new libraries”–receiving such wide and generous legislative, local and donor support? Library as a work space is a trend which shows no sign of letting up any time soon, even against considerable opposition by librarians1 and perhaps students.2

Some institutions have not only constructed very prominent bookless buildings, but also built separate doomsday-like storage facilities equipped with robotic retrieval systems,3 moving the entirety of their print collections into them, as if they were storing weapons-grade plutonium or antidotes to smallpox, instead of old textbooks from the 60’s and 70s, and many items which might have simply been weeded under more stringent library collection management guidelines. Contrary to public perception, academic libraries never aspired to be repositories. Closed stacks, which creates barriers to access and browsing, was also not something my field has traditionally embraced as a best practice. (We wish neither to be a passive book repository, nor for our collections to be invisible and inaccessible to scholars, unless an object’s rarity or value justifies additional safeguarding.)  

Robotic book storage and retrieval system (RSRS) called the ARC at the John C. Hitt Library, University of Central Florida one of many new book storage facilities to meant to accompany new predominantly bookless library spaces.

Paradoxically, while print books–and perhaps any book outside a textbook–are deemed of little value to a college education,4 and from surveys we know that print forms such a minute part of the academic library’s acquisitions budget (if anything is allocated to them but an end of year spend),5 at the legislative level, there still seems to be unlimited funding for technology for the manipulation, storage, retrieval, securing and tracking of print materials, such as robotic storage and retrieval systems (RSRMs) and offsite storage facilities; RFID automated material handling systems and smart gates; self-check out machines; dynamic glass and sophisticated computerized LED lighting systems to ensure that the filtered “natural light” entering a new library building never perceptibly fluctuates (which might be distracting to readers of print, but not those on screens) in event a cloud floats by.

Why invest so much in technology to manipulate, store and circulate physical books, when libraries themselves appear to be no longer investing in them?

In the academic arena, bookless libraries are definitely a thing now.6 Many college and academic libraries are getting rid of print altogether 7 8 9 10 11 Health science libraries were among the first to go fully digital, because in STEM the primary method of scholarly communication is though journal articles, not books, and this may make sense for its community and organizational mission. But for universities with large undergraduate populations in the Humanities and Social Sciences, going fully digital doesn’t make as much sense, for reasons I will explain. When decisions to go bookless are made, there are no impact studies, and no analysis of our current technology and user experience, or thought of how to support a robust digital library experience, given the tools and systems available to us for managing online collections.

With new academic libraries, physical books are all but eliminated from the library, with the entirely of the stacks placed into offsite storage, underground bunkers, secluded reading rooms, discarded, or reduced to whatever can be decoratively backed into into the architect’s design. Like wallpaper, books are set into nooks and small shelving units in low traffic areas, placed into outlying areas of the floor where one might formerly have expected to see potted plants; even sometimes arranged in often unpredictable ways that would make it hard to designate a location for them in a catalog. If any books remain, they are there seemingly there only to lend a quaint atmosphere, like old books in a Ralph Lauren store display.

There is also found in the literature of new libraries a strange emphasis on monumental staircases, sometimes dubbed “learning staircases,” or “ceremonial staircases,” a reference to a Neo-Platonic idea of ascending to greater and greater heights of knowledge, a sacred temple to learning, even if the library itself may no longer be capable of presenting to its audiences coherent and discernible “bodies of knowledge” in the academic disciplines taught by the school. The Ark of the Temple is gone. There is only a hollow building or space defined by seating and windows, and an unsubstantiated fiction that students learn better by being in our empty spaces. New libraries and their advocates seem strangely preoccupied with staircases, spaces, natural light, rather than what they should be focused on, the effective presentation and display of resources within the space to create an interesting, stimulating and intellectually appealing environment conducive to learning. 

In these facilities, if books remain, there is no expectation on the part of library designers that people coming to a library would want to see them when they enter the facility, or browse them, or would find them more interesting than nothing at all. Sadly, the academic and college library today appears not to place much value the publications or knowledge they tacitly represent. In some libraries, it is as if the presence of books is embarrassing, something to be locked into the attic or basement, or done away with. The value the library communicates is one of profound ambivalence towards the scholarly enterprise and culture. Whether one is choosing to study inside the library or outside, the user experience of the library is the same, a neither / nor, without any inducement to browse or raise awareness of the new in the library space or online. While new libraries are all different, a common theme which unites them as a new library is not the age of the facility, but an ideological emphasis on public work spaces, over and against the intellectual space full of books and print which was the 20th century library. New libraries make no obvious effort to encourage literacy–even cultural literacy–or disciplinary knowledge, or scholarship, or publishing or authors, or in any overt way encourage resource use. 

The new academic library is doesn’t recommend or promote, or advance what others (experts in the field, communities of scholars) believe to be good. It is itself therefore incapable of creating community or expressing value around scholarship. It doesn’t get behind anything and say, “This is worthwhile. This is good. This is worth knowing about.”

A fundamental question we might want to be asking ourselves is if the library full of books is perceived to be some kind of antiquated book repository, why would taking books away and converting the library into a “space” make libraries any more appealing, interesting or valuable to students and scholars? And is being an interesting, intellectually stimulating place–not just a space–an aesthetic value academic libraries have? Is encouraging resource use and awareness a design objective or business requirement? I think it definitely should be. A library cannot be functional as a library if it does not promote user engagement with library resources. The facility should help the library to do that.

New bookless libraries are opening everywhere. Should librarians be cheering?

Seeking to justify the new space, and to a far lesser extent the librarians within it, is a theory that public sitting-and-talking space, called “collaborative space,” is the new locus of library learning in the 21st century, the new seat of intellectual exchange, rather than readers engaging with authoritative collections and scholarly resources, even online. This is what architects say when they pitch to decision-makers. Armed with ghostly peopled renderings from previous engagements–who knows how successful these spaces actually are at drawing people into them–new library advocates, who are often not librarians, claim special knowledge of how to build 21st century learning environments; but learning environments are not the same things as libraries. Under their direction, the library becomes a study hall whose mission is not support for research in the disciplines or stimulating inquiry. Its purpose is just to be a supportive environment for assignment completion and a place for group study. That academic library, with its mission to represent knowledge in the disciplines and support scholarly research, is not given much of a design priority.

In place of the traditional library, or the library, new library advocates sometimes offer a dubious pedagogy of collaboration, sometimes referencing “primordial learning environments,” metaphorical “campfires, caves and watering holes,”12 which exonerates the new facility from having to concern itself with the practical details of how the academic library space without visible collections will function to encourage learning, how it will attract and engage users, and how it will stimulate inquiry.

Such theories try to explain how the library might be conceptualized as a learning environment even without collections, emphasizing orality over literacy as the new library’s m.o. ; and like some architectural fantasy, it seeks to employ gesture and symbolism to express “libraryness,” but without actually being one. Metaphors like monumental staircases (ascension) and light (illumination) stand for learning, but without actually facilitating it. Such conceits allow colleges to be the recipients of massive amounts of funding from the State to construct large empty buildings called new libraries, but with nothing in them, as if architecture alone, and not a library’s resources, are what inspires learning and scholarship. 

The response to booklessness and collectionlessness by new library advocates is not that “the collection is online”—because that would negate the rationale for a space in the first place. Such a response might also risk criticism that, even though the stacks are rapidly disappearing or already gone, that the library’s collections really aren’t online, for libraries do not yet have the technology at their disposal which can present digital collections to its users so they can be browsed and experienced online as collections. Collections no longer exist in any form, physical or digital. 

Library collections representing bodies of knowledge in the disciplines are not online. Through the library’s discovery layer and the workflows which go along with it, what we offer now are merely searchable aggregated publisher content. Abundant resources are online through the library, but authoritative collections are not. Book browsing, or browsing all titles, is not possible. There is no library experience outside of search. This sends the message that the only reason to search or read is to complete an assignment or task. It is the anti-intellectual message we are conveying at the university. 

The user experience of the library online is now closer to Google than to an academic library. Obviously, Google is not a research library, it is just a search engine. Until recently, libraries uniquely organized their publications in meaningful ways according to a disciplinary framework, and this disciplinary framework contributed to making the resources in it valuable to scholarly audiences.

The elimination of browseable library collections reflecting, and organized around, disciplinary knowledge should not be regarded by anyone in the academic library world as a form of “progress,” but from a scholarly perspective, represents a significant decline in academic library services, not in any way compensating for, the empty library spaces many of us now occupy.

It impacts our user interfaces and our credibility as professionals. This is not to say that the resources in them are poor, but the user experience offers is not compelling.13 and does not add sufficient value or meaning. In truth, scholars often prefer to search discipline-specific resources to get to the same content.

Without the library’s being committed at least to the presentation of quality collections in the disciplines, scholars can no longer count on the library to tell them what is new and significant in their fields.

Students cannot count on the library to present them with an overview of their disciplines, presenting to them what they might need or want to know to become informed scholars or competent professionals in their field. Collections of publications presented and arranged by discipline, could be apprehended as authoritative, valuable and significant, and is intellectually and aesthetically a very different user experience than what we now offer, a search engine or portal of aggregations of third-party content, presented in relevance-ranked order, appearing only in response to a query, and outside of any disciplinary framework.

Visible, browseable quality collections are what previously compelled and inspired independent learning by students, and is what often stimulated research, especially in its initial stages. Visible collections ground the user experience in something external, valuable, shared, durable and permanent, in knowledge. The bigger picture, a broader view of the discipline, or of any topic, cannot be easily apprehended through search queries alone. Discovery provides merely the trees without the view of the forest.

Libraries must be able to represent authoritative collections of resources online. The user experience of authoritative collections must remain central to our mission.

In place of browseable collections, academic libraries now offer passive access to scholarly resources, tremendous amounts of licensed academic content largely invisible to users.

Through our discovery portals, all users see when they perform a query are a few items at a time, in relevance-ranked order, and no representation of the totality, no overview of the library’s vast holdings, or any overview of publishing activity in a subject area or discipline. Online, we offer a search box, not a store front which encourages people to browse and explore. We don’t tell users what is new anymore. We simply expect them to periodically come along and perform searches to discover for themselves what is new and significant, rather than our showcasing it when they come to the library or our website. Faculty and other scholars are our primary users, but we have no CRM tools which allow us to promote the digital content we license on their behalf. It is a limited design from both a marketing and a library learning standpoint. 

Just like closed stacks, online resources are not visible or able to be meaningfully browsed according to the priorities and organization of academic disciplines. Not only does it not give insight into scholarly publishing, trends in a field over time, but it limits research and people often feel their searches are incomplete, because slight changes to their query produces large differences in search results. The user experience of browseable collections arranged by a hierarchical classification scheme is appreciably different from that of a search engine, even if the content is the same. Without actual collections, without good library bibliographic records, we lack good bibliographic control over the massive amount of content we are licensing on behalf of our users. 

At this point, the technology for browsing, managing and presenting digital library collections as collections has not been developed, thus limiting the user experience of the online library to a search engine of an invisible repository, which is just another form of closed stacks (a collection not able to be browsed), rather than of a content-rich learning environment which scholars and students enjoy exploring, providing a broad overview of an area and all its component parts, a unique perspective available nowhere else but potentially in the academic library space. What we offer is an “application” for users to search publisher packages, not a library collection. The online library is a search engine of third-party licensed content which can be simultaneously accessed on the publishers platforms or through Google Scholar.

Our new spaces and new interfaces do nothing to actively encourage resource awareness and use. To add value, libraries must do more than make resources passively accessible to those who might wish to search for them.

They must seek ways to stimulate user engagement and demand. They must motivate learning. Having a quality collection is a fundamental part of stimulating demand. It always was. This is not something novel, but a fundamental tenant of academic librarianship, perhaps all librarianship. 

That a library at an institution of higher education might be now conceived of as nothing more than an inspiring building, a vacuous space, a passive repository or a scholarly search engine, is very sad indeed. These objectives are antithetical not only to traditional librarianship, but to professional librarianship, including what continues to be taught today in MLIS degree programs as best practices for libraries. The library as a study hall and the library as a search engine, each in their own way goes against our very ethos, our professional training, our industry standards, our library best practices. 

Just as we cannot ever measure the impact that reading books or engagement with good collections has on students, so too, the contrary is true, that libraries cannot assess the impact on learning of not prioritizing publications and scholarship, books and ideas, in the academic library space or online.

They cannot measure the loss of learning, the loss of potential, the unthought thoughts, the paths not chosen, the limitations and loss of knowledge perpetuated by these practices, the commodification of the library’s resources into a vendor hosted, vendor sponsored. digital repository. They cannot measure the impact of formalizing vacuousness and purposelessness into the very architecture of the new library designs by not prioritizing resource use as a functional requirement of the space. Nor can librarians assess the impact on learning of replacing collections with merely searchable aggregations of scholarly content, where no discernible investment or care has been made in the resources by anyone at the school except for making items discoverable, should someone wish to access them.

Even if the library provides great resources online through package deals with publishers and aggregators, spending many millions to ensure that collections are up-to-date, the impact and value of these resources is minimized through the myopic lens of our user interfaces, the empty search box which searches millions of items, finds thousands of relevant things, and displays ten at a time in relevance-ranked order. While it is very easy to acquire large packages of content and make them available should someone come looking for something, without the ability to take these resources and translate them back into something that is very visible and meaningful to scholars and students, without the ability to form them into visible collections of titles mapped to the disciplines so they might be browsed, presented and experienced as a coherent body of knowledge which embodies the disciplines we support, and without ourselves being able to know what is in the collections arranged by subject to evaluate and effectively market them to users, we are not doing what we should be doing as academic librarians, which is not providing access but presenting knowledge so it can be known.

Philosophically and professionally, academic librarianship is about reflecting scholarly activity in the disciplines. It is about raising awareness of what is significant and good in scholarly publishing. It is about communicating ideas and creating value.

This is how we support culture and intellectual life on campus. We support research and continuous learning at the university by presenting what is new and current and noteworthy by community standards. To add value, we must be able to direct focus on scholarly, intellectual and cultural objects, just as a museum directs focus on cultural and aesthetic objects. The empty study space and empty search box do not support this disciplinary perspective, and do not form the basis for a robust, vibrant or modern 21st century academic librarianship. 

While all libraries are different–students and faculty in STEM fields may not have the same needs as those in the Humanities or Social Sciences–the complete abandonment of collections in the academic library space, including online, is bad for business, both the business of librarianship, and ultimately, as I will argue, bad for the business of the university. 

By eliminating collections and suspending collection development activity as unimportant or inconsequential, we are suspending disbelief in the possibility of higher education and academic achievement itself to positively impact the lives of our students.

New Library or No Library?
The Need for Business and Functional Requirements for Academic Libraries

Within librarianship, it is puzzling why so many librarians are eager to embrace the new academic library, with its various empty spaces, collaborative learning staircases, and lack of emphasis on reading resources or publications, as signs of progress in our field. I realize self-preservation is a strong driver, but many librarians seem to believe that a library can be about “space,” being a study hall, or about “search,” passively supporting the retrieval of resources needed to complete assignments. I am not speaking from nostalgia when I say this rendition of a library has little to do with the goals and objectives of academic librarianship.

Is literacy (informational, cultural, professional) even a goal of new libraries? What about exposing students to the body of knowledge which comprises their discipline?

What about stimulating inquiry and independent learningHow are new libraries to be assessed?

I think it is important to ask how the new academic library works if it doesn’t have any way to present disciplinary and cultural knowledge though its collections, which is to me the whole point of the library. 

What makes a library a library in this Digital Age, and beyond this, what makes it a good library, as opposed to some other kind of entity or service (e.g., a public building with tables and chairs, a search application, a book repository, a computer lab, a help/information desk, a study hall or a student center)? Since public dollars often support the construction of new libraries, should there not be at least some common understanding, some professional standards or business requirements, of what academic libraries are in the 21st century, outlining what they are for, what they are expected to do, and what makes them good and useful from an academic or scholarly perspective?

Of course, the academic library now spends over 95% of its budget on online resources5, but how does this new space prompt users to engage with these online resources? How does the facility promote resource awareness and use?

And, if the expectation is that the library is online, what should that user experience be like to encourage optimal learning?

A good academic library collection is a pedagogical construct which, like the classroom, another pedagogical construct, provides a structured learning environment that does not, and certainly should not, in any way depend on the expertise or goodwill of others who happen to occupy the space to share their knowledge with others. It is not a learning environment like the classroom which requires collaboration with subject matter experts who happen to share the space and are able and willing to share their knowledge.

Architects sometimes confuse the two “learning environments,” and even conceptualize the library as a “campfire” or “watering hole” where scholars and experts will orally impart knowledge to those gathered around them in the space. That’s a classroom, not a library, which is a different sort of learning environment. The library, unlike the classroom, cannot and does not depend on orality, or others to share knowledge in its spaces to be effective. Intellectual exchange comes from engagement with literature and with resources, from reading and writing, not primarily through oral transmission. If it the library is good, its collection represents knowledge in the disciplines, and is enjoyable, meaningful and authoritative for students and scholars to browse, as well as accessing the knowledge of many other experts across space and time, so their education is not dependent on, or limited to, the knowledge of a faculty member assigned to teach their class. By presenting disciplinary knowledge, the library encourages students to learn beyond the classroom, and not be limited by the limited knowledge of their professors at that university.

An academic library collection presents a coherent body of knowledge, a snapshot of the books and publications which comprise an academic discipline so that knowledge of the discipline can known by those wanting to learn about it. If it is maintained, faculty and students can count on the collection to keep them informed of new publications in their disciplines and tell them what they need to know to be educated professionals. By making the collection visible as a collection comprising what is significant and good by disciplinary standards, it incentivizes learning. Collections are the way a library works to educate and inspire intellectually inquiry, sustain culture and support new research.

At universities, academic library collections also serve to compensate for the limited time constraints, knowledge (for no one can know everything), and interests of the faculty, so that students have the best opportunity to learn outside of class to obtain more comprehensive knowledge of their discipline than what professors can impart in the course of a semester. In fact, the main point of the academic library in higher education has always been to support independent scholarship and learning outside of the classroom. In higher education, students are expected to learn independently through the library’s resources, and depend less on classroom instruction to obtain knowledge.

At the university, our mission was never just to support classroom learning, but to present and support the acquisition of disciplinary knowledge, as well as to keep students and faculty current in their field. The collection empowers students to pursue success on their terms, to reach their potential, and not be limited by a the time constraints of the classroom or their professor’s knowledge, interests, biases or ability to teach.

College libraries also generally provide leisure and co-curricular reading, because it is educational, and of course, we want our graduates to be educated people. College libraries often present the books that generally educated people are familiar with. And it causes the students to like the library, which is important too. If they like the library, they are more likely to spend time there. 

The academic library can easily measure its facilities use, resource use, and number of instructional classes, but not very well its positive impact of its collections or resources on grades, learning, education or research.

We cannot claim with any certainty or empirical evidence that a good library attracts better students to the school (even though it does, and it also attracts better faculty to those institutions) or improves retention. We cannot with certainty say that a good collection provides students with educational advantages which helps them to stay in school and succeed in life. 

It is precisely this lack of measurable outcomes which has made defending the library’s acquisitions budget challenging in a climate where funding is allocated only for initiatives and resources which contribute to success as defined by degree completion.

s much as Library and Information Science purports to be an empirical and evidence-based discipline, there is no consensus as to what our buildings, our collections–even if we need them anymore–our services, or our user interfaces should be at this time, or generally what defines a good user experience of an academic library in the 21st century. While people can still earn a Master’s in Library and Information Science, there are no prescriptive, qualitative standards, or business requirements for academic libraries, even to say:

  • the library, including its facilities and websites, should encourage resource awareness and use;
  • the library must promote literacy (including cultural and professional literacy);
  • the library by definition should support “success” as defined not just by the institution, but also by its students (independent learning) so they can be exposed to disciplinary and professional knowledge beyond the classroom;
  • the library must support the acquisition of disciplinary knowledge in subject areas relevant to the mission of the school;
  • the library must add educational and scholarly value to the institution through the appropriate care, management, access and display of good collections, either in print or online;
  • the library must provide some mechanism to keep students and faculty informed about new and emerging scholarly activity, the publications in their areas of interest and specialization.

If positive change is to occur, academic libraries are in need of objective business and technical requirements of their own, preferably endorsed by ACRL and accrediting agencies, in small part because so many of us have experienced the detrimental impact of institutional and library leadership defining the library only according to measurable outcomes that can be tied to a narrow and unambitious definition of “student success,” meaning degree completion

Rather than discrediting or trivializing library collections as irrelevant because their impact on student success is not measurable, and relegating usage to merely an “output” and not an actual “outcome,” we should emphasize that good collections are essential for a library to be a good library, as opposed to some other kind of facility.

We should be digging in and pushing back though external standards for academic libraries, rather than allowing the library to be determined by institutional assessment plans that are based on a totally different set of priorities, and which arguably may have very little to do with the sort of independent learning libraries have always encouraged. We value knowledge an scholarship and creativity as ends in themselves, not to take test.

As others have described,[40. McClellan, E. Fletcher. “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been: Three Decades of Outcomes Assessment in Higher Education,” PS–Political Science & Politics, 2016, p. 88, doi:10.1017/S1049096515001298.] outcomes assessment initiatives in higher education have not always led to continuous improvement or greater accountability, but quite often to continuous cost cutting measures which is detrimental to anything outside of the rubric. This utilitarianism creates an impoverished culture, a sense of austerity and a perceptible lack of care for students, which drives students away and ultimately (I believe) impacts the school’s enrollments, impeding all measures of student success because students will simply choose to go elsewhere.

Students are not rats running though a maze with a diploma at the end, but human beings often making considerable compromises in their lives to attend the university. An impoverished library, especially one attached to a university, is a turn off. 

However, the lack of business requirements for libraries has allowed the academic library to be redefined in the following ways:

  • as a collaborative and private space for meeting and working (should students need a place to go);
  • as a service to provide instruction and research assistance (should students need help searching for relevant articles or citing sources);
  • a search application to discover resources and access licensed content (should students need to look for something);
  • as a repository of old books and documents;
  • all or any combination of the above.

How under outcomes assessment, collaborative space manages to generate measurable learning outcomes, while collections use does not, is somewhat puzzling.

The answer is that there is often asserted to be a connection between time spent studying in the library and higher GPAs and/or degree completion. Prior to COVID-19, this connection between a “space” and “learning” was one which institutions could take to the bank. Given that students have always been able to study in the library, and seating is not a problem, none of this really has much to do with what makes an academic library a good library, or even necessarily an optimal learning environment for college students or scholars.

Nor is it indicative of what is taught in library school programs about our core values, collection management, user engagement, and building community, all of which form the essence of a good academic library experience. In library school, not one is talking about sacred temples, learning staircases, or imaginary campfires or watering holes.

In academic librarianship, the extent to which a library succeeds in inspiring intellectual inquiry, independent learning (learning outside of the classroom) and cultivating knowledge, is the extent to which an academic library succeeds as a good library. 

The work of librarians in higher education, and perhaps everywhere, is to create and maintain a context-rich learning environment consisting of intellectual and cultural works reflecting disciplinary and cultural knowledge–presenting what others in the field or community think significant, authoritative and good–so that meaning-creation and independent learning by its users can spontaneously occur.

If independent learning is our objective, the lack of technical requirements for managing and displaying collections, and limited collection visibility in our physical and online environments, are serious impediments to the success of libraries and the success of its users. It is also a serious impediment to our ability to encourage resource awareness and use, and of the positive user experience of a library, when the content we acquire is not sufficiently visible, and not visible as part of a collection.

If academic libraries are to be interesting and valuable to students and scholars, and remain viable into the 21st century, they must provide compelling, unique, intellectual and personal experiences–and employ modern marketing techniques like any other online business today which have successfully transitioned from brick and mortar to online storefronts. Browseable collections are fundamental to this experience. Especially in the age of Google, where people have so many other sources of information, the library has even more the needs of a retailer than a passive repository. 

Libraries must also explore innovative ways to bring the online library into the physical space, and bring the promise of the online or hybrid library to fruition, including virtual browsing. To be compelling and interesting, our systems must support the management of titles in collections, not just the activation and searching of aggregated resources in packages of content. It must  present what others in the discipline think significant and the good, and what is important for students to know, not just what resources a vendor decides to place into a package at any given moment in time. It must represent knowledge and stimulate desire to learn. 

Our business and technical requirements for our facilities and our systems, as well as our methods of assessment, must reflect the library’s own mission, goals and objectives beyond being an empty space, a scholarly search engine, or invisible digital repository.

Browsing as a Business Requirement for Libraries and their Interfaces:
The Current Limitations of T
he Academic Library as a Resource Discovery Tool

Good libraries exist to provide opportunities for users to discover common cultural, disciplinary and professional knowledge, mainly what others in the academic community think significant and good. They also exist to help the student realize his potential and to present him with various possibilities to success in life beyond the just the degree. Most students view their generic degrees as a stepping stones to something else anyway, something more specific.

Libraries can provide very personalized and customized learning experiences to offset the genericism of an institutional degree plan.

Good libraries maintain collections arranged according to the disciplines they support. Whether they do this most effectively, and most cost effectively, through physical collections or online access, or a combination of both, is up to that library and institution. Format doesn’t matter, as long as the library has some mechanism to put content where users are likely to see and value it, and place it into intellectual relationship to other items in its collections.

I believe that visible, browseable collections are not optional for the academic library, because it is only as collections that books and publications are able represent disciplinary knowledge and convey their scholarly value. Professionally, academically, and aesthetically, there is a big difference between a curated library collection and the searchable aggregations of commodified academic content which have come to replace them. This UI is efficient, but not engaging and does not inform scholars of new titles or items they might want to know about. If the library is going to go fully digital, then let its interface meet the standards of any ecommerce site to actually promote its content. If the library is going to go fully digital, then let’s analyze what made the traditional library experience good for scholars and try to replicate that experience online, or develop our ideal standards as a collective and see if OCLC or EBSCO might be interested in creating such a product. Why are we settling for this antiquated model? Modern library systems don’t even support browsing online by classification, which is kind of a basic thing.

The experience of visually navigating titles hierarchically arranged into a collection is commonly referred to as “browsing,” but it would be a mistake to associate the act of browsing with lack of seriousness, intensity, mental engagement or scholarly value to users. Browsing good collections arranged according to the discipline–representing how the items in it are considered by scholarly audiences–is a fundamental part of the user experience of a good academic library. It is also essential for librarians to be able to manage the titles in the collection to be able to arrange them by classification. All automated methods of collection analysis use classification as a key, only this very simple feature is not supported by modern systems. Increasingly, we manage packages of resources, not collections of titles. Regardless, the end result should support browsing. 

While the term “browsing” is often taken to mean something casual and superficial, it is serious business for scholars who need to keep up with their disciplines, and for students trying to obtain mastery over an area or discipline–which is what university degrees signify, that students have to some degree “mastered” a body of knowledge. The library collection represents the disciplinary knowledge that students are supposed to be mastering when they obtain a degree from a university. Professionally maintained collections lend credibility to the librarians, faculty and the whole institution. It is a service good libraries provide to the university.

At this time, April 2021, bookless libraries have no efficient mechanism for providing users with an online browsing experience which might compensate for the lack of physical collections, at least when it comes to ebooks and ejournals. 

There is also no user interface which can present to users with a graphical overview of the scale or extent of library entitlements in subject areas of the online library. Online, a huge library collection containing millions of items and a small one containing a few thousand are experienced the same way: ten results at a time. There is no inspiring and pleasurable sense of collection vastness, a pleasurable experience which some have described as the library sublime

For the most part, the massive digital content we license in quantity from third parties do not have call numbers in their metadata, thus limiting the design of our user interfaces to being that of a search engine. The user experience of the online academic library has come to be “about” the user engagement with commercially branded packages of publisher content, and not so much “about” engagement with library collections.

The library’s online presence is now razor thin, barely perceptible to scholars; and this is not just a problem for the library and its librarians, by the way. Ex Libris, OCLC, and other academic library system vendors might consider that if users are now bypassing the library’s discovery tool and instead choosing to go directly to publisher and aggregator platforms to conduct research, what use does the institution have for a library system at all after the library goes fully digital? It’s an expensive search engine. The bookless library could easily save over $150,000 by eliminating the library system entirely, and just presenting users with database links. 

At large universities, undergraduates are often confounded by all of the incomprehensible content which turns up in discovery because the content in them is not geared for undergraduates. There is no Primo filter for “undergraduate.” Students have a better time obtaining background information using Wikipedia and Internet sources–at least these are readable–which we and their professors tell them they cannot use to complete assignments. Out of necessity we present the library’s online resources as something to be used for assignment completion, rather than to obtain knowledge about a discipline. 

These days, we may casually say to users that “the collection” or “the library” is online, but what most libraries offer to users is not a collection in the traditional or professional library sense. What we offer is simply a searchable aggregation of third-party academic content, one which, for many reasons, provides insufficient visibility for ebooks15 and no support for browsing collections. On top of this, it provides insufficient visibility for the tremendous amount of content large libraries acquire on behalf of their users. 

I would dissuade readers from adopting the notion that discovery is a “modern” interface for an academic library because it is “like Google.” Google is a search engine, not a library. Google and Google Scholar, while they often afford access to academic content, are not libraries, nor are they considered to be libraries by the public. 

Aside from a search engine not offering a library experience, academic libraries have unique pedagogical and marketing needs beyond making resources passively available to users if and when they should come along and need to search for something.

The Pedagogy of Academic Librarianship. This generation has grown up with more information available to them than all previous generations. If offering passive access to online resources through a search box were effective pedagogy, the current generation of students would be the best educated and most informed in human history. 

It stands to reason, then, that access to even more and better content through a simple search interface when students go to college would not necessarily compel greater learning, result in significantly greater knowledge transfer, produce better educated people, or result in greater appreciation for the resources themselves–which, as I see it, is more than half the battle in higher education. The electronic resources the library acquires from academic publishers, often at enormous cost to the university, does not necessarily translate into good value if these resources either cannot be actively and meaningfully presented as worthwhile or are never accessed. Library user interfaces are an ineffective marketing and pedagogical tool.

Library collections themselves, as collections, constitute a valuable pedagogical construct–perhaps our most important construct–because they signify in a very visible way what others think important to know to become a professional in the field or to master a discipline, where on the other hand, relevance-ranked “resources” are just commodities to be used in the moment to write a paper, and soon forgotten. 

Collections function to represent to users what a discipline, profession or community thinks significant, meaningful, good or authoritative to know at a given point in time. A collection expresses scholarly value and worth, a body of knowledge, while resources in a repository do not convey value. They fail to signify value in the same way as a collection. They are accumulations, not collections, and such, repositories never had much to do with librarianship as a profession. In some ways, repositories are the opposite of collections.  

Our job is to maintain strong collections which support intellectual inquiry, not just to provide passive access to resources in a repository. The reason for this is that the provision of resources alone does not translate into good value for the university. The library as a search box is not an effective pedagogical or marketing tool for an academic library.

The library’s discovery application, a search engine, merely indexes the metadata records of what authorized users of the library may access by virtue of the library’s license agreements with publishers. Librarians typically purchase large packages of digital content which has been aggregated into packages, which are then activated in discovery. As with all vendor packages, their purpose is to monetize publisher content. The library’s objectives are to offer quality collections. To what extent does resource management (packages of aggregated content) replace the need for collection management in libraries? 

Of course, there is no reason why resource discovery and “virtual browsing” or “collection discovery” cannot occupy the same universe. It is not an either / or. Historically, libraries offered both searching and browsing.

Discovery provides a searchable interface for an aggregation of the metadata records of academic resources typically licensed by the library in volume, each package often containing tens of thousands of titles. All one needs to do is activate the vendor’s package in discovery, and ebook and ejournal titles (the resources that comprise the package) can be made instantly available, no cataloging required. It is like a federated search tool, except rather than going directly to the publishers’ sites and harvesting content in real time, discovery indexes a central metadata store to which publishers who sell to libraries all contribute. This makes it easier for the library to manage large amounts of digital content it acquires from publishers. It is especially advantageous for libraries with large serials content, as it allows articles to be searched and discovered regardless of the database in which the journal is indexed.

As a librarian, I want to be able to see and assess my actual collections, for example, to retrieve all the titles (books, ebooks and ejournals) that I have in the area of 16th century English literature or fine art, and place them in a logical order–not just discover what items the search tool thinks relevant to my query. I want to sort and assemble all my books and ebooks in some meaningful order, so I can organize them by discipline, sub discipline, topic and title.

I want users to experience them as collections. I want to send around title lists to faculty members and interested students, and be able to compare my collection to those of my peers. These are not terribly tall orders, or anything innovative.

Even if the library acquires millions in licensed content, the visual experience of it is the same as one with a very small collection. A library consisting of ten million volumes or ten thousand provides fundamentally the same user experience online. Through our current UI, the amount of content a library has may hardly be visible to users. Library interfaces typically display, at most, ten items at a time to ensure legibility on the mobile screens. On a horizontal axis, such as a laptop, one may see only three or four items at a time:

View of the library catalog from a 14″ laptop. Because of the inability to view more than just a few results at a time in response to a query, even where the user is told there may be thousands of relevant results, much of the library’s entitlements lack visibility.

This design is intended to be mobile friendly, but realistically, most people sitting down to do library research are doing it though a laptop or desktop computer. As our collections have gone online, this standard interface, which was fine for locating the call number of a book on a shelf or some articles in a database, is disproportionately small relative to the amount of relevant content we would like to put in front of the user, in other words, for functioning as an a digital library. As the books on our shelves disappear, we need to provide a more immersive online experience which will visually represent “the collection.”

Also, when users perform searches in discovery, substituting a synonym or slight changes to the query can produce very different results, making the user feel as if his searches are always incomplete. While bibliographic and authority control in discovery is topic which warrants a whole separate article, search engines are semantically dependent, while retrieval through a classification scheme is not. I will speak more about discovery interfaces below, and one possible alternative to classification for the organization of bibliographic data. 

As the physical collection is rapidly disappearing, we must address the limitations of our current user interfaces, and fact that our online catalogs and discovery tools are being asked “to be” the online library, a purpose for which they were not designed, and a function which they are not equipped to fulfill.

For the online library to be successful as a library, new user interfaces must emerge which support virtual browsing, online marketing, and greater collection visibility. The online library should comprise a content-rich learning environment, not an empty search box.

Support for collections. A collection is a resource which enables users to predict with some degree of accuracy what will be in the library when they need it. Collections do more than just provide access to a desired title. They provide an overview of the scholarly activity in a discipline. One important aspect or attribute of a good collection is visibility to others as a collection. In the case of library collections, they are typically organized in a way that reflects the structure of knowledge in the disciplines they support. It should be thought of as a service, even a primary service, which libraries provide to users.

If the things a library acquires for users are not sufficiently visible, and visible in a way that adds value to users, what would be the point in acquiring them?

Today, the very notion of a collection is likely to be portrayed as construct of traditional librarianship, where librarian scholars were the gatekeepers of knowledge who limited access, rather than affording it. Naysayers will say that: “The library collection is built on speculation. It is created and shaped by people who often know their disciplines quite well, but are unable to guess with real precision the exact needs of the library’s specific patrons.”16

This negative depiction has only arisen in recent years, in light of alternative modes of acquisition for electronic resources, where libraries license tremendously large packages of resources in bulk from aggregators or publishers, rather than seeking to catalog and present selective collections of titles to users in anticipation of use. The idea of collections, and of a librarian as a curator of content, are both often treated derisively in the age of text search, relevance-ranking, Big Deals and PDA. Many assert the idea of a collection is obsolete. 

However, I believe that unless librarians can qualitatively assess, as a collection, the enormous packages of content they are acquiring from vendors, they are not exercising proper control over them, neither bibliographic control, nor good fiscal control. We don’t really know what we have. We should at least be able to place all ebook and ejournal titles to which we subscribe in order, according to a library classification scheme, so we can spot duplication, superseded titles, identify gaps, and evaluate coverage and usage by subject area. We should be able to present with some certainty, “Here are all of the titles we have in the field of x.” 

Furthermore, as the library’s budget is not unlimited, it would certainly be better to acquire what experts in the field think is good and significant, at least as its core (libraries strive to maintain a conservative budget to buy what patrons wanted throughout the year), rather than allow vendors, who have a profit motive, or those not knowledgeable about their field (students), to drive the acquisitions process for an academic library, especially when each item can be hundreds of dollars. We don’t let students teach classes because they lack academic credentials. Why allow uneducated people, those who come to the university to obtain an education, perform acquisitions for the library? We aren’t letting them teach the classes, at least not yet.

The academic library’s collection, as much as is the classroom, is a pedagogical construct which encourages learning. Just as the classroom presents a hierarchy and a structure which many find valuable for getting through difficult materials and obtaining knowledge of a subject matter, so too library collection provides an organizational structure which makes it easier to learn about a discipline.

Its objective is to enrich the learning and the intellectual life of its users, not just by providing access to needed resources to get though a coursework, but by presenting to users a coherent body of knowledge and the authorities within them. It is not a passive repository or an aggregation of whatever publishers decide is lucrative and good, but should itself be a resource to provide a snapshot of what the discipline values as significant and good at any given point. The collection should be a wonderful and valuable resource for experiencing a discipline as such. 

The collection seeks to expose and scholars students to new and significant titles, ideas, authors and topics that they might not otherwise know about or think to look for. It serves both a marketing and a pedagogical function. The college library collection reinforces learning in the classroom and often makes classroom learning (the education he is receiving at the school) seem more valuable and meaningful. The academic library collection seeks to present to users a coherent body of knowledge valued by others in the user community, and whose whose mastery is what defines one as a professional in the field. Ideally, collections encourage students to go beyond the classroom to obtain knowledge on their own, becoming more competitive in the workforce or pursue applications for the knowledge they have acquired in the classroom.

Good collections, visibly displayed, also honor and value publications by demonstrating that they are considered to be of value and interest to the user community. They demonstrate care for the student and consideration for scholarly enterprise. The art and science of situating and presenting cultural objects within their most appropriate social, intellectual and historical context within a collection, is what also makes academic titles more valuable and interesting to students and scholarly audiences to browse and explore.

Books presented not in any particular order, dated and superseded titles, for example, signifies a lack of care with regard to the collection, lack of care for the user, and/or lack of knowledge about the discipline. Ad hoc collections of random academic content, or collections presented in no particular order, a volume 2 without a volume 1, demonstrate a similar kind of neglect, lack of care for the collections, a disregard for scholarship, and lack of concern for the user.

Having no way to organize our content by subject and discipline online is bad for our business model. 

In theory, library collections consist of the items that the discipline or generally educated people think significant, presented in their most appropriate context, so they make sense to other educated users. Collections are knowledge in the disciplines visualized, an important part of libraries’ ability to add value and encourage learning.

Classification is the key to be able to analyze and assess a collection, so it is significant when this functionality is dropped, missing, or no longer supported by the vendor of a library system, saying it is no longer needed. 

As our print collections have disappeared, our user interfaces have remained mere item retrieval tools, not able to offer the user experience of browsing a library collection online. Discovery systems, the library’s current UI, and its workflows, provide no support for browsing electronic collections by classification. This alone is enough reason some libraries might want to hold on to print a little longer, at least until our systems have evolved to be able to present ebook and ejournal collections online.

Good collections, visibly displayed, kept current and focused on student and faculty interests, help the library and the school create a sense of community and value surrounding academic achievement, the work of scholars and knowledge, and it is this same sense of value and appreciation for scholarship which keeps students enrolled in the university’s own academic programs.

Good library collections help to market higher education and the university.

Support for collaboration. While libraries should and do support collaborative learning, as they have always done, I am not convinced that collaboration is more valuable or significant than the sort of learning librarians have traditionally sought to encourage through engagement with titles and good collections. Our method of collaborating with students and faculty involved cultivating a shared appreciation for the intellectual and cultural works which occupied the library’s collections. The collection, comprised of publications in the disciplines, was our common ground for intellectual discourse and for collaboration with patrons. 

The collaborative learning spaces rapidly replacing our physical collections, built in anticipation of students and researchers gathering together to collaborate on research and exchange knowledge with each other, is really not founded in good library pedagogy or practice. It also seems that we are not expected to know much about our own collections anymore, just how to search them. That is not good for us as professionals. 

Librarians want to encourage literacy, reading and consulting authoritative sources, not consultations with peers. Maybe collaborative learning works better in Denmark,17 to tackle real world problems, but not so much at American universities.

There seems to be confusion of groups of students chatting, eating pizzas until late in the night in the library, with scholarly collaboration. In my younger days, I spent many nights in college bars in Madison, WI, trying to solve the world’s problems. Who knows, maybe I did inspire others to change the world. It seems to me not much came out of that but good times and fond memories. Yes, there is value in that intellectual life and conversations on a college campus, or any time, and if it can happen spontaneously in the library space, that’s great. NPR really doesn’t need to tell us that students want to study with classmates and peers around them, especially working late into the night when other places are closed. Everybody already knows this.

But I believe that good libraries are also a good thing for students, and being a social space has nothing to do with the library per se. For that, kind of collaboration, students could just as easily be anywhere–a student center, café, or literati bar in Madison, WI–and have the exact same learning outcomes as being in the library.  

It would also be a stretch to characterize the sort of learning that takes place in study groups as something new and innovative, or a demonstration of support for “scholarly collaboration” or “intellectual exchanges,” as some new library advocates do, even positing the librarian’s pre-eminent role in the 21st century as some kind of “Collaboration Facilitator.”18 The collaboration which is imagined to be occurring in the space of the library which has replaced the stacks is pretty much limited to group coursework, study and assignment completion, not the sort of deep engagement with scholarly sources and intellectual works–or just good books–which librarians want to encourage.

The library must support intellectual inquiry if it is to support research, and it can do this only through visible collections.

Support for creative ideation. Students attending a college or university want to belong to something larger, to forge personal, academic and professional identities. Provided it is good, the library can and should be an important part of creating that identity as well as their discovery of new possibilities and interests which they didn’t know they had. It is this positive vision of a successful future self, and reinforcement for a sense of value for the knowledge they are acquiring in classes, is in large part what keeps students in school. 

Ideally, the library provides students not just with just what is needed to complete a degree. Apart from supporting research, a library should present to students what they need to be successful in their field or discipline, and also help them to become educated, interesting, creative and engaged people. The library doesn’t simply support success as merely defined by degree completion, but presents students with myriad individualized pathways to success in life beyond the degree. 

A good academic library supports not only student success as defined by the institution, but also as defined by the student.

It should turn them on to things they would never think to look for, and reinforce goals beyond their degree to motivate independent learning. It should be a window onto the world.

Funding co-curricular resources which appeal to student interests is an small investment the college or university can make which can play a significant role in keeping students engaged in school. Once upon a time, I began taking computer programming courses at the community college. I didn’t care about the enterprise anything, the focus of these courses. I cared about developing digital libraries and natural language interfaces. My outlet was the academic library, mainly the Rice Fondren Library, where I could access many good books and journals on topics relevant to my academic interests. It also let me feel that on some level I was part of a larger community, albeit invisible, and even if only vicariously skirting along the outer edges of it and looking in.

Whatever the particular demographic, a good library will speak to the hopes, dreams and personal aspirations of a wide variety students in ways that their textbooks and course curricula do not. It is a place not just for completing coursework, but for what I call, “creative ideation.”

This is good for the university’s bottom line and for campus life.

Virtual Browsing / Digital Collections as Business Requirements for Academic Libraries in the 21st Century. The libraries I remember were vibrant, interesting and hopeful places which featured works which other people, scholars, found interesting and good, which is in part what made them interesting and good as places to browse and explore.

As a student, browsing a good library collection let me know:

  • what was newly published in my field 
  • what was valued by others in my field
  • the larger disciplinary context for a work 
  • related items in my area of interest
  • historic trends in the discipline over time 
  • an overview of what was available in a discipline, field, specialty or topic
  • interests that I didn’t know I had, things I would never have thought to search for, or even consider. 

Today, academic library systems and their user interfaces do not do any of these things, or at least not very well. For example, where I used to be able to use my library system to generate new title lists to share with faculty, these reports generally cannot be done with ebooks. What I have described above is not nostalgia, but what I believe are current business requirements which are not being satisfied by our facilities, our systems or user interfaces. 

Physical collections of titles, with titles selected individually according to their merits, are gone or going away, replaced with large-scale searchable aggregations of academic content, scholarly resources licensed in bulk from vendors whose business is the commodification and sale of digitized publisher content to academic libraries, usually at costs drastically above list price, sometimes even ten times higher.

This content we obtain cannot be reassembled into a library collection because it is often not fully cataloged according to professional library standards. The academic library’s leading system developer is also a content aggregator. Through these interfaces, which all large and medium-sized academic libraries use, we are but a smaller aggregator. There is nothing to replace the user experience of browsing the stacks. Classification/call numbers, which formed the backbone of academic library collections, are gone or going away. Yet, libraries have not effectively leveraged the capacity of the Web and its scholarly content to create engaging user interfaces and effective marketing to attract users to their websites. Librarians continue to speak about ProQuest, EBSCO, Elsevier, SAGE and publisher platforms, but scholars speak in the language of titles and publications which comprise scholarly communication in the discipline. 

Within our most sophisticated and advanced library systems, there is surprisingly little support for managing, assessing or presenting our digital or hybrid collections as collections to our users. It is not possible even to generate a shelf-list of ebooks and ejournals in a call number range using the major system almost everyone is using. 

Library systems are adept at ingesting publisher provided metadata, but the industry has not made support for browsing by LC Classification or virtual browsing a priority, despite the fact that numerous studies suggest that browsing collections offers a uniquely defining experience (that is, the experience is unique to libraries) which is meaningful to scholars and library users in supporting research and learning about a field.

Browsing is especially important in the early stages of research–especially stimulating it. Providing some reliable mechanism for browsing library collections online–virtual browsing–is essential to providing good library services, but even more so now that the physical collections are disappearing.

Although written in 2012, Lynema’s “Virtual Browse: Designing User-Oriented Services for Discovery of Related Resources” provides an excellent overview of experimental user interfaces which leverage virtual browsing, including images of browsing interfaces which are no longer around. 19 

It isn’t necessarily the print format or the physical book that is significant for academic librarianship, but the presentation of visible collections which reflect the scholarly activity in the disciplines, and the proper placement of publications into their broader social, intellectual and historical context, according to library industry best practices and standards.

Visibility is an important attribute of value. What has value is visible, and what is visible is more highly valued, and more likely to be valued by others. 

The ability to browse visible collections, and all of the benefits of this in terms of enhancing scholarly value, creating a sense of community around scholarship, and promoting engagement with resources, is a core business requirement of any good library, whether physical or digital. Print books may be optional for some academic libraries, but highly visible and visibly maintained collections are not.

While wandering through the stacks and browsing is what people report liking most about their experience of the academic library, browsing collections of ebooks and ejournals online–a virtual stacks–is not supported by any modern library system today. 

What offer is a Web service called “discovery” which searches a centralized index of normalized metadata records of the books and articles to which the institution is entitled based on ownership or license agreements. Based on a user’s query, it returns relevance-ranked results. Both the bibliographic records (MARC records) and the linking mechanisms to sources are now maintained by vendors. The advantages to the library are scalability, being able to acquire and make instantly available large aggregations of content by activating them in discovery.  It supports newer, more efficient models of acquisition and resource management. Today, one librarian can effectively do what used to require the coordinated efforts of many. In less than 15 minutes, a library can acquire and make available (to authorized users) 130,000 academic ebooks provided by an aggregator. Discovery has been a game changer, especially for libraries who have a lot of buying power.

Discovery is also particularly advantageous for journal articles and serial content which must be continuously updated. There is no need for a Serials Librarian. Once books are eliminated, there will be no need for Circulation, either. However, due to the inability for discovery systems to assemble ebooks and ejournals into a shelf-list by classification/call number, they do not support browsing or presentation as a library collection. The capacity to browse books online, create new book lists by call number, or develop marketing tools to promote titles is therefore limited.

Rather than assuming discovery is simply a more modern and intuitive experience for users, we might ask how well do discovery interfaces support the library’s “business requirements.”

For example:

  • How well does discovery (search engine) alone encourage user engagement and resource use? 
  • What impact does collectionlessness and booklessness, in both our physical and virtual spaces, have on perception of the library, its librarians, scholarship or the behavior of users?
  • How might visible, browseable collections of ebooks be offered online and in our physical spaces, even through tokens or books which stay in place in the library, but can be download to be read (virtual fulfillment)? ‘
  • What are the advantages and unique opportunities to the user of being able to browse collections?
  • How might providing visible collections and increasing collection visibility assist the library with marketing efforts?
  • How does discovery impact the perceived value of the items in our care?
  • How do we properly assess the value of library collections within institutional assessment plans?

Examining the library’s online experience is especially important now that institutions are aggressively seeking to eliminate their print holdings, or have already done so. Given that the library has acquired access to relevant resources, is access alone delivered through a search engine sufficient to meet the academic and educational objectives of a library? Can we be successful creating and sustaining educated, knowledgeable, communities of scholars, by providing relevant resources, but not organized collections?

A library collection today doesn’t need to be in print, but it does need sufficient visibility as a collection.

A collection is scholarly communication about scholarly communication. The academic library collection is itself a scholarly resource, and should be regarded as the main product of the library. For a collection to be a collection, as opposed to an aggregation of resources or a repository, it must be perceived to be a deliberate selection based upon shared scholarly values.

Objects in collections have the characteristic of intentionality. They appear to be selectively chosen for a specific purpose or audience based on shared or common value. Their parts must have a meaningful relationship to one other, forming a whole. Good library collections have a rationality and pleasing consistency to them which allows its users to anticipate with accuracy what is and will be in the collection (good collections are often said to anticipate use). They reflect the publications and scholarly activity which comprises the disciplines. 

What tools, technologies and strategies are in place for the academic library to present the library’s entitlements and holdings as collections to scholarly audiences today?

Should libraries try to offer the experience of a collection, or are collections themselves, in any format, now considered obsolete, as some librarians have asserted?20 21 Is the provision of relevant resources sufficient to meet the goals and objectives of the college and the university library? What are our library professional standards for an academic library online, and can librarians even have any standards, given consolidation in the library software industry, seemingly irreversible changes to acquisitions workflows, and the fact that librarians are exercising less control over their systems, their collections, their metadata, and their user interfaces than ever before? 

As I have already mentioned, the move to eliminate print collections at universities, and vocal proclamations of print’s imminent demise are not well-coordinated with available technologies to present library collections (as collections) virtually, to effectively promote resource awareness and use, or increase an appreciation for them as shared intellectual and cultural objects which have value.

Indeed, in this age of Amazon, decision-makers, and even my fellow librarians, may be unaware of the limitations of modern library systems when it comes to collection management and display of electronic resources, which increasingly come and go from our inventories like the countless sea shells rolling in the tides. 

Virtual classrooms and online libraries:
Do online libraries have an educational pedagogy of their own?

With the COVID-19 pandemic, students experienced surprising difficulty learning in online classrooms when their schools closed. Night after night, the news featured children expressing profound sadness that their school was closed, because online learning was too hard for them. They said that they just couldn’t learn online. My own child exclaimed, “Mom, online learning is crap!” Parents were at a loss. Given the ability for modern school-aged children to spend hours in front of a screen playing Minecraft and Pokemon, why should the online classroom have proved so daunting to them? 

Perhaps learning would have been better through a more immersive virtual reality platform like Second Life, which many colleges experimented with years ago, with interest peaking in 2009. Around that time, several colleges, including even a few in Texas (it wasn’t just a California thing) built out entire virtual campuses, classrooms and even libraries online,22 23 24 25 and advocates extolled VR’s potential educational benefits.

Second Life still exists, but I don’t know who goes there these days. To my knowledge, there have been no revivals of Second Life classrooms in the wake of COVID-19. Some libraries apparently continue to live on in some capacity in Second Life, complete with card catalog, reference desk, reference librarian avatar and visible stacks–artifacts which, ironically, may not exist in the physical realm of their libraries anymore. An example of a Second Life library (albeit public) can be seen here:

Curiously, the effort to build virtual libraries online, complete with browseable stacks, has never been a goal for mainstream library system developers, even though this virtual library experience is what many ten years ago envisioned the future of online libraries would be.26 The project is continuously taken up by universities. 27 and abandoned.

It is likely that the trend in academia toward the development of virtual campuses, and by association, their libraries, was curtailed by iPhones, the need to design responsive, lightweight platforms for viewing on mobile devises and smaller screens, rather than on  immersive virtual worlds. Perhaps it just struck everyone as immature, like building a university in Minecraft and expecting people to take it seriously. (Also, when virtual libraries peaked twelve years ago, the ebook market was not nearly as mature as today.)

Where it was not possible years years ago, today it might be possible to build out virtual libraries with readable ebooks, or make something like this replica of J.P. Morgan’s library functional, not just a Second Life mesh:

The JP Morgan Library in the VL platform, Second Life. This is just a skin or mesh, but other library additions in Second Life allow real books and archival boxes to be opened and viewed.

Or create one’s own library (with the extension pack):

A book display made by someone in Second Life in 2010, with books that can be opened and read. A Virtual Reality feature which allows students or professors to make their own libraries or bookshelves for others to explore might be a very popular add on to a library automation system at a university.

While these early efforts to graphically recreate the physical stacks in virtual environments using video game technology may appear to trivialize the research process–it does rather remind one of Minecraft–the importance of serendipitous browsing and discovery to research, as one could the physical stacks, particularly at the early stages of the research process, has been somewhat documented,28 as is the perception among librarians for the perceived need to create a better platform for browsing in an academic environment, now that accessible collections are rapidly disappearing from libraries.29

As Cook writes, “It is incumbent upon librarians to take seriously the role of serendipity in the early part of the information search process, and what may be lost as a corollary result of the ongoing shift away from physical research materials to online research.”30 While universities are experimenting with Oculus systems (requires a headset) and VR technology to enhance the study of archaeology an architecture, Cook concludes that while “physical collections are quickly disappearing to make room for collaborative learning spaces . . . the books-on-a-virtual-shelf conceptions of virtual reality have not yet been realized.”31

All of this talk about classrooms and collections in VR may sound pie-in-the-sky, which at this point it is. However, as educators, academic librarians might consider this: if an online classroom through the university’s learning management platforms fails to sufficiently engage students, why should we expect that the online library modeled upon a search engine, our current  model, should succeed in educating students, encouraging research, or inspiring people to learn? 

If learning online poses such challenges, why expect providing passive access to ever expanding digital content (especially much academic content that is not geared to undergraduates) will sufficiently engage students and scholars, especially when these same resources are often accessible to authorized users other ways, for example, by going directly to the publisher’s platform, or through Google Scholar?

Even now, scholars can often experience a better, richer, and more personalized search experience by going directly to the publishers’ own platforms where their documents reside.  Once on these platforms, vendors often recommend other books and articles which might be of interest. Academic publishers are competing with the library for the same users. Indeed, scholars tend to consult just a few publishers and platforms regularly, and if they can get to full-text, they prefer to go directly to them through the publisher platform rather than indirectly, by going through the library’s discovery layer.

One study claims that even librarians tend to avoid discovery in preference for subject specific databases (publisher’s platform), unless they are searching interdisciplinary areas or areas with which they are unfamiliar.32 

Although it is easy to search and retrieve content through a search engine, at large universities, discovery tends to submerge students into a sea of esoteric, peer-reviewed scholarly articles in response to their customarily overly broad queries.

What comes up in discovery is often irrelevant and incomprehensible, say, to a first year nursing student needing to write a five-page paper on diabetes. I know, we all tell students a little white lie, that the peer-reviewed article is the gold standard, a source of good and credible information, that it is better than Wikipedia and information they can obtain by Googling; but we all know this is not true, not even in the sciences. The best knowledge is often contained within works written by renowned scholars who have dedicated their life’s work to just that one thing, for which they often become known by name. The sola scriptura of the peer-reviewed article is too often written in opposition to the magisterium of received doctrine–knowledge represented by books in collections, contained within less volatile and more readable publishing formats. It doesn’t always present the truth, or majority opinion, but quite often obscures it. It is the pendulum swing the other way on the dialectic to Truth. It it didn’t swing out, it would likely not get published.

In healthcare, consumer-oriented websites often contain “better” information for students, standard protocols and orthodox opinion, rather than scholarly articles intended for researchers describing statistically significant findings, which can be less than .01%, from experiments with mouse models and tissue cultures in Petri dishes, or with limited populations. Seasoned scholars, because they have acquired the disciplinary knowledge needed to be information literate, take these articles with a grain of salt. They also know negative findings have not a snowball’s chance in hell for being published, so investigators may spin their findings, within ethical limits, into something positive for .01. We tell students peer-reviewed sources are unbiased and objective, but scholarship will never be unbiased as long as people must do it to keep their positions or their funding from drying up. 

In the Humanities and Social Sciences, books, not articles, are the most important vehicle for scholarly communication. Books are often aimed at generally educated readers with background material provided, where peer-reviewed articles are only written for specialized scholarly audiences, experts presumed to already be familiar with a topic, so investigators can cut to the chase. Books reflect sustained intellectual effort, depth and focus, providing the scaffolding or conceptual frame, the lumber of thought, necessary for a subjective opinion to become objective fact. The old library, our cogent book collections, were better suited for broad searches and the undergraduate experience, and through their durable cloth formats and consummate placement in a good collection, they communicated that they were objects of value worth investing time into. Behold! These are the titles valued by those in the discipline or in contemporary society.

Even though we tend to think of relevance-ranking as returning results most relevant to the user, information retrieval through a library discovery service is also a more impersonal experience lacking social context or external framework. Those who teache 16th century English literature wants to see an overview of 16th century English literature in the collection. Scholars want to be able to survey the field. I can get that from the stacks because it is organized by a classification system which reflects the discipline and subject areas that comprise it, but but not from modern discovery systems. 

With our current user interfaces, it is not clear that anyone at the institution selected the items (even if they did) turning up in discovery, knows anything about them, or invested in them. They appear when needed, summoned by a query, and disappear when they are no longer needed. They carry no existential weight or status.  

On the other hand, with print collections in our traditional library space, we could put a book in a student’s hand and say, “You really need to read this. It is right up your alley! Let me know what you think.” Or, “Doctor so-and-so, I immediately thought of you when I saw the review of this book! Let me know if you want me to order it.” With our print collections, it was easier to keep faculty up to date about forthcoming publications, and for our systems to support collection development activity. Academic intimacy in the library was fostered by visible signs of readership and use (date stamps, pencil marginalia), the fact that there was a discernible intellectual relationship between one work and another, and that collections in the library reflected the values and interests of a community of scholars at that particular institution. 

Those who decry the old library as a passive book repository, and complain about the amount of money spent to “warehouse a book” on the shelves each year,33 might be surprised at the cost academic libraries incur to for pay for annual or perpetual access, along with hosting fees and other indirect costs, and for often obscure titles no one at their institution will likely access–not even necessarily because no one would be interested in them (there is that), but because they sufficient visibility.

Not only is it quite likely, without marketing, that no one even at a university will think to look for them in the first place, but the metadata is often so poor it is even less likely anyone will discover them even by accident.

There is also the issue of quantity over quality. Large aggregator packages to which all academic libraries subscribe have been described as “churning constants”34(I think of them as chum buckets because they typically “chum” our collections with an abundance of cheap content no one would have otherwise acquired) for content that doesn’t move in print or cannot be monetized any other way, often cheaply obtained by the aggregator from the publisher, including many titles that are dated, and out-of-scope, foreign imprints; books on narrow topics which may never have been singled out for purchase by anyone in the library or its faculty under our former, more stringent collection development guidelines. This is not to say there isn’t some good stuff in them, but its purpose is to monetize content for the aggregator and publishers, not to be a good library collection. Choice Outstanding Academic titles for libraries and New York Times bestsellers are not included in these packages until many years go by.  

Many libraries buy, as they must, individual ebook titles on top of aggregations to entice users with more fresher, more relevant or more popular (trade) titles to their users, but the terms of doing so title-by-title are often egregiousness. There are not Amazon Kindle ebooks, cheaper than print. These ebooks titles, licensed only to libraries by a handful (or sometimes one) vendor, cost hundreds or even thousands each, often 10 times list price, or more. Of course, as libraries have gone digital, the prices for ebooks are now ridiculously expensive, and getting higher each year. The economist who wrote that famous article emphasizing how much it costs libraries to warehouse a book on the shelf each year35 was trying to sell ebooks to libraries. Print books are generally much more cost effective for smaller campus libraries. Even more problematic for the library is that users have no idea that a particular book was selected by a librarian, or comes recommended by a faculty member, or is valued by anyone else. Whatever individual titles we purchase and add to the platform only makes the platform seem better, but doesn’t add to our glory.

Indeed, title-by-title acquisition of ebooks feels like throwing the proverbial starfish back into the ocean.36 We have no way of presenting “our titles” to users, our select items. Users come upon the items we laboriously purchased mixed up with a bunch of other aggregator stuff. And then there is the junk purchased in perpetuity which was great at the time, but turned into an albatross or dirt on our shoes as we go down the road. Even with the knowledge that no one would would want to access a Excel VBA Programming for Dummies 2009 in perpetuity, the library may have been forced to license it that way, and accumulates in the catalog along with each edition of a standing order. 

The old book repository which represented waste and decay is no better or cheaper in digital format. It is just less visible to everyone, including even to librarians, in an environment where collections are invisible and might be argued to no longer even exist.

Visualizing collections. The point of the library at the college and university level is not merely to provide access to needed resources to support classroom instruction (learning resource model), but to stimulate intellectual inquiry, independent learning, general education, co-curricular education, all in varying degrees, depending on the size of the institution, its degree programs, and support for research.

However, our most advanced widely used academic library system today, ProQuest Ex Libris’s Alma, even with all of its analytical and data visualization capabilities, its Oracle Business Intelligence, and its customizable discovery layer, is not configured for the collection-based management, assessment or display of e-resource collections. The system’s capability when it comes to e-resources is limited to resource management, specifically facilitating the efficient acquisition and access to a mix of aggregated and selective vendor packages of academic content which live (and are simultaneously accessible to authorized users) on publisher and aggregator websites. The system is not optimized for collection management. ProQuest is a content aggregator, and through this system, the academic library is but a smaller content aggregator. Due to the limitations of our current online environment, booklessness has become nearly synonymous with collectionlessness, where libraries no longer seek to provide ways to present authoritative, quality collections to users so that publications might be meaningfully browsed or experienced as collections. What we offer instead of browseable collections is a kind of scholarly search engine.

While the acquisitions strategies vary from institution to institution, with some offering PDA and others doing more traditional title-by-title collection development (opposite ends of the spectrum), increasingly libraries mostly offer searchable aggregations, not curated collections reflecting what experts in the field think important to know.

Many in my field, especially Serials Librarians, see this as a form of progress.21 In Serials, no doubt discovery has been an extremely important innovation because it creates one search able interface to search across so many different journal titles. This is very good and necessary. From a scholarly and educational perspective, however, the shift from maintaining collections to maintaining access to resources is a shift brought about by the sort of acquisitions workflows encouraged by system vendors who are in the business of selling aggregated content, not building quality collections; there is a distinct conflict of interest. We must represent bodies of knowledge and what is new to aspiring scholars who attend a university wanting to learn about their field. The library must do more than support access, it must support awareness. Teaching information literacy is not a substitute for collection management, display and promotion.

The library’s discovery tool allows those with institutional affiliation a convenient way to search the library’s owned and subscription content. With single-sign on and other methods of authentication, students and faculty can conveniently access library-licensed content through the library’s discovery interface. They may also access subscription content through Google Scholar, or by going directly to the publishers’ websites. E-resources do not need to be “cataloged” because the vendor and publisher assume responsibility for access through our discovery systems through the provision of KBART files and MARC records. 

In the modern library, scholarly content has been made more accessible than ever before, but there is a downside: access alone is limited in its ability to encourage use or convey value. A search engine is neither an effective pedagogical tool nor a good marketing tool. 

Human beings assign greater value to what is valued by others, which was part of the excitement of the old library.

The traditional library was a construct which conveyed value for scholarship and the scholarly enterprise in ways that the modern library experience does not. It didn’t sit back and wait for the user to have an information need. It was there, in anticipation of use. The collection emphasized in an objective fashion what other people, experts in the discipline, regarded as important to know, not just what is most relevant to a query, summoned up in the moment just to complete a certain task. It existed outside of the user’s experience in some existential and meaningful way.

Visible collections help to emphasize the value of the items in them and help to make users aware of them. They are an invaluable educational and marketing tool. It isn’t that libraries are obsolete, but I fear we are on the verge of making them so by not sufficiently appreciating and capitalizing on what made libraries good and pleasing to students and scholars in the first place. 

Browseable Collections vs. Searchable Aggregations. One important issue to me, perhaps the most important one in the debate about print vs. digital formats, is that the technology is not yet available to afford users with a really great online library experience, particularly when it comes to ebooks. 

Through the academic library systems we have available to us, ebooks cannot be ordered into virtual stacks for browsing.38 Our systems and their interfaces are fine for what librarians call “discovery,” that is, for item retrieval, especially for known item retrieval, and also for locating whatever physical books and journal titles may remain on our shelves, but, rather astonishingly, they do not support collection browsing. 

Rather than moving towards a better, richer, more immersive and enjoyable user interface to compensate for the lack of visibility of physical collections in libraries (resulting from the shift to e-preferred collecting policies, robotic or remote storage schemes for print materials, and new library designs which place books out of view), as one might expect or assume in this time, our current academic library systems are built around what is commonly referred to as discovery, a cloud-based application which searches vendor- and library- supplied metadata records for everything–articles, books, ebooks, videos–to which the library is entitled, and then some; but which at this point, displays only ten results at a time. 

Web-scale, indexed-based library discovery systems, or “discovery” for short, is the technology behind the library’s all-encompassing everything search. This technology is not a new development or innovation; it has been around since about 2006, available as a subscription search service which co-existed with the traditional library catalog. Gradually, it came to replace the traditional OPAC, the online public-access catalog, which had been used mainly for locating call numbers of titles of print books and journals so they could be located on the shelves of the library. Discovery interfaces now often come bundled with library management systems. Academic publishers have greatly contributed to the success of discovery for it helps them to license larger and larger subscription packages of ejournals and ebooks to libraries year after year. It helps publishers to monetize their content, and it helps librarians keep their content, especially serial content, up to date. 

Despite the obvious advantages of discovery, there are some limitations of the tool, so of which I mentioned above. It is worth raising the question why search alone should have come to absolutely define the user experience of a modern academic library, rather than offering users a more immersive, immediate, visually pleasing and unique experience of browsing library collections. It seems more than anything else, this is a marketing problem.

Browsing the stacks has defined the library for hundreds of years, and was a prominent part of early efforts to create virtual libraries. The stacks are what made us good, not the catalog (which most people disliked).  The catalog oriented people to the stacks, where they were free to browse and explore. 

No online e-commerce site just permits search. All support browsing. So what’s the library’s problem? We invented browsing!

In a modern context, what viable, modern online storefront would survive as a static web page with a search box featuring, at most, ten items at a time, while telling the user that thousands (sometimes millions) of potentially relevant items are in its inventory? We are not putting enough content in front of the user relative to the size of the repository, our inventory.

Our websites and user interfaces do nothing to place items into their scholarly context, to “merchandise” items. Users would probably like to know what other scholars are viewing. Of course, libraries don’t incentivize demand for items like retailers with pop up balloons, “Someone at x university has just downloaded a chapter of this book!” or, “102 of your peers have read this article!” The least we could do as academic librarians is present titles to users in ways that are attractive, logical, organized, and visible to increase the odds that they will find something to like.

The most frustrating aspect to me is knowing that the problem is not resulting from a technological limitation. Library book browse tools and apps have been around for a long time.

Nor does it represent a philosophical shift in my profession, that mere discovery or usage (use-based analysis) alone is sufficient to ensure quality or demonstrate scholarly value. The most recent and commonly referenced textbooks on collection development in academic libraries, for example, Peggy Johnson’s primer, Fundamentals of Collection Development and Management, still widely used in library collection development classes, explains collection-based approaches in libraries and their history. Any mention that there is no way to meaningfully apply the approaches to e-resources in our current environment comes at page 290, in a statement:

Although e-resources always should be considered when the collection is being analyzed, many of the analytical methods described in this chapter cannot be applied easily to these formats.39

The problem, which she does not explain, is lack of metadata. Unlike their print counterparts, ebooks and ejournals are not assigned call numbers since they live online, not in a shelf location. Developers assumed it wasn’t needed. Classification serves more important function than what system developers realized. Without classification, ebooks and ejournals cannot be placed into a meaningful scholarly context for them to be evaluated or valued as we did our print collections. Classification is required for browsing by discipline.

Without classification, there is also no systematic mechanism for making new additions to the collection known to users who might be interested in receiving notifications of new titles in their areas of interest. As it is, vendors add new titles, delete others, all through an API, but it is up to the library user to come along and periodically conduct a search to see what new items have been added to our inventories. 

What library discovery systems discover are the citations generated from the metadata records of third-party content available to the library through its license agreements with publishers: libraries license the package, the publisher provides a file of our entitlements to our library system vendor, and items become discoverable in our systems.

I believe that scholars want to know more than what publications are relevant to their search query. They also want to be made aware of the latest trends and publications are in a particular discipline, and where an item fits into a broader scholarly conversation. Scholars want to keep up, and they want the library to help them stay current. They want to be made aware of things they did not know about or think to search for. If the library is merely a conduit to publisher content, it is not living up to its potential as an academic library. The library should support all stages of research, including stimulating it. 

An online academic library must also support the acquisition of disciplinary and professional knowledge through the presentation and display of titles as collections. It must in all ways strive to be a content-rich learning environment which celebrates and inspires academic achievement, knowledge, research and authorship.

Knowledge in Context. It is only recently, with the widespread adoption of discovery systems and the advent of bookless libraries, that classification has been assumed by library system developers to no longer be needed.

Why a classification scheme might still be needed for direct retrieval, or to organize a library’s ebooks and ejournals so they can be effectively and meaningfully browsed when, after all, our systems provide a seemingly more intuitive way to find books and articles through text search, does appear to require some explanation. Since electronic resources do not need to live in a single shelf location, why bother to classify them or assign call numbers to them?

Classification might seem rather pointless, as people have told me after I complained. After all, not one is likely to look for a book by typing in a call number, as they might, say, an ISBN number. Agreed, users are not likely to search by class or call number. But users might enjoy the opportunity to visually navigate a selective collection of books and journals online which are organized by classification, that is, by their discipline or field of interest, and they might enjoy viewing lists of new titles organized by classification, so like topics and titles fall together. They might want to see all that we have on a topic or subject area that is semantically independent. How are we to manage our collections without classification?

Scholars might enjoy being able to browse items to the left and right of a virtual bookshelf to see what else the library has which might be of interest to them. This functionality was made possible in our OPACS by classification.

In Western philosophy, logic, classification and knowledge are interrelated. Knowledge involves categorization of the known.

Classification and knowledge are inextricably linked. In the Western mind, at least going back to Aristotle’s Categories, things can only be known, analyzed or fully understood only if they can be classified. Classification has served as the basis for the logical arrangement and meaningful organization of knowledge, but especially of scholarly books in libraries, so that like topics collocate and items within a collection can be properly contextualized and evaluated within the scholarly context where it is most valued. While the LC Classification system (LCC) is not an “ontology,” and has certain limitations and peculiarities (it was developed 100 years ago), classification is necessary for an academic library to properly manage its collections and support browsing.

Academic libraries cannot provide quality collections to its users without reliance upon an appropriate classification system.40 A library does not offer meaningful collections to the user without classification, and cannot itself evaluate and assess its own collections without use of it. A library should provide not just access to content, but context, and that disciplinary context is provided by classification. It should seek to provide users with a unique form of visual navigation and systematic display called “browsing,” which is not a casual activity or noncommittal attitude as the word might suggest. Browsing in the library and scholarly sense is describes navigational functionality, a reliable way to visually navigate and apprehend collections of bibliographic data, and is not indicative of attitude or level of seriousness of the user toward his subject.  

Currently, our systems provide librarians with no ability to generate and display new ebook title lists, no ability to facilitate online browsing (virtual stacks) or present users with the experience of academic library collections as such.

If the purpose of the academic library is to support intellectual inquiry and scholarship, it certainly must support search. That goes without saying. But it should also support collection browsing, engagement with library collections as collections, and encourage resource use. Marketing resources, not just passive access, should be the primary objective of our systems and our user interfacesOffering passive access to vast aggregations of digital content is not an ideal pedagogical or business model for a library because it does not encourage resource use or user engagement. It does not promote library use.

One modest advancement would be to expect that library user interfaces support browsing of ebooks and e-journals by classification, where items can be precisely and most meaningfully situated into their most appropriate disciplinary context, and presented by classification for users to browse.

Another advancement would be a mechanism for displaying new books and significant publications in their respective fields of study, that is, browseable collection highlights. This functionality would also be dependent on classification, or the assignment of call numbers, to the bibliographic record.

Browsing is Learning. Browsing in academic libraries has historically been facilitated by use of the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system, or reliance on some other classification scheme which reflects the way the library’s users would logically expect to find materials arranged in the collection.

An LC Classification number is part of the full descriptive bibliographic record for academic book, ebook and serial titles, regardless of the number by which a library might choose to shelve it. The number in the 050 of the MARC bibliographic record reflects one cataloger’s understanding of the most appropriate, logical placement for a work, considered in its entirely, based on its intellectual content. Where subject headings can highlight different aspects of the work, including specific chapters, the classification number alone describes what the work as a whole is about. 

LC Classification helps to define the value of the a scholarly work in context, according to its discipline and place within a hierarchical knowledge tree, where it stands in intellectual relationship to other items around it. Scholarly works are perceived to be more valuable as part of a broader scholarly conversation rather than in isolation. According to cataloging practice, academic library books and journals are cataloged in the specific sub-classes and divisions where they are considered most relevant to users, and also considering who is the scholarly audience for which the work is written. Scholars want to see a publication presented in its scholarly context.

If a library book, scholars want to be able to browse to the left and right on a shelf to see what other books are there on the topic. While some may not grasp the importance of classification and browsing for supporting scholarly research, browsing is indeed an important information-seeking behavior among scholars, every bit as important as search. Understanding the context in which a scholarly work is written is an important part of understanding the text.

Browsing also helps to stimulate and inspire new research so scholars do not continuously go down the same pathways and eventually have their research interests fizzle out. Browsing helps to stimulates intellectual inquiry and the newcomers to a field or area learn more about it. It is fundamental to the learning experience libraries provide. Browsing is a form of learning and engagement with resources which we should encourage. It is what defines a library as a library. 

Academic libraries online must support browsing of ebooks and ejournals. While tools such as Browzine have stepped in to fill that need, to enable the browsing of ejournals by discipline, nothing like this yet exists for ebooks. 

Browzine is a popular Web service available to libraries which allows their journals to be browsed alphabetically by title within subject areas though a graphic interface. It also provides thumbnail images of journal covers. Why is browsing not part of a modern library automation systems?

The problem of classification of ebooks and other digital content so that they can be effectively browsed online is a vital problem. I believe if libraries are to survive into the 21st century, we offer an experience that is more exuberant and valuable to students and scholars than “information retrieval.”

Is Library Classification Vestigial? It remains to be seen if LCC will continue to be used for the presentation and arrangement of ebook and serial titles in new bookless libraries, or if it will even survive into the second half of the 21st century.

Understandably, there is a feeling that, with the disappearance of print, classification is no longer needed because e-resources do not need to live in one location on a shelf. Where the LC classification/ call number in the 050 was at one time extremely helpful to catalogers when it came to assigning local call numbers to the holding record for physical books–the locally assigned call number is placed into a different field, not part of the bibliographic record as is the 050–now it may appear that it serves no function and can be disregarded. The old title-by-title cataloging workflow does not even exist so much in libraries anymore, and especially not for ebooks or for the library’s online resources. 

Interesting to me is that this particular change, unlike those that occurred to metadata in previous years–like Dublin Core, or METS and MODS–has not the outcome of a library standards committee convening and making a determination that we don’t need to follow our metadata standards anymore, or that our bibliographic cataloging standards for books do not apply to ebooks. Ideally, by library professional standards, we ought to be cataloging our ebooks as thoroughly as books, but workflows vary significantly from library to library, with many deciding that vendor discovery records, while admittedly not good, are good enough. 

I also understand the feelings of indifference when it comes to cataloging ebooks. It is easy to sweep bad or incomplete metadata under the rug. First, few see it, after all, and only librarians know, or have the ability to know, if the metadata is bad, and what is not showing up in a query when someone conducts a search. It is sort of an honor system that we try to make things the best they can be, but the truth is, we are often the only ones who know the value of our work in terms of optimizing value.

Second, although over the years we have carefully cataloged our libraries book by book, there was so never so much interest in the library’s print collection as when the books were being thrown out (I have personally overseen the weeding of over 270,0000 books at my former institution, a five-story comprehensive academic research library which was eventually replaced with a five-story student learning center). All we had to do was set out a discards cart, and people flocked to the books and carried them off, like seagulls to a bag of Cheetos. For many of us, the old library is gone and not coming back. Do we really need to start cataloging ebooks when vendors are willing to provide us with an easy alternative? Wasn’t that the selling point of the new system, that we wouldn’t need to catalog our ebooks? The will to catalog ebooks (or, more realistically, to develop workflows for enriching vendor-supplied metadata) is weak, understandably so, when many of these books are not even ours–we are just leasing them for a limited time period. Some we buy in perpetuity, but most we license for a while and then they disappear. 

Perhaps there is no point in trying to tame the tiger of ebook metadata.41 Vendor titles seem to slip in and out of our inventories without affecting our license agreements or customer satisfaction. People rarely seem to miss what isn’t showing up when they perform a search, even if we think it ought to be there. 

From Booklessness to Collectionlessness. In traditional academic librarianship, the collection was equated with the library in terms of being our main service, and was practically a philosophical topic in its own right. A good collection was both an art and science requiring knowledge of publishing patterns and the disciplines to do right. Traditional collection management presupposed that the library’s product was not just information, answers to questions, but knowledge, which was embodied by a collection of books and journals, organized by discipline, and by the topics and specialties which comprised it. 

While methods for assessing the scholarly value of both the individual titles, sub-collections and the collection as a whole varied, the starting point for assessment generally began with a shelf-list report of books and journals arranged by classification. These might be sometimes be mapped to specific disciplines, called a conspectus, or a collection map. The report could include other aspects: cost, publication date, usage, format. It could be used to evaluate how funds were being allocated, or which subject areas were being most heavily used. The methods for evaluating collections varied from institution to institution, sometimes depending on the capacity of technical services to create such reports. Sometimes they involved comparisons with peer libraries. Histograms could be performed to assess collection age in specific areas or disciplines, as the books in different disciplines age at different rates.

For a collection to be a collection, items have to stand in a logical relationship to other items in it, and reflect publishing in the discipline. There are general guidelines librarians follow, for example: We don’t have volume 2 without volume 1. We do not have the minor works without the major ones. We do not have works about x without having the works by x. We don’t keep many years of superseded titles or dated materials. We do not buy in an ad hoc manner–year after year buying nothing in a discipline and acquiring only because of an upcoming accreditation review. If we have Marcuse, we have Adorno and Habermas. We try to maintain a consistent scope so users will be able to anticipate what will be in the collection and come to expect good things will be there. We do not add irrelevant titles to the collection just because they are cheap, donated or free.

At least, those were the old rules and conventions under which the physical library operated. With discovery and our electronic collections, such as they are, we do not appear to worry so much about quality; it is more about quantity, and letting the users sort out for themselves what is relevant to them. We buy or license big packages of scholarly content, and let users do what they will. We are less inclined to be rigorous in a digital environment. Many libraries are deciding to no longer offer collections to users in any format, but merely packages of aggregated scholarly content. Usage of whole packages, not so much individual titles, drives acquisition decisions. No one worries about paying for crap as long as it is scholarly. New academic library systems have been designed to manage the acquisition and user access to large packages of ebooks and journal content offered by publishers and aggregators, in which we license the good with the so-so and let users sort out for themselves what is good. To some extent, libraries are on autopilot, digital content comes and goes without impacting our license agreements.

Library systems are not built to help librarians to manage or evaluate collections of ebooks using traditional assessment techniques formerly applied to books, tools and approaches that we were taught to apply to print collections. Modern library management system are not designed to help librarians to evaluate collections, but they are also not designed to create digital displays, actively encourage user engagement, or promote resource use using digital marketing techniques. We can certainly evaluate the usage of a publisher platform, a package or a portfolio within it, but it is impossible to evaluate the quality or scholarly value of our collections as collections without a classification scheme.

As mentioned above, the metadata for ebooks and ejournals now placed directly into library systems by vendors are often lacking LC Classification, which provided a disciplinary context for an academic title. While some vendors, for example Taylor & Francis, have successfully partnered with OCLC to provide enriched metadata to their academic subscribers, others are loading into our Community Zones bare-bones “discovery records.”

Descriptive Cataloging vs. Discovery Records. The objective of descriptive cataloging in librarianship is to accurately and formally describe the intellectual contents and scholarly significance of a work, both the work as a whole and its component parts, so the work is able to be discovered by scholars through the record the cataloger creates, and related to other, similar works in the collection. There are many arcane rules to be followed in creating good MARC records, and every so often new rules and new fields come down the pipe, which confuses everyone who is still paying attention to these things. In addition to accurately transcribing bibliographic data and following odd rules for capitalization and punctuation, catalogers create access points through use of a classification system and subject headings. Here familiarity with the subject matter and the discipline is extremely helpful.

Of course, a cataloger, at some library somewhere, must first read (or effectively skim) the book, and then assign metadata to its record, which are then released into world for other catalogers to embellish to make the best possible record for a book. Librarians were networking, collaborating and sharing their subject expertise to develop high quality bibliographic records online way before Wikipedia was ever dreamed up. 

MARC records reflecting packages of purchased content are now deposited into our systems without much ado, sometimes hundreds or thousands at a time. In our system, I have to go out of my way to view them, which I do from time to time when I want something to do. Ever since the 1990s, when vendors began providing shelf-ready books with cataloging records which could be uploaded into our systems, catalogers have been bitterly complaining about them. But it was never like this, never what I am seeing now coming into our discovery systems from publishers, and I cannot help but be concerned.

I have received promises from the system vendor that the records will eventually be updated, but there is no stated timetable for doing so. My colleagues on library lists do not know either. Oddly, there is nothing about MARC records or KBART files in our license agreements with publishers. I have a feeling that with the transition to digital formats, vendor supplied metadata for ebooks and ejournals will continue to erode, especially as publishers are told by vendors of library systems that LC classification and other library-centric values are now merely optional42.  What?

During the COVID-19 crisis, when library conferences were cancelled, a cabal of publishers and aggregators (admittedly, there were a few librarians, but too few) gathered to try to define the minimal standards for ebook bibliographic metadata in the form of a new NISO standard, “E-book Bibliographic Metadata in the Sale, Publication, Discovery, Delivery, and Preservation Supply Chain A Recommended Practice of the National Information Standards Organization” 43, as if libraries hadn’t already defined this for ebooks through their MARC bibliographic standard. I didn’t find out about it until a few days after the 45 day public comment period closed, after which time I began to send emails with my comments anyway. That publishers and aggregators are seeking to define the minimal standards for the metadata for ebooks doesn’t sit well with me, for librarians and their MARC records are on the tail end of this metadata supply chain. 

As most librarians know, years ago the Library of Congress took it upon themselves to prepare a MARC record for every not-yet-released book sent to them by publishers. This resulted in the image of a card catalog card or its values being represented on the verso of the title page, the copyright page, for most books a library might be interested in acquiring. It also resulted in a librarian-created MARC record, at least a skeletal one, for every library book, complete with LC classification and LC subject headings, which other libraries were free to copy or download into their system though a standard protocol (Z39.50).

CIP information of the verso of the title page. Publishers partnered with the Library of Congress to provide metadata, including LC subject headings and classification numbers, to libraries. LC is not eager to extend its cataloging program to ebooks.

Unfortunately, the Library of Congress’s CIP program is not being extended to ebooks unless there is a print equivalent published at the same time.44 In other words, it is reserved for print books. Therefore, publishers do not have a reliable mechanism of obtaining library classification and subject headings for their ebooks unless they hire their own catalogers or else contract with a third-party cataloging service, which some do. 

Despite the lack of classification numbers and subject headings in much of our vendor-supplied metadata records–on my to-do list is a formal study of my library’s ebook metadata–the will to catalog ebooks and the staffing to perform the task in libraries today is often lacking, especially with the common belief, promoted by library system vendors, that discovery systems have made cataloging unnecessary. Libraries may purchase ebooks by the hundreds or thousands in a package. These titles magically appear in discovery, and even if their metadata isn’t good, it is often good enough for someone who looks for a specific title. Without subject headings and other enhancements to the record, items may not be all that discoverable, but they usually can usually be found with sufficient effort. 

Cataloging ebooks, or at least editing, enhancing and providing LC classification / call numbers (and subject headings) to potentially thousands of vendor discovery records, may feel like a thankless chore and an unwise use of resources in today’s libraries. This is especially true for ebooks, which are perceived to have a more limited lifespan than print. The fact that they are now acquired in bulk also has something to do with it. It is likely that no one inside the library hand-picked these titles, they do not live on university servers, and often seem to fluidly enter and exit from our library systems as it serves the needs of publishers and aggregators rather than the faculty or librarians, creating further disincentives to invest in them, or treat them as anything but the commodities they have now become. 

This is not to say that discovery systems do not also provide great advantages to us and to our users. As I mentioned above, library holdings can be immediately updated by the vendor and publications made instantaneously accessible to our users. Who would want to catalog all those books? Our systems are scalable: we can activate three items as easily as 30,0000 in discovery by activating a publisher package. Article content, which was not visible in our former catalogs, have become a primary focus of the discovery experience, which is extremely advantageous for STEM fields, where the peer-reviewed journal article is the primary format for scholarly communication. It had become an indispensable tool to make immediately accessible large quantities of continuously updating serial content. We can refer to it to know what coverage dates we are entitled to on any given platform, which is very useful information.

Until a few years ago, most academic research libraries offered a catalog for monographic titles and print journals, and a standalone discovery tool for their searching their databases. Now that print is being eliminated or not maintained by many libraries, replacing the traditional catalog with discovery makes the library’s offerings appear richer and up to date. Prioritizing digital content and discovery has significantly impacted library workflows by making them more efficient, needing far fewer staff members to operate. But there is an intellectual and qualitative downside. Increasingly, no one inside the library routinely familiarizes themselves with the titles that are passively acquired by the library through blanket publisher agreements. No one has requested or selected the titles in them. No one has cataloged or physically processed them. No one knows they are there, or notices when they depart. They enter and exit the collection on quiet cat feet. 

As part of a regular workflow in the library, no one routinely sees ebooks, or their metadata, except to make sure items in the collection are active in discovery.

We have no mechanism for actually displaying new titles through an automated feed, so we or our users can see them. There is no way to display or arrange our ebooks as collections to be browsed or evaluated as collections.

The essence of a good library is not passive access to resources in the event someone should think to look for them, but in encouraging resource awareness and use, and creating dynamic environments which cultivate interest in books, reading and research. To sustain user engagement, we must be able to market the items in our inventories, just as would any viable business.

The hallmark of a good library is not defined by access alone, but inspiring our users to learn more, to explore and to grow through engagement with collections.

New Uses for the 050 field. So far I have spoken in generality about the limitations of new system designs and vendor supplied metadata. It is surely a chicken and egg situation. The fact library systems emphasize discovery and not collections or browsing means that publishers have no incentive to provide an LC Classification number as part of the metadata it provides to libraries. Metadata costs them money. They want to sell books, not catalog them. 

I have argued for the need for classification numbers to support browsing, for without being able to organize our collections by classification, we lose the ability to create online a unique library experience and add value to the items in our care. LC classification reflects the disciplines. Without that, there is no scholarly context. Browsing publications by classification is unique to libraries. You cannot do it through Google Scholar. You cannot do it at a publisher website. It is uniquely “library.” When people reflect back about what they liked about their academic library experience from their college days, it was browsing the library’s collections. Browsing quality collections, consisting of publications which others in the field think significant and important to know, is a fundamental part of the library experience and how we encourage independent learning. It absolutely and uniquely defines the user experience of an academic library collection. We must be able to replicate this experience online.

Discovery records for academic ebooks, cataloging loaded into our systems by vendors, often lack LC Classification numbers. Even those from some of the best academic publishers, with the most robust metadata, lack 050 fields or valid LC call numbers put into them, and therefore, as far as I can tell, there is no source for LC classification to support a book browsing tool or to facilitate collection browsing. 

Even the best academic publishers, with the richest metadata, cannot fathom the Library of Congress Classification system well enough to provide libraries with a well formed LC call number in the MARC record. Springer consistently places broad class numbers into its ebook records, which would undermine efforts to develop online browse tools which feature collections of library ebooks.

Example of a skeletal MARC record for a new ebook, with no 050 field at all, nor any LC subject headings. Discovery records such as this are being placed into our systems in large numbers through large deals with vendors. Without enhancing the records, many of our newer ebooks may be undiscoverable though discovery.

It is important to note that this field can be either assigned a value by the Library of Congress or by any library who wishes to assign a valid LC call number to it, as long as the proper indicator is chosen.

The Library of Congress recognizes the function of the 050 field to support collection evaluation and browsing applications.45 As I will discuss below, slightly more attention is being paid to the 050 now because of the desire on the part of some librarians to harvest and organize ebooks by classification, and to perform collection assessment by discipline. In addition, OCLC has recently launched an experimental tool called “Classify” which might help facilitate the rapid assignment of classification numbers to ebooks to facilitate bookshelf browsing.46 As far back as 2004, Frank and Paynter experimented with an application for automatically assigning LC classification numbers to the contents of a specialized digital library based on LC subject headings of the items in the collection.47 It remains to be seen if virtual bookshelf browsing will become as important feature of OCLC’s library system, WMS, which could give it a competitive advantage over Ex Libris’ Alma when it comes to winning librarians’ favor. 

A few libraries and developers have tried–indeed, even Google (Google Books) has tried–to develop a virtual library which supported browsing by classification.48 Vendor-supplied ebook discovery records are widely recognized as being not up to library cataloging standards for books, but, due to the dynamic nature of ebooks, many smaller libraries have come to depend on them rather than laboriously editing, enriching and/or batch-loading them, as many larger academic libraries do.49 

Library Interfaces without Classification? There is an alternative to classification for the organization of bibliographic citation data in discovery tools which does not require an external schema or taxonomy, or for classification to be part of the metadata record itself.

Fifteen years ago, there was a fully developed library discovery tool called “Grokker” which could search and index hundreds of sources and databases at a time, return results, place them into metadata fields, form these into citations, dynamically cluster and label these (even allowing for disambiguation) and permit users to zoom in to clusters of bibliographic citation data linked to its source. Each circle represented a clustering category created on the fly, with the size of the circle reflecting the number of results. Grokker was based on a federated search model combined with with a semantic-clustering engine. Rather than going to a centralized index of publisher provided metadata, as Primo does, Grokker went directly to publisher platforms through connectors (APIs) to conduct real time searches of the documents and return results to the application for processing. 

The simple circular interface Groxis, Inc. developed is now gone. The company closed in 2009 after signing an exclusive agreement with Gale, a competitor to EBSCO and ProQuest, which turned out to be not a good business move. Its underlying technology of dynamically clustering bibliographic citation data is still around,50 and people are still conducting research on building better semantic clustering engines for bibliographic citation data.51 

Grokker ca. 2007 employed an intuitive visual navigation system based on semantic clustering which combined searching and browsing. The size of the zoomable circles clued researchers in to the number of search results retrieved in a category.

Semantic clustering to dynamically organize / cluster citation results better seems to be one way library discovery interfaces might improve, and in some intuitive way combine browsing with searching. Using of a clustering engine does not rule out the possibility of applying an external taxonomy or subject classification system to citation results, but one is not needed for categories and labels to be generated.

The Limitations of Discovery as a Library User Interface. While Grokker and semantic clustering search applications are able to combine searching with browsing to some extent, and therefore offer a richer and more intuitive search experience, they still do not convey that there is a collection there. We are still limited by the fundamental drawback of discovery as a library user interface that it is dependent upon people to pull things out of it, and does little to place items into a larger disciplinary framework.

As the reader might have inferred, I believe that good libraries are about the presentation of good collections, actively presenting what is good or significant, and perhaps even accounting for why an item is good and/or significant. Through discovery alone, there is insufficient collection visibility or strategies to promote user engagement with quality collections. Indeed, there really is no such thing as a library collection in discovery, only aggregations.

Libraries should be thinking beyond discovery, and an important part of this is how to make library collections visible again.

I do understand the logic and practicality of not assigning LC classification / numbers to items that do not live in a particular shelf location. Indeed, while some publishers manage to do a great job, it also perhaps seems unreasonable to expect that academic publishers, from whom we may license tens of thousands of books at a time, to provide libraries with catalog records pre-populated with library-centric metadata (LC classification, LC subject headings) to make their ebook content more discoverable in our systems, especially if our library system vendor is not actively encouraging these standards,52 and especially when, on some level, publishers are competing with the library to be a research destination; and when they themselves do not use anything like a MARC record to facilitate discovery on their own platforms. 

Whether vendors should assume responsibility for the MARC record is an interesting question, probably one of the most interesting ones which has arisen with new systems designed for vendors to load records into our systems. Can we legitimately complain to the publisher that the library cataloging records they are placing into to our Community Zone are lacking good metadata? My feeling is that is that if Taylor & Francis can do it, so can Springer and Elsevier and other international publishers. Work it out with OCLC or hire trained catalogers. 

Beyond discovery interfaces. The library can facilitate a unique and valuable experience to scholars only if it maintains good metadata and if it supports collection browsing. In the library world, browsing is the visual presentation of ebook and ejournal titles by subject classification, so they can be presented and experienced by users as an academic library collection according to academic library professional standards. It is more than being about standards. The standards were developed for a reason. 

The elimination of book browsing from our interfaces, and lack of support for classification of ebooks and ejournals, not only influences perception of value of items in our collections, but also makes our collections less capable of being evaluated, managed and assessed by librarians according to our own standards. It also makes our discovery service less able to be assessed, that is, for librarians to determine what is not showing up which should when someone conducts a keyword or subject search. It makes the library less meaningful and valuable to scholars who want to be able to browse publications in an area, and makes it harder to promote what we have in our collections to users. Without browseable collections, we do not support intellectual inquiry and therefore do not support research, especially at its early stages. We do not support the acquisition of disciplinary knowledge for those attend a university and expect to become knowledgeable about their field.  

It contradicts numerous studies supporting that faculty prefer browsing, at least to see or visually navigate collections to obtain an overview of a field; discover new books added to the collection; and discern trends over time in a field or specialty. As one scholar writes over concern of his library going to robotic retrieval and closed stacks, browsing collections is critical to research:

Being able to browse the library shelves is a critically important part of my research as an academic. I often find vitally useful resources by tracking down one book through the catalogue and then looking at the surrounding shelves to find related topics. I am very concerned that an automated retrieval system will prevent me from finding such important research materials. If there is to be an automated retrieval system, could there at least be a photographic representation of the surrounding books on the shelf so that the shelves could be “virtually” scanned by eye? (Robins 2008)53

Even if, when surveyed, faculty do not express preference for a particular reading formata common question asked in surveys by librarians when determining how much space and the library’s budget to dedicate to print in new facilities–their response, one way or another, does not mean these scholars do not wish to be able to browse library collections online.

Sentiments such the one expressed above by faculty in the quote above motivated the Macquarie University Library to develop a virtual browse tool for print books, when in 2012, when they went to closed stacks (as a result of implementation of a robotic storage and retrieval system). However, they encountered difficulties continuing to use this tool after moving to a new automation system, Alma/Primo.54

In May 2013, Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab launched a visual stacks browse tool prototype for their Hollis catalog, called StackLife, which featured a dynamically assembled vertical bookshelf generated from bibliographic and circulation information fed into it by their library system, which included print and electronic resources. Users could click on the book to get to the record or the resource. With this new visualization tool, which was a prototype, the spine measurements and page numbers generated a book icon proportional to the description in the bibliographic record. The book icon cover could appear in one of 10 shades of blue, corresponding to the number of times a book had circulated. While the project was abandoned after the Harvard Library went with a new automation system, interest in developing a browse tool for the academic library space is evident.

The University of Minnesota also made use of a collection browse tool which was part of a former system, but abandoned it after the tool was no longer supported.55 There have been many efforts to build a virtual library which would support shelf browsing, including by Google. 

Alma / Primo VE, widely regarded as the most powerful library system on the market today, comes with a little known Collection Discovery feature which allows librarians to create user-defined collections, and manually populate these with titles, but for reasons I have already mentioned, the application cannot place titles in order by classification. (They are in MMS/system designated number order.) Shown below is a collection of new books on “Allergy & Immunology,” but books on AIDs, food allergies, and asthma are mixed up. In addition, the bibliographic data which appears on the tile does not include author or publication date, making it of less value to scholars compared to the information on the spine of a library book. 

“Collection Discovery” is a feature of Alma/Primo which allows titles of books, ebooks and ejournals to be manually added to user defined collections for virtual browsing, but the books in these collections cannot be ordered by classification, and tiles do not display (even on mouse-over) basic bibliographic data scholars expect to see, for example, author and date of publication.

As much as librarians are eager to display new ebooks to users so that they might have greater visibility and use, no librarian wants to present books to users in random order, and with incomplete citation information. I’m hoping that this feature of Alma/Primo VE is just a start of something good. As publishers, aggregators and library system designers are trying to forge new metadata standards for ebooks to make it easier for them to monetize and auto-populate our collections with their content, we must respond with some library-centric standards of our own.

Clearly, there is a strong desire and demand for academic users to be able to browse collections of ebooks online, as this has project been taken up by several universities in over the years.56 Support for LC classification and collection browsing is a perfectly reasonable expectation for academic libraries, even if it remains to be seen how LC classification numbers might be systematically assigned by publishers to the discovery records they are placing into our systems. 

Putting Books Before Users: The True Meaning of a Patron-Centered Library

s print collections dwindle in the drive for libraries to innovate and modernize, no new interfaces or library standards for discovery metadata have emerged to support visually browsing a library’s online or hybrid collections, or to assist librarians perform collection-based assessment for their ebook collections. We cannot easily put new books in front of users through our systems. We have no online store front, only a search box which displays ten items at a time, even while telling them millions of relevant items were found.

Alma libraries have the capacity to harness Oracle Business Intelligence and Data Analytics, but wait, what?–it cannot be used to produce a simple shelf list of print and ebooks combined?57 It doesn’t actually do collection management.

The 050 field, the Library of Congress Classification / Call number, could be used to support a virtual browse interface, as several have suggested,55 too often this field is incorrectly populated or omitted altogether by publishers and vendors in the MARC records they provide to libraries. Few libraries have the staffing to manually provide LCC numbers to the records of the thousands of ebooks they obtain from vendors, a reality which left one librarian to conclude that, if we are to support browsing, we must lobby MARC record vendors to make them aware of the importance of including call numbers.59

So far I have discussed that the technology available to libraries to support booklessness leaves much to be desired. Through the technology we have, our collections are not only invisible, but they cannot be meaningfully be browsed like a library collection, making them less useful to scholars, especially to those in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Collection visibility is an important quality for a collection to have. “Collection visibility and visible collections” could be my mantra, followed by my more sarcastic “putting books before users.” Our current systems do not have any way of making collections visible, or the items in them visible without first being invoked by the user, which impedes learning. It is not a good model for students who come to the library without knowing anything, which is why they are enrolled at a university.

The academic library must put books before people to be effective. It must maintain visible collections and collection visibility. 

Do students prefer bookless libraries? What we know from the limited studies60 that students do not care very much for bookless libraries, and when given a choice, such as in a major metropolitan area like Houston, with several universities in close proximity, students will sometimes choose to go to libraries which maintain larger print collections. In my library orientation class, after explaining all of the fabulous things students have access to through the library, including ILL, I tell them that by virtue of their being enrolled at an institution of higher education in Texas, that they are entitled to check books out from any state supported school or public library, should they wish to do so. All they need is a TexShare card. A surprising number of students line up to get the card, even though I make it clear that they only need to obtain one if they wish to check out books from the other library. 

Granted, larger libraries might offer other attractions and amenities beyond their print collections, such as other electronic databases, cafes, relaxed food and drink policies, longer hours, and perhaps more people around. An Indian student who felt homesick at our campus (an HBCU) went to the library at the university down the street, where she ran into people from her own country, which made her happy. We do not even know to what extent other libraries are used by our students, how and with what frequency, whether the presence of current print collections makes libraries more intellectually stimulating and appealing to students as places to study.

We do know that often it is the pursuit of a single book–perhaps an assigned textbook–which initially sends them to other library in the first place, and sometimes they want to go back to check out books, that is, asking for a new TexShare card when a new semester begins.

TexShare cards, which extend borrowing privileges of students enrolled in a Texas public institution of higher education to other libraries in the state, can anecdotally help the library track where students are going, at least initially. It is none of our business why they are using the other library or what they are doing there, because it is an entitlement. Because students can decide if they want to order books through ILL or go in person to the other library to obtain a book, we know students can be surprisingly eager to venture forth to unfamiliar campus libraries in pursuit of a book. I hope that they want to see what else the other library has which might be of interest to them, which is why they choose to go in person, TexShare card in hand, rather than requesting the book through our ILL services. But realistically, they also might not trust our ILL services to produce the needed book in their desired time frame. 

Along the same lines as why students prefer one library over another, if students have a choice of where to attend college, to what extent does a library with physical collections (or not) factor into their decision of where they go to school? By that same token, do prospective students evaluate the library’s website and databases online to form an opinion about the quality of education at that school before applying there?

What is it prospective students are hoping to see when they are herded through the library by tour guides? Are they looking for other people? Are they looking for computers? Are they looking for interesting books on display? Are they looking at the size of our collections? The friendliness of the librarians? Collaborative learning spaces? Are they interested in seeing the library at all, or just taking the requisite tour all around campus?

Yes, absolutely students want the convenience of databases to get their assignments and coursework done, but I think, they also want a library with visible collections to experience, especially one with books which appeal to them and reflect their interests, personality, tastes and identity.

They want access to see and browse through books that are current, even if they might prefer to download a copy to take it with them to read (what I call “virtual fulfillment”). They want to experience the books that other educated people in their field know about. They may want contemporary nonfiction and leisure reading, even if they don’t have time. I believe that student preference for books or visible collections might even ultimately impact the business objectives of the school, but studies of this nature–whether the quality or mode of the academic library influences enrollment and retention–are non-existent. 

When people think positively about their experience of college libraries, it is the pleasurable experience of wandering through the stacks coming upon something unexpected, but deeply meaningful, which comes to mind. This is called serendipitous browsing, but chances are, as accidental as it may seem to the user, in some way a quality collection (and therefore a librarian) was behind it. 

Years ago, librarians were taught that the experience of curated collections was essential to the academic experience, how we supported intellectual inquiry and added value to the university. I still believe a good collection should be thought of as a pre-eminent service libraries provide to their user communities.

Perhaps because it is just a bit gratuitous in this digital age, physical collections might also demonstrate greater respect or care for the academic disciplines we support, greater respect for scholarship, and greater care for the student. Curated, cared for, collections create new avenues for discovery and a motivation to learn. They represent a body of knowledge. Done right, collections are enjoyable and meaningful for scholars to browse, where random aggregations and ad hoc accumulations, in any format, connote the opposite. Lack of knowledge, lack of care, and ignorance of the discipline. If we want to build communities of readers and scholars, we need for collections to be visible, not just searchable. 

As many of our institutions are rapidly moving toward booklessness, large packages of ebook and ejournal content are comprising more of our collections. Some of the largest aggregator packages are often comprised of academic titles which are no longer in demand–back-list titles–whose content is sold in bulk to an aggregator, who packages and hosts the content, and sells access to libraries as packages. While there may be good things in them, publishers will tactically withhold their better titles, current titles, seminal works and critical editions to encourage academic libraries to pay for these titles individually.

Even if we laboriously add better titles to the EBSCO or ProQuest ebook platform, we end up, like the Bre’r Rabbit, knocking ourselves out only to enhance the user experience of our vendor’s ebook platform, but not necessarily improving perceptions of the library. Users do not know which titles librarians have selectively added to the EBSCO or ProQuest ebook platforms.

If their experience is a positive one, they will think well of the platform, but not necessarily any better of the library. 

A searchable aggregation of resources is not the same thing, or a substitute for, a good library collection. Presenting users with visible, curated collections and emphasizing what is good are our best marketing strategies, for both print and online.

Discovery alone fails to cultivate a culture of learning on a college campus and diminishes our value, as well as the value of the items that are in these aggregations we are calling a collection, but isn’t, anymore than what Google Scholar searches can be experienced as a library collection.

A good library collection is what makes the library the heart of the university, what makes it interesting, and what supports a sense of community, what stimulates reading, conversation and collaboration with the faculty. Resources are our common bond with faculty and students. By placing quality, appealing and relevant collections in front of users in a way that can be easily seen, visually navigated and browsed, users are more likely to find something they like, something meaningful, something significant, something interesting, and oftentimes, something completely unexpected

Maintaining browseable collections which reflect scholarly activity in the disciplines is an important way academic libraries and its librarians stimulate intellectual inquiry and inspire research. To continue to do so into the 21st century, we must decide either to hold on to print for a while longer, at least until the point at which our vendors provide user interfaces and metadata which fully support and promote the user experience of academic library collections. 

Improving Collection Visibility

ith bookless libraries, the collection may be visible only through what librarians refer to as “discovery,” a search engine, which is to say, it isn’t visible as a collection at all. I believe the lack of visibility of collections is a serious problem facing all academic libraries at this time, especially as more libraries go fully digital. If we cannot see or visualize the collection, we cannot effectively manage it. If users cannot see the collection, they will not benefit from the learning opportunities and stimulation that a good collection provides. If the collection cannot be made visible as a collection, we cannot work collaboratively with faculty to make “the collection” better. If the collection is invisible, it cannot encourage use or add value as a resource. If the collection is not visible as collection, it does not really support disciplinary knowledge, so scholars can see and come to know this body in order to obtain professional knowledge. Most of all, though, a collection that is out of sight is out of mind. It does not motivate or inspire. Rather than showcasing the work of scholars, it diminishes it.

While some have speculated that research libraries today have no need to support browsing or even collections in the traditional sense–and that conspectus (which I will discuss below), collections and browsing have been made obsolete through a combination of search, “big deals” and PDA,21–to me it is not a good thing, a sign of progress, that the user experience of the academic library in the 21st century has been reduced only to search, and what is being searched is looking less and less like an academic library collection, and more like, well, random aggregations of academic content which cannot even be reassembled into a meaningful collections for browsing or assessment.

Discovery, the library’s indexed-based search application, which searches metadata of the library’s owned and subscribed content, is truly a wonderful thing.

But realistically, as an interface, it has not made libraries more attractive or valuable to scholars or regular users. In fact, the opposite may be true. Today users often prefer to bypass the library’s discovery interface or website (depending on the method of authentication supported by the library) to go directly to the specialized databases and journals we license on their behalf. Once users figure out the platform or database where their journal or preferred content actually lives, and that they can get to full-text through single sign on (authentication on the site itself), we lose them, which means to me that our discovery interfaces are not compelling or a good value proposition. It isn’t that they are too hard to use, or professors do not know how to search them, but as a search engine, we offer limited value. 

Sure, we can track and claim this usage activity on the publishers’ websites “for the library,” but we should not ignore the reality that on publisher and aggregator platforms, researchers are often afforded a more attractive search experience. There, users have greater confidence that their search has been exhaustive, thorough and current. Through search alone, libraries are not competitive with publishers and we are not giving users a compelling reason to come to the library or to use the library’s website. 

Indeed, numerous studies over the years have revealed that neither librarians nor its users even like or trust discovery interfaces, and for many reasons not having to do with the need for more library instruction, prefer to go directly to the publisher’s platform to conduct research.32 Another place they prefer to go is to Google Scholar, where they can search citations from university repositories, open access repositories, academic publisher platforms, as well as the library’s subscribed content–and then link to full-text that way. 

It is time that library system user interfaces presented users with a unique and inviting library experience, and not just a generic search experience for aggregated content, for we will never be competitive against publishers (or Google Scholar) in the area of search if this is all we offer. This means we need to support browsing, affording users the opportunity to visually navigate and engage with good collections. We need to make collections visible again. And it can be more than just access to resources. In an online environment, we should strive to make usage by scholars visible to other scholars (how many times others have downloaded the title) because in academia, just as outside it, use by others compels interest; people naturally want to read what other people are reading so they are not left behind. We need better user interfaces which support collection browsing, engagement, and analysis.

Our purpose as academic librarians is to maintain and promote quality collections which reflect scholarly communication in the disciplines, not just to provide seamless access to subscribed content. Tools for better collection management and collection development, along with collection browsing online, should be requirements for library systems today. Through our user interfaces, we could be orienting users to their disciplines as well as promoting new publications in the disciplines.

The same metadata which supports patron browsing is also a prerequisite for librarians to properly evaluate and assess the quality of the collection. Indeed, a standard approach to collection management in academic librarianship since the 1980s has been through a collection conspectus, which begins by mapping the collections by LC classification / call number ranges to the disciplines supported by the institution.  

The conspectus is recognized as a standard tool for describing, assessing and evaluating academic library collections, even around the world.63 Many collection development policies at universities have been based on a conspectus approach. The Library of Congress still uses a conspectus approach, and it is still recommended by IFLA. OCLC currently owns the last version of the RLG/WLN Conspectus, which they call “CES,” but it is not too difficult to create them from scratch using the LCC schedule to make one’s own collection map.

Without something like a conspectus, or a collection map, as some refer to it,64  it is hard–impossible–to do strategic collection development in a large academic library. Today, libraries can run usage reports to evaluate journals usage, platform usage, ebooks usage, and database usage. But we cannot evaluate the quality or depth or usage of our collections as collections, by discipline, division and subject. We cannot evaluate the intellectual contents of our collections, or report use by subject, institutional disciplines or specialties (which in the conspectus is defined by call number ranges). Sadly, libraries cannot even easily or reliably generate a simple list of books and ebooks combined, let alone do analysis by classification, as we used to be able to do. We cannot perform a histogram on our collections as we used to be able to do, to visualize the age of our publications in targeted call number ranges. The rise of discovery has made it easier to acquire and make available digital resources and journal content, but harder to assess the quality of our monograph collections.

Some libraries are going to great lengths to develop their own collection maps, either applying traditional conspectus divisions as their starting point65 or simply trying to generate a shelf list of both print and ebooks by classification and then adding visualizations to answer questions about the collection, such as usage by subject area.55 An outcome of Johnson and Traill’s efforts at the University of Minnesota was an integrated browse tool for both ebooks and print resources, which was not previously possible because of missing LC classification data in the 050 fields of the MARC bibliographic record.

With the shift from print to e-resources, and the restructuring of systems away from the traditional bibliographic approaches, our systems no longer support the analytical approaches librarians commonly applied to collections to evaluate them.

Using the most advanced system available to academic libraries, I can run analytics to evaluate usage of a vendor package of aggregated academic titles of ebooks, for example, but I cannot tell which specific call number ranges are being requested more frequently, identify superseded titles, identify subject areas which are most heavily uses, identify assess gaps in the collection, compare my library’s collections with peers, or systematically compare them against “outstanding titles” lists. 

Making collections visible as collections should be a priority for library system developers and our user interfaces, especially as libraries are becoming fully digital and the collection is currently not visible any other way.

At this point, many academic library interfaces have become mere record retrieval tools, more specifically, a searchable index of the metadata of third-party (publisher and aggregator) content to which the library is entitled, with some of our own (mainly print, sometimes ebook) records added into the mix. Publishers place a file of the library’s entitlements into a central discovery index where they become immediately accessible to users upon activation. With the growing trend toward booklessness, users experience the totality of the academic library’s often vast holdings and entitlements through the narrow window of the library’s discovery interface.

Indeed, students are likely to encounter this same user interface at almost every medium to large academic library in the US:

Results display page of Alma, the most widely used academic library system software in the world. Even as libraries move towards fully digital collections, discovery is all it does, 10 results at a time. The result is that library collections lack sufficient visibility and intentionality (no one knows if the book was deliberately selected for inclusion or if is was part of a vendor package). Lack of intentionality and collection visibility are two unfortunate side-effects of going fully digital.

Granted, there is a magic to its ability to search across so many different sources, publishers and media types in one fell swoop, which is precisely what it was designed to do. It is convenient for us and for our users. When we purchase an ebook, it can be made instantly available in discovery without needing to catalog it. A record, albeit often perfunctory and substandard by library cataloging standards, is placed by the publisher into our systems upon activation of the resource.

Through discovery, librarians can acquire and immediately make available very large packages of aggregated content, ebooks and e-journals, without having to catalog all of these resources. Selection and deselection, additions and deletions, are now handled automatically by the vendor, offering certain advantages (namely, scalability), especially those libraries with a lot of buying power. 

The downside of discovery, particularly when the print collection is all but eliminated, is that it is just a search tool, not actually an online library. 

  • Discovery doesn’t do anything to establish the library as a unique experience, to stimulate inquiry or resource use, to promote books or reading, or to place books and journals into their appropriate scholarly or intellectual context.
  • It also doesn’t expose people to new ideas, to unthought thoughts, to the things they would not otherwise go looking for, or might not know how to even search for. 

The ebooks in the bookless library cannot be browsed in the way print collections could, in call number order. What we offer now falls short of both professional library standards of the presentation and organization of bibliographic materials, as well as industry standards for e-commerce to market products online. A bookseller or publisher would never use search alone as its user interface with customers, and it would not limit users to a view of ten items at a time, but would present 50 or 80 items in order to increase the likelihood users might find something they like. 

Another limitation with our user interfaces, which also impacts our success, is that it is incumbent upon our users to periodically come along and perform searches to discover what new items have been added to them, for we have no systematic way to extract and promote new titles in the disciplines to highlight them.

Showcasing what is new, topical and current is another business requirement libraries have in order to remain relevant to our users. 

Another challenge with ebooks within the new discovery paradigm has to do with the spare metadata being placed into our systems. Vendor-provided MARC records for ebooks often lack library-centric metadata, specifically LC classification and LC subject headings. As publishers and aggregators are looking to streamline their own workflows, they are attempting to define the minimal metadata for ebooks67 to a few data elements which very fall far short of the national standards for descriptive cataloging for books which libraries adhere to, the MARC 21 bibliographic format.68 Of course, libraries are free to enhance and load their own cataloging records, but even then, if they go to the trouble of adding classification to the 050 fields of ebook records as some have done,55 our systems still do not support browsing by classification.

Another issue with booklessness is the high cost of academic ebook titles compared to print. For libraries, academic ebook titles are much more expensive than list price for print, some reported to be up to 150 times list price for simultaneous multi-user access.70 Small and mid-sized campus libraries, if they select titles individually or are keen to provide their users with in-demand (front list) titles, are not likely to realize any cost savings by going fully digital. Our pricing tends to be supersized, as we often pay for unlimited access, in perpetuity, whether we want it that way or not. The cost for an academic library to warehouse a book35 on a shelf is really trivial compared to licensing and hosting fees for an ebook. With a small library budget, I can acquire so much more in print, often with considerable discounts, than by going with the electronic version of the same. Another problem is publisher embargoes, the fact that the ebook is sometimes unavailable to be licensed by libraries until weeks after it appears in print.

Studies by librarians on the value of ebooks compared to print have not corroborated assumptions that ebooks actually save the library money. Yet, decision-makers outside of the library often believe the university will save money by cheaper book prices and also no longer needing to warehouse books on its shelves. 

Ebooks cannot be shared among institutions like print, and, as with much of our digital content, they are not accessible to those who are not currently enrolled in a course or affiliated with the university. If the mission of the academic research library is to support life-long learning, as is often stated, why should the holdings of the academic library be inaccessible to alumni? Why should doctors, after graduating from medical school, no longer have access to a good academic library? If our mission is to support scholarship, why not continue to provide access to ebooks and ejournals to scholars outside of the university? The simple answer is that if we did so, we would be in violation of our license agreements with vendors. But we never had these restrictions before, when we were predominantly print collections. When we bought the book or journal subscription, we owned it: “fair use” and copyright laws governed our policies, not vendor license agreements. 

With print, academic libraries provided public access to books and journals. We provided access to all scholars who came into the library, regardless of enrollment status or institutional affiliation. Public access to academic library collections was never an issue before our collections went digital.

Academic librarians always served students who attended other schools, people who needed to do research for a project for their jobs, journalists, grant writers, artists, museum professionals, high school students, writers and independent researchers, lawyers, business people and entrepreneurs. (Outsiders were never beating down our doors, and it was kind of exciting to assist someone with a real world project for a change.) In the transition to becoming fully digital, many academic libraries have been forced, because of vendor license agreements and single sign on protocols, to restrict access only to those with current institutional affiliation. Our facilities may be open to the public, but our resources are not. 

Finally, another challenge with the policy of booklessness at this time is that students who attend on campus, those who desire to have the full college experience instead of the convenience of an online degree, still expect to see books and current titles in their campus libraries. They feel that the library with books provides them with a higher level of service, a more vibrant and meaningful experience than online access alone.  

To prospective students and their parents, a visible physical collection is perceived to have higher value and signify greater investment by the university than an online collection. Good physical collections convey greater personal investment and expertise by the staff. When there is a physical library, students and faculty believe that the library staff are knowledgeable about the collection. However, they do not have the same high opinion of librarians once the collection goes online, even if librarians are reading reviews and continuing to do title-by-title selection just as before, adding our contributions on top of packages. 

When touring campus, people judge the library, its librarians, and faculty–indeed, the entire institution–by the collections they can see. Of course, students want and need electronic databases for paper writing, research and assignment completion, but they also want a library with new (and old) books. They want to see and experience the books that other educated people know about and value. They believe, as do their parents, that this is a valuable part of their college experience and education to which they are entitled. It is what makes the library interesting and good, and the university seem a less lonely place, even if many use it simply as a place to study. Other students will take advantage of the additional learning experiences the library affords. Students feel as if they are part of something larger when they study surrounded by books, because it means they are standing in a tradition of those who have achieved success and recognition in their field of study, and this in itself is motivating.

Even if books are not strictly needed for the successful completion of assigned coursework, students derive educational benefit, better knowledge of their disciplines or profession, intellectual stimulation, a historical perspective, and enjoyment from being able to browse library collections. Books reflect the culture and the character of the place, the spirit of the age (and former ages), and the interests of faculty and student body. Seeing books on display raises students’ awareness of the world around them, deepens their understanding of their discipline, allows them to discover who they are, and stimulates intellectual curiosity. It is an essential part of their college experience.

The library with books prominently and centrally displayed, with collections maintained over time, also creates a sense of continuity and community on campus in ways the bookless library does not.

Print collections also allows librarians the opportunity to casually engage with students about their academic interests and intellectual pursuits, where initiating conversation with students gazing at screens–even to ask, “Do you need assistance?”– feels a bit invasive. A library with physical books and maintained collections creates a sense of value around scholarship, while electronic texts are experienced as ephemeral and inconsequential, or at least perceived to be that way by students. And to a large extent, they are correct, for who outside a university setting can even access that academic ebook?

To Prensky’s point, libraries really cannot be forced to evolve beyond the limitations of the software that is available to them. Taking print away won’t force libraries, their systems, or their users, to evolve faster, or necessarily make the online experience any better or more engaging for our users. Evolution requires that our profession return to the development of standards for its systems and its metadata, and envision what a fully-developed digital library online should look like. 

Library designers and architectural firms who claim to be engineering the 21st century library experience might give some thought as to how digital collections might be meaningfully integrated into the physical space to create a modern library that is more than just a building with open seating areas. At the same time, library software product developers might consider how a library online can be more than just a search box with list ranked results. 

In both the physical library space and the virtual one, we want to provide users with a browseable collection of new and significant titles, prominently displayed, to encourage engagement with our resources.

Library collections serve an important educational role and are central to the user experience of a good library. Discovery is about finding information, but library collections are really about about knowledge. Collections reflect the library’s commitment to the academic disciplines, to scholarly communication, to education and to knowledge. Whether in print or online, collections are the essence of a good library. 

For libraries to be libraries, they must be content-rich learning environments, where items are not only visible without needing to be invoked by a user’s query, but also stand in relation to other items in collection, developed and maintained by scholars (or scholars at heart) over time. Collections are an important part of the library’s aesthetic appeal, the primary way librarians inspire learning at the university.

Beautiful redesign of the Haverford College Lutnick Library, PA.

ith the advent of new libraries,” the once lively debate over formats (print vs. digital) has been overshadowed by more fundamental questions about the need for libraries, or librarians, to maintain robust collections in any format,72 73 and moreover, how this need might be persuasively demonstrated to those who fund us.

While the leadership of our two pre-eminent library professional associations, ACRL and ALA, have long embraced booklessness–as a profession we’ve supposedly been about information since the late 1980s, and twenty years later, the library science degree at top-tier library schools morphed into “Master’s in Information Science” (no library in their name)–the sudden disappearance of open stacks over the last few years, and rapid conversion of many college and university libraries into bookless study / learning centers, collaboration centers, tutoring centers, media centers, and maker-spaces, etc., is making it harder for library directors to justify their acquisitions budgets and professional staffing levels.  

Within library literature, those who defend books now risk being castigated as technophobic, unwilling to adapt to change, nostalgic or “sclerotic.”74 75

While scholars and intellectuals are still writing and reading books, guests routinely appear on talk shows and in the media to discuss their books–and publications are still the basis for tenure at a university–within the library profession, even reading has become something of a liability. In a publication devoted to books, Publisher’s Weekly, in an article written by a librarian76 there is implication that librarians who like to read are not tech-savvy or not sufficiently customer service-oriented. 

  • Why would someone who reads not be technically inclined?
  • How can you as a librarian provide good library service if you yourself do not read?
  • Why seek to stigmatize readers and reading in the first place?

Common advice for candidates for library jobs is if asked why you decided to become a librarian, never mention that you love books and reading

Today, you can be all about instruction/teaching, information literacy or “helping people,” but not about reading or liking books.

Which begs the question: Should librarians know nothing more than how to pull things out of databases? How can one be about information literacy but not actual literacy

I believe that reading, learning, publishing and ideas should be celebrated in the college and academic library space. The space should be a celebration of books, thought and ideas. 

Therefore, we shouldn’t be hiding books out of sight, acting as if they are a source of embarrassment, treating them as decorative wallpaper–gluing, shellacking them and tacking them to the wall like molted snake skins, or putting them into inaccessible wall niches–or making assumptions that the stacks are somehow getting in the way of students’ ability to learn, no longer relevant to our academic missions because now, we are all about technology, work spaces and collaboration.

We are supposed to be encouraging respect for publications, writing and scholars, not denigrating them. We should not prioritize empty space or views out the window over resources, as if “nothing” has more value than the “something” we provide, whatever that something might be. 

The impact of library acquisition patterns on use. Even as millions are spent on online resources per institution, investment in print now comprises less than 5.8% of academic library acquisitions budgets, according to a recent study by Ithaka S+R.77 The Ithaka study uses acquisitions data harvested from library automation systems over a period of three years, 2014-7. The percent of ebooks purchased individually (title-by-title selection) was less than 1% of the budget. The decline in both print and title-by-title selection practices are not really news, but what this large-scale study, generously funded by the Mellon Foundation with the support of OCLC WMS and ProQuest Ex Libris, reveals is the sheer difficulty of gathering data to study library acquisition patterns in the first place, let alone assessing the impact these trends are having on user behavior.

In the annual academic library survey conducted by ACRL (ACRL Academic Library Trends and Statistics Survey), print books are lumped in with all other one-time purchases, which may include individually selected ebooks, videos, and anything else not part of a subscription package. The ACRL survey attempts to capture detailed statistics on academic library services for all sizes of library, and it has captured this same information over the course of years to allow for identification of trends over time. However, it does not ask about percent of budget spent on print, percent devoted to books in all formats, percent obtained through DDA/PDA programs, etc., or provide detailed information about acquisition patterns to allow for an investigation into how changes in acquisition patterns have impacted library usage, student behavior, perceptions of the library, learning outcomes, or the library profession as such (something ACRL’s membership would certainly care about). Through ACRL’s metrics, one cannot make any correlation, say, between declining print purchases and reduced foot traffic in the library. 

I am not attached to any particular format, but rather to the objective of maintaining stimulating, current, and visible collections which support browsing for ideas, current scholarship, creativity and independent learning. I would like some way to integrate ebooks with print books in the stacks, and raise awareness of ebooks in the physical space.

Regardless of their format, collections, titles, reading and publications must remain central to our academic mission and messaging, and to the user experience of the library.

By becoming an even bigger computer lab or study hall with more meeting and study rooms, by our focusing on connecting people with each other rather than encouraging people to engage with books, ideas and current scholarship, we may not actually be creating environments conducive to learning, despite what architects have to say about the matter. (Many libraries had ample seating and study rooms before converting the library into a monument to learning.) 

I believe that booklessness, and the premise of the “new librarianship,” that we are just about collaboration or technology or our services or our work spaces, but not about collections, are hurting students and faculty in ways that have not been fully realized.

It is also taking away from scholarship as a focus of the library and the librarian-facilitated conversations that new libraries are supposed to be encouraging. 

The Value of Physical Collections in the Digital Age. To date, no large-scale study has been conducted which seeks to determine the relative value of maintaining physical collections in a predominantly digital environment, although this conclusion has been alluded to in a few recent studies.78 

Another related question, one completely independent of formats, is the continued value of title-by-title selection in an online environment, where it has become easy to allow patron-driven and vendor-driven models to determine what we offer. Does it make a difference who does selection? What acquisition model makes the library the most successful?

When a greater percentage of titles are selected individually by selectors and faculty, do users benefit? How does the institution benefit? Aside from offering better, more focused collections of titles thought to be significant or relevant, when librarians (and faculty) are more actively involved with title selection, are they not better equipped to encourage use by students? Are they more satisfied with the library if they can be involved with collection development?

Is there a difference in usage or the user experience of the library where there is more collection development activity, as opposed to the library’s functioning as a passive gateway to subscribed content?79

There are significant costs for college and university libraries to fully divest themselves of print. On a title-by-title basis, pbooks are still more cost effective for smaller campus libraries (see below, The real cost of ebooks ), and most books published today are not available in ebook format to be licensed by a library–at least, not for a few months or years after their print debuts. Those books available to be purchased by a library in ebook format represent a very small percent of book publications. Therefore, without print titles, our collections cannot remain current. We also have a difficult time promoting or raising awareness of ebooks in the library space. 

Our often misunderstood job as academic librarians and educators is not to satisfy demand for resources, but to stimulate it!

Libraries play a significant role not just in meeting needs or answering questions, but in creating them in the first place, stimulating demand for their own resources. 

Our collections should inspire wonder, curiosity, investigation, reaction and research. We cannot accomplish this without high collection visibility and a discernible commitment to maintaining quality content. 

Whether public or academic, our patrons don’t necessarily know what they want when they come into the library or come to our websites. Rather than looking for something in particular, they come to the library to browse, looking for something to like, something interesting, something that jumps out at them, something meaningful to them, to see what is new, or explore their chosen career. 

This is the aesthetic experience that a good library provides. Our websites should cultivate the same aesthetic, putting our content out in front to invite exploration of the invisible world of intellectual endeavor, scholarly pursuit and creativity. 

A good library collection is like a living thing, the substrate of intellectual life at the university, a colorful coral reef that the whole academic community feeds upon to nurture ideas, learning, knowledge creation and intellectual development. New books are the blooms. Primarily through its collections, the library serves as a visually and intellectually stimulating place for scholars and aspiring scholars to visit to gather ideas and explore. Good collections take years to develop. Kill off the reef and the fish are going elsewhere! Choose wisely for your library and your university.

The Content-Rich Library in the Age of Amazon

Dear ACRL: What are our professional standards for an online academic research library in the 21st century? 

Administrators often speak about the library being fully or mostly online, especially for marketing its graduate programs. But what does it really mean for a university library “to be” online in the Digital Age? How do we effectively market our collections to turn people to things they might like to know about? How do we add value or effectively represent disciplinary knowledge if all we are is a search box for aggregated content?

Given the consolidation of library automation system software vendors, can we librarians even propose standards for our online catalogs and discovery tools, or must we simply accept whatever is given to us by our vendors? Given our current infrastructure, and our niche status, how might new standards and applications for online libraries be developed and implemented today?

Bookshelf browsing, virtual newsstands (like Browzine), and other visual navigation applications to facilitate an enjoyable, intuitive browsing experience are overdue as enhancements to the front end of larger web-scale academic library management systems, as is personalization, the ability to present users with new content that is of interest to them when they come to the library’s site.

Certainly, the common limitation of ten results to a page, when the system often boasts so many relevant items, is tedious for users to navigate. As mentioned above, there are alternatives to ranked search engine lists, such as those which cluster results, provide for disambiguation, and visual navigation for a more intuitive search experience. 

Libraries might also benefit from what e-commerce already has to woo customers, presenting things they might like, and we also must be able to represent online an actual library collection as such, rather than simply presenting ways to conveniently parse though indexed metadata of third-party aggregated content so someone can find it, should they want to. That does not lend meaning and value to our content, or our profession.

The user experience of a good collection–both in print or online–promotes creativity and independent learning, precisely the same sort of open-ended and unstructured creative exploration people are trying to facilitate though maker-spaces and more collaborative modes of instruction. We need to afford users a better user experience of the library online so that it can be more closely tied to education, not in terms of classroom learning objectives, but it in terms of disciplinary knowledge. We also must be able to effectively operate, in terms of presentation, on the level of titles and publications, not mere packages and aggregations. 

Many challenges are before us. Within the field of higher education, much emphasis has been placed on real world learning and team-based projects as opposed to book learning and essay writing. Project-based learning, collaborative learning, active learning and other alternatives to traditional text-based learning are advanced by many universities as providing better preparation for the jobs of tomorrow. There is a downside to this hands-on approach no one mentions: learning this way is terribly inefficient. 

With reading, or “text-based learning,” students don’t spend time reinventing the wheel, rediscovering in labs the knowledge that is already known. The laws of gravity have already been discovered, we don’t need to spend the whole semester tinkering with model rockets to rediscover gravity for ourselves. We don’t need to repeat the experiment, for it has been done enough times. Let’s read about it from an authoritative source and move on. 

As a society, seem to be returning to a kind of primitivism and literalism associated with backwards and pre-literate cultures. For various reasons many have guessed at, people are losing the will and the ability to read.80 This phenomenon has been dubbed “secondary orality,” a return to orality by post-literate societies. 

Investment in maker-spaces, media rooms and active learning labs in the new academic library space, in addition to the creation of collaboration spaces fostered by open floor plans, vaulted ceilings and light-filled atria, glass walls and technology (larger screens for shared viewing, special software apps, 3-D printers) are expensive, as is the expertise of architectural firms claiming to have special insight into getting people to collaborate and learn in these modern times.

But after the facility is built and the dust has settled, what then? Where are the impact studies by libraries who have fully transitioned to the new concept? Is it progress or regression? Is it the Enlightenment or a new Dark Ages? Does it produce literate people or promote ignorance?

From what I have been able to ascertain so far based on anecdotal evidence, is that no one in my discipline seems to know how to get people to collaborate, mentor and share knowledge once the old spaces are renovated or new facilities are built81, or how to differentiate collaborative learning from other less important forms of social interaction in order to arrive at measurable outcomes for our assessment plans. 

And, most importantly to me, it is not engagement with technology or with other people that academic librarians or academicians wish to foster, but engagement with scholarly and culturally significant books and articles, engagement with publications and the ideas found in them. We librarians and faculty want students to make connections, not so much with other people in the library space, or with us for that matter, but with the scholarly resources and authorities vital to their discipline and to important books reflecting the world around them. 

Of course, if more people are coming in, for whatever reason, even just to sit on our comfy couches, they are more likely to talk to a librarian who can then clue them in to all that which great content we have which may not be apparent to them. 

Nonetheless, I would love to see showcased in library literature new library architecture and software applications designed specifically around the concept of promoting discovery and engagement with library resources, with our content, both in print and online formats, rather with other people in open seating arrangements–with nothing to offer to the intellect, nothing to nurture the soul, nothing to inspire research, nothing to raise awareness of new publications, nothing to encourage leisure reading or instill life-long learning, and nothing to inspire scholarship. 

Without the capacity to present our users with a rich selection of materials that are of interest and relevant to them when they walk through our doors–without the ability to create content-rich learning environments–the physical library becomes a barren wasteland with furniture for studying or texting and hanging out, but nothing of substance to encourage intellectual curiosity, learning outside the classroom, or participation in a broader cultural conversation of educated people. 

Despite protests by library users and faculty when initiatives to eliminate print are implemented or proposed, and even after similar projects are deemed failures and the books are brought back–for example with the Cushing Academy’s celebrated bookless library82 83–this trend of getting rid of print, placing books out of sight, into underground storage lockers, into compact shelving, into low traffic areas, or incorporating them as meaningless abstractions into a comprehensive design scheme continues to trend upward in buildings called libraries.

ooklessness–or rather, lack of commitment to collections–as well as changes in how libraries are evaluated through their institutional assessment plans, has blurred the distinction between a library and an LRC (learning resource center) or LC (learning center), as the case may be.  Because college library booklessness has become acceptable, fashionable–equated with progress–all forms of bookless learning (innovation labs, maker spaces, news rooms, learning commons, information commons, media centers and “active learning labs”) are becoming more common in libraries on college campuses, replacing a large portion of the library or cutting significantly into its budget.

I would say replacing a large portion of the traditional library, but despite the enthusiastic participation of library directors in creating these promising new spaces (which open right before they retire), I’m not sure others in the college and university administration regard media labs, maker-spaces, and smart classrooms as belonging to the library. Librarians who resist these trends with skepticism or scholarly research, risk criticism on many fronts, by administrators looking for ways to save money, by those wishing to be regarded by others as forward-thinking, by an insecure older generation fearing to appear obsolete, and most of all, by architectural design firms who are eager for commissions to design unique and expensive buildings called libraries, but which in no way promote resource use or library learning.

Architectural rendering of a new modern library (can’t find the source, most unlibrarian-like of me!). This is a typical design, where books and resources are not visible in the entrance way or on the first floor. It is harder to promote content or cultivate readers in this sort of modern library space.

Library Journal, American Libraries and other library publications routinely showcase the new academic library architecture without ever mentioning the impact these vacuous facilities are having on acquisitions budgets, professional staffing levels and usage of resources. After new libraries are erected or renovated, and the ribbons are cut, the library appears to be reduced to promoting its (empty) spaces, their furniture on wheels, and the same instructional services as before. 

I think it is great that libraries are striving to become more social places. I really do. Libraries were never really the stultifying study halls or book warehouses some new library advocates make them out to be.

Students have always been able to study and socialize in libraries, and relaxed food and drink policies have been the norm for most libraries since I graduated from library school in 1990. Many libraries were built with cafes in them. There is nothing 21st century about the combination of coffee, books, and people, or comfortable seating. Drinks allow for minute mental breaks which are needed to sustain prolonged focus. 

What is new, especially in library literature, is the perception that physical books are impeding student success, the advancement of the library profession, requiring too much staff, standing in the way of the library’s becoming popular with students and/or risking turning the library into a “book warehouse.” This is a very dark current that runs throughout academic library literature today, along with reminders that this generation of students never grew up reading books, so they are not likely to start when they go off to college.

Younger university administrators also are less likely to be champions of the library, believing that books are not needed in any format for students to be successful in their degree plans. In their minds, the success of online degree programs have largely proved the irrelevance of the physical library and print collections to the mission of the university. All students require are their textbooks and access to Blackboard, and the library is only something to be concerned with when it comes time for accreditation review.

With the way student- or academic success is defined, according to the business objectives of the university, it is difficult for library directors to get a strong toe hold. Many within a university administration do not understand or appreciate the extent to which a well-stocked, well-maintained library is a key marketing tool for the university, and that books contribute to the operation of the university as such. The library is the ultimate resource for demonstrating student-centeredness and care, precisely because many of the books in the library are there to support have the students’ own definition of success, not because they must be used to be successful in degree programs.

Because it is just a bit gratuitous, good library collection is the ultimate reflection of genuine student-centeredness on a college campus.

Nevertheless, for the first time in academic library history, books represents a burden that we librarians need to be liberated from.

Books represent an albatross around our necks and our students’ necks. The rationale is, “Get rid of print,” and we librarians will be freed up to do more important things–like helping students (as if we’ve always not done both, thank you very much). Get rid of the books, and people will want to come to the library once again. Get rid of books, and our students will be forced to embrace new technologies and be better prepared to enter the workforce. 

Even though new titles are rarely available to libraries in digital format for many months after their print debut, the book is viewed as an outdated product 84 that many library directors and administrators are eager to distance themselves from for a variety of reason, some valid and some not. 

Dividing lines are drawn over the role and importance of print books and the need to maintain collections, with professional staff often reluctant to say what they really think about plans to go completely digital. Those who resist risk being typecast as resistant to change, obsolete or technophobic. An example of this can be found in Lura Sanborn’s (2013) article “Bookless library?”:

Are there going to be growing pains and resistance? Sure. In fact, absolutely. A body at rest wants to stay at rest. There will be those embedded in print that wish to stay in print. Internally, there will be those who throw their hands up in the air and declare it is all too much, too complicated, and too difficult to simply keep up. What was shiny and astounding three years ago looks ridiculously musty at this point. Keeping up with and making the best decisions possible regarding digital text is hard, and there will be those who refuse to embrace the new. This is predictable behavior. Fifteen years ago, working as a student assistant at a busy university reference desk, I, and everybody on staff, knew “that professor” who never got over the movement from the card catalog to the OPAC. He would always call the reference desk when in need of a book, refusing-on some principle important in his mind-to learn to use the OPAC.

Evolution takes time. We can stick with what we have, or we can move to make it better. Case in point: iOS 7 is much more sophisticated and pleasing than the initial OS X. Should Apple not have evolved in order to keep a population afraid of the learning curve within their comfort zone? To compare, so too have advancements been made to many of the digital text interfaces available to libraries. And much like with Apple, the interface, quantity, and search capabilities just keep getting better.

Despite the strong movement forward, some still find the concept of a digital library uncomfortable. When the director of the Johns Hopkins Welch Medical Library announced last year that the library was going online only and closing its physical doors, the Johns Hopkins constituency shrieked and formed a committee (Nichols 2013). However, the transition has since moved along and from the outside looks both inevitable and wonderfully enviable (Michael 2013). Instruction librarians are in a discrete space, while the emphasis of the collection is on digital holdings. This model speaks to the essential, core functions of an academic library: collection and instruction. 85

Librarians may feel pressured to reiterate exaggerated claims about “the cost to warehouse a book on the shelf” each year–about $4.20–taken from a very impressive analysis done by economist Paul N. Courant, who was on the board of several large scale book digitization ventures 35 when published that study (2010), and concluded:

Finally, we note that the argument in favor of moving toward digital versions of books and sharing both electronic and print collections is further enhanced when we recognize that university libraries tend to be located on prime real estate, and that there are uses of central campus stack space—for classrooms, study, offices, and enhanced library services, among others—that would be far more valuable than using that space to store materials most of which are used rarely, provided that access to the materials in aggregate could still be provided reliably. 87

His figure of $4.20 per annum per book has been repeated so often at library conferences and in Power Point slides, even in Newsweek,88 it has become a factoid,89, a perfect example of what happens when articles are mined for information and not read critically for bias. He was selling digitization services, after all.

The real cost of ebooks for academic libraries. It is often assumed by college administrators and non-librarians, mainly based on their own experiences with Amazon and Kindle, that academic ebooks are significantly cheaper than print books. This is a common misconception. It is absolutely intuitive that they would be. While they typically are for consumers, they are not for academic libraries, unless they are titles that are no longer in demand (called “backlist” titles). 

Vendors charge institutions more for an academic ebook, even for single use. The cost of purchasing a recent (published in the last 3 years) academic title through a typical library vendor like EBSCO is 1/3 to 2/3 higher than the cost of the same book in print for single simultaneous use.

Take a look at this taken randomly selected title from EBSCO’s Collection Manager tool. Natural Gas Processing: Technology and Engineering is $146 for the print book paying full list price (librarians usually get a 20% discount for print books through their book jobber). The same ebook is priced at $177.60, $222.00 (for 3 simultaneous users) and $266 for unlimited use.


The markup on new academic ebooks varies, but the cost for a front list title is always more than the list price for the print version, even for nontechnical titles. This observation is confirmed by the e-book price index in the librarian’s bible of statistical data and book prices, Bowker’s Library and Book Trade Almanac. It states (2016) that:

In the academic market, it has always been assumed that e-books are more expensive than their print counterparts. Users might be surprised to find that the cheaper versions of e-books, available to consumers through such channels as Amazon and the Apple Store, are not available to libraries at similar prices, if at all. . . .

The high price for e-books is not that surprising as most pricing models for academic ebooks generally add a high percentage to the list price for the purchase of e-books. Multi-user licenses are an even larger percentage. In most situations, even-single user academic e-book titles are more expensive than their print counterparts.” 90

One explanation for the higher costs for institutions is that the vendor is providing hosting in perpetuity for the ebook–even if we do not want access to the book in perpetuity, we often must buy it that way. When libraries buy books, unless they are extremely large research libraries (and even then), they never buy with the idea in mind of having a book forever. Suddenly the cost of maintaining a book on the shelves doesn’t seem so bad.

Another factor is scalability, that many users could potentially access the book at the same time. This a great benefit for large academic institutions, but smaller and medium-sized libraries cannot benefit as much from economies of scale.

Ebooks usually do not represent a significant cost savings over print unless the library is buying a package of oddball academic titles, UK imprints, dated titles, or things that the publisher can’t move in print any longer, in which case the book is valued at less than list price for print. What goes into a content aggregator’s ebook package is based not on careful vetting by librarians but blanket publisher agreements. They are commodities, like soybeans. The success of the aggregator depends on negotiations with traditional print publishers to digitize, aggregate and monetize their back-stock, called “backlist” titles. These aggregations are not “collections” in a librarian’s sense of the word. They are merely chum-buckets of aggregated content no longer able to monetized in print by the publisher. Not there is not anything good in them, but they do not represent the current state of the discipline, nor do they pretend to.

However, only those already familiar with a discipline, educated people, may appreciate the difference in quality between a package of academic ebook titles and an actual library collection. If the priority is providing relevant ebooks so students can complete a writing assignment, aggregates of ebooks are fine. If the priority is doing research in a discipline, they miss the mark.

Most academic libraries already buy large ebook packages, but deliberately excluded from these subscription packages are front list titles, newer titles and titles in demand, which the vendor hopes to sell to the library individually at a higher price. Better titles get added to the online platform at a premium cost to the library.

More concerning to me is that there is a psycho-social aspect of ebooks which discourages users from actually reading them. Since no personal investment appears to have been made in selecting the titles, and no great expense appears to have been made by the university to acquire them–since everyone outside the library believes ebooks to be dirt cheap anyway–why should our students place any value on them? Why would they want to read them? To them, ebooks appear to be items called up and used when needed to write a paper or complete an assignment, and then are to be forgotten about. Ebooks are merely commodities. There is no sense of permanence or influence, that these titles mean anything to anyone. They are not intended to be “read” read, or remembered, or valued, they are not real, just something to be mined for quotes and citations. 

No one honestly expects others to have read or heard of an ebook they come across in an academic ebook collection, but I believe the same is not the case with print books in an authoritative, up-to-date library collection. Print books are still seen as more “legit” in the eyes of young users, and they are correct: if it’s on the shelves in the library, at least a few other people think the book is worthwhile.  

Students, like administrators, also think of print books as being more costly and believe ebooks to be “cheap.” It would never occur to a student that the ebook they click and scroll through, just as they do free internet resources and free books on Google Books, may have actually cost the library $250 or more, sometimes even hundreds or thousands of dollars (in the case of reference books). 

I can envision a library where print books are beautifully displayed, face out, covers glossed in Mylar, placed in visible locations so people can see and browse through them, but with a “download the ebook” sticker on them. Virtual fulfillment might be the way forward. 

Why Academic Libraries Still Matter in the Age of Google

I am asked this awkward question not infrequently in graduate Research Methods classes. I know this can be my cue to promote myself and my services, and say, “Librarians are your greatest resource, and that is why libraries still matter!” But I do not believe this to be true. I am helpful, to be sure, but I am not their greatest library resource. If I were, the library would be spending over a million dollars on me and not on EBSCO, ProQuest, Gale, Elsevier and SAGE databases. 

Anyway, the entire library shouldn’t revolve around “me” or my services (some days it seems like it does, but I know it doesn’t). I want people to benefit from and enjoy the library itself, without me. Thankfully, many people use the library regularly without ever needing to consult with a librarian, because if they did, that would be frustrating both to them and to me. Even back in the day before Google, which I am old enough to remember, few who used the library ever needed to consult with librarians. This may come as a shock to some but it is true. Using the card catalog, most users managed to navigate to the resources they were seeking without our help, and most came in to browse and stimulate their own creativity and interests, not necessarily to find answers to pre-existing questions. They were pursuing knowledge of a subject area or inspiration, something to like, not answers. They come to wander and stimulate their own creativity.

When I speak to students, I am merely the messenger. I try to represent good published authorities and the peer-reviewed word. I represent resources which impart disciplinary knowledge. That is what the academic library as a whole ideally does better than Google and Google Scholar.

In a university library, students, aspiring scholars, and newcomers to a field of study benefit from familiarizing themselves with what books, journals, publications and publishers others regard as influential, significant or authoritative in a field of study, as opposed to say, what rises to the top of a Google query, a content aggregator’s database, or even our library’s discovery tool.

I really don’t care if we can retrieve 10,000 titles on “health administration” from our databases if we don’t have–or are incapable of making students aware of–the most significant, authoritative and relevant sources in their field of study.

Awareness of authorities and trends in a discipline defines a person as a professional. Libraries have a vital role to play in this aspect of a student’s professional education, but only if we are able to present selective, quality collections as such.

Through a well maintained collection, catalog and web presence, students and scholars benefit by seeing what is new and interesting in their field of study, because doing so inspires their own creativity, research, teaching, and the acquisition of disciplinary knowledge. The kind of disciplinary knowledge obtained through a good academic library collection is a very important part of an aspiring professional or scholar’s education; it should never be limited just to what is taught in classes, or prescribed by a curriculum.

The curriculum is the minimum requirement, not the upper limit, of what students can or should strive to learn when they attend an institution of higher education.

The library is a vital part of the education of our students. Apart from providing the student with disciplinary knowledge, including that which may fall outside of scope the courses taught at that particular college or university, the library allows students the opportunity to apply their newly obtained curricular knowledge in ways that are personally meaningful to them.

I mentioned earlier a trend in the literature of library assessment of marginalizing the role and value of collections, or proclaiming them to be irrelevant to the success or quality of the library. Although we try to carve out new roles, in most instances, computer labs, tutoring, student affairs and online learning are handled by other entities on campus. The only thing that makes the library unique, relevant and effective to our users are our collections, our scholarly content, and the provision of support services related to these. 

A number of articles in library literature discussing service-oriented assessment techniques for measuring quality also justify the services-only approach by arguing that libraries cannot continue to grow their collections, and therefore must focus on expanding services to justify their value.

Many of these articles use an epigram from Danuta A. Nitecki (“Changing the Concept and Measure of Service Quality in Academic Libraries.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 22.3, 1996), “The measure of quality based solely on collections has become obsolete.” Danuta sets up a straw man to exaggerate service-orientation, for if you go back and read the article no librarian ever equated library quality with “size of holdings”–we all know better than to do that.

But the very idea that services can be completely disassociated from the collection and evaluated as autonomous business units presents us with a false dichotomy (collections v. services, having vs. doing). For one thing, there is interconnection between “library collections” and “library services” which cannot be glossed over.

    • Obviously, if your collection is inadequate, your users must resort to interlibrary loan for items which probably ought to be in your circulating collection. ILL service may be heavily used, responsive and popular with your patrons, but you are still providing users with poor service if they must resort to borrowing materials that should be in the library in the first place.
    • In information literacy classes, we teach students how to evaluate resources, with currency being a factor. A dated or poorly maintained collection reflects poorly on our own instructional objectives and professional competence. 
    • The number of questions received at the service desk should not be confused with, or used to justify, the “value” of library services. A high number of questions relative to resource use are often signs of unresolved problems and poor customer service, not evidence of value.

Another motive for minimizing collections in favor of services within library quality assessment plans is the difficulty evaluating the impact of collections on students (in terms of measurable results which contribute to their “success”), whereas with library instruction, a some kind of test is possible to show that students 1. have attended, and 2. learned something. There is evidence of student impact. The emphasis now is to move away from passive support through resources to direct engagement with students to be able to better document how the library is directly contributing to student success.

However, student success is more often than not a euphemism describing the extent to which a student is progressing in his degree plan, not a measure of a student’s learning, extra- or co-curricular goals and activities, or his academic or professional growth outside of graded classwork. It is not a holistic view of the student, his success, or his education.

In reality, the library profession–and historically, our professional commitment to “access”–has always supported a more holistic view of students and their education than the college or university administration: Libraries and librarians help students achieve their educational, intellectual and personal goals. We help them achieve success on their terms. If they want to read a book, we try to get it for them. Case in point: We do not judge and refuse service if we think it is not part of a class assignment. And this is a good thing for a university.

We can’t pretend to know what the future holds in terms of career opportunities for our students. Nurturing the passions and interests of our students may ultimately be what leads to their success in life–not necessarily their practical Nursing, Health Administration or Respiratory Therapy degrees. Perhaps they will prepare themselves in a career or a field of study not yet established. I recall a time when there were no degrees in Computer Science, and all programmers were self-taught through whatever books and resources were available.

We talk about promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. There is no better place to cultivate that spirit than the library, where there is real freedom to pursue individualized learning, knowledge and ideas.

the-library-of-babel1

My philosophy of librarianship is to maintain a special place–not a space–a library, where people are delighted and inspired by what they find there. The library should be a content-rich learning environment where people can see and experience what others in culture, society or the community of scholars regard as significant and good. This requires something that is now becoming scarce in libraries: collections. Libraries are about collections and community, shared value and culture. 

Through its collections, the library not only allows people to connect with others in their field of study, past and present, but it affirms the value of scholarship: people wrote the books, people published them, people selected them and continue to care for them, each step along the way conferring value on the work in the same way a frame and layers of matting confers value and importance to a work of art. It is fundamentally a humanistic endeavor.

Above all else, libraries should be interesting places. Do patrons see titles of new books and on the covers of journals which stimulate curiosity and interest? Does the library provide services to make it easy for scholars to keep up with issues and ideas? Is the library a stimulating place for scholars to browse and explore? Does the online version of the library provide this experience and level of engagement, or is it just a retrieval tool?

So long as librarians continue to espouse an “information services” model of librarianship–where what we have to offer is access to various resources rather than bodies of knowledge reflecting scholarly and cultural valuethe library’s value to a school will continue to be put into question. 

Libraries are about creating and maintaining unique content-rich learning environments, both in person and online, where people can expect to experience “library goodness.”

  1. Scherlen, Allan & Alex D. McAllister, “Voices Versus Visions: A Commentary on Academic Library Collections and New Directions,” Collection Management, 44:2-4, 2019, 389-395, DOI: 10.1080/01462679.2018.1547999
  2. Wong, Alia. “College Students Just Want Normal Libraries.” The Atlantic. Oct. 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2019/10/college-students-dont-want-fancy-libraries/599455/
  3. Closed robotic storage and retrieval systems have been built at the University of Chicago, North Carolina State University, University of Missouri Kansas City, Georgia Southern University and most recently at the University of Central Florida.
  4. Prensky, Marc. “In the 21st-Century University, Let’s Ban (Paper) Books.” Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 13, 2011
  5. Daniel, Katherine, et al. “Library Acquisition Patterns.” Ithaka S+R. Ithaka S+R. 29 January 2019. Web. 8 April 2019. https://doi.org/10.18665/sr.310937
  6. Kolowich, Steve. “Bookless Libraries? Technology leaders and librarians consider how the digital age changes the physical space and role of one of higher education’s oldest institutions.” Inside Higher Ed. Nov. 6, 2009. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/11/06/library.
  7. “Nation’s First Bookless Library on College Campus is Thriving at UTSA.” UTSA Today, http://www.utsa.edu/today/2013/03/aetlibrary.html. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.
  8. Dwyer, Liz. “Are college libraries about to become bookless?” Web log post. The Daily Good. N.p., 13 July 2011. Web. <https://www.good.is/articles/are-college-libraries-about-to-become-bookless>.
  9. Riley, Sharon. “Academic: New Florida University Unveils Bookless Library.” Library Journal 139, no. 15 (Sep 15, 2014): 13-n/a, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/08/academic-libraries/new-florida-polytechnic-unveils-bookless-library/#_.
  10. Hack, Husna. “‘Bookless libraries’ – has it really come to this?” Christian Science Monitor. N.p., 17 July 2012. Web. <http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2012/0717/Bookless-libraries-has-it-really-come-to-this>.
  11. Abadi, Mark. “A Major US College Is Moving Almost All of Its Library Books off Campus, and It Represents a Major Change in How Young People Learn.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 18 Jan. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/georgia-tech-library-books-2019-1.
  12. Reference to the popular book, Thornburg, David. From the Campfire to the Holodeck : Creating Engaging and Powerful 21st Century Learning Environments, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/tsu-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1426516, p. x
  13. Ross, Lyman, and Pongracz Sennyey. “The Library Is Dead, Long Live the Library! The Practice of Academic Librarianship and the Digital Revolution.” The Journal of academic librarianship 34.2 (2008): 145–152, p. 147, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0099133307002492.
  14. Daniel, Katherine, et al. “Library Acquisition Patterns.” Ithaka S+R. Ithaka S+R. 29 January 2019. Web. 8 April 2019. https://doi.org/10.18665/sr.310937
  15. Walters, William H. “E-books in Academic Libraries: Challenges for Discovery and Access,” Serials Review, 39:2, 2013, 97-104, DOI: 10.1080/00987913.2013.10765501
  16. Anderson, R., 2011. Collections 2021: the future of the library collection is not a collection. Serials, 24(3), p. 212. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/24211
  17. On the subject of bookless libraries and learning labs in Denmark, I have enjoyed Christian Lauersen’s blog, The Library Lab: Libraries, Leaning and Lego, especially “Is a Library Without Books Still a Library?” and “Why do they come?” https://christianlauersen.net/2017/07/07/is-a-library-without-books-still-a-library/
  18. Association of College and Research Libraries. “Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summits.” Prepared by Karen Brown and Kara J. Malenfant. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2012, p. 16. http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/issues/value/val_summit.pdf
  19. Lynema, Emily, et. al. “Virtual Browse: Designing User-Oriented Services for Discovery of Related Resources.” Library Trends, 2012, Vol.61 (1), p.218-233. https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/34605/61.1.lynema.pdf?sequence=2
  20. Anderson, R., 2011. Collections 2021: the future of the library collection is not a collection. Serials, 24(3), pp. 211–215. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/24211
  21. Schmidt, Janine Developing a Library Collection Today: Revisiting “Collection Evaluation, the Conspectus and Chimeras in Library Cooperation,” Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 47:4, 2016, 190-195, DOI: 10.1080/00048623.2016.1250598
  22. Ilene Frank, “Second Life: A Virtual World Why Are Librarians There?”
    First Monday, Volume 13 Number 8 – 4, August 2008 https://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2222/2010
  23. John T. Gantt & J. Randal Woodland, “Libraries in Second Life: Linking Collections, Clients, and Communities in a Virtual World,” Journal of Web Librarianship, 7:2, 2013. 123-141, DOI: 10.1080/19322909.2013.780883.
  24. Press release for Texas State University’s virtual campus launched in 2009 https://www.txstate.edu/news/news_releases/news_archive/2009/04/SecondLife042909.html
  25. Schultz, Author Ryan. “The Rise and Fall of Library Use of Second Life: What Happened to All the Libraries That Used to Be in Second Life and Other Virtual Worlds?” Ryan Schultz, 13 Oct. 2018, ryanschultz.com/2018/08/13/the-rise-and-fall-of-library-use-of-second-life-what-happened-to-all-the-libraries-that-used-to-be-in-second-life-and-other-virtual-worlds.
  26. Dougherty, William C. ” Virtualization and Libraries: The Future is Now (or Virtualization: Whither Libraries or Libraries Wither?)” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35: 3, 2009, pp. 274-276, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2009.03.006.
  27. Lynema, Emily, et. al. “Virtual Browse: Designing User-Oriented Services for Discovery of Related Resources.” Library Trends, 2012, Vol.61 (1), p. 218-233. https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/34605/61.1.lynema.pdf?sequence=2
  28. Cook, Matt. “Virtual Serendipity: Preserving Embodied Browsing Activity in the 21st Century Research Library,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44: 1, 2018, pp. 145-149, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2017.09.003.
  29. Cook, Matt.“Virtual Serendipity: Preserving Embodied Browsing Activity in the 21st Century Research Library,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44: 1, 2018, pp. 145-149, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2017.09.003.
  30. Cook, Matt. ” Virtual Serendipity: Preserving Embodied Browsing Activity in the 21st Century Research Library,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44: 1, 2018, p. 146, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2017.09.003.
  31. Cook, Matt. “Virtual Serendipity: Preserving Embodied Browsing Activity in the 21st Century Research Library,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44: 1, 2018, p. 149, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2009.03.006.
  32. Foster, Anita K. “Determining Librarian Research Preferences: A Comparison Survey of Web-Scale Discovery Systems and Subject Databases.”  The Journal of Academic Librarianship. Volume 44, Issue 3, May 2018, pp. 330-336. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S009913331730438X
  33. “On the Cost of Keeping a Book,” http://www.leverpress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/CourantandNielsen.pdf
  34. Anderson, Rick. “Managing Multiple Models of Publishing in Library Acquisition,” Against the Grain: Vol. 22: Iss. 1, Article 6, p. 18.
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.7771/2380-176X.5836
  35. “On the Cost of Keeping a Book,” http://www.leverpress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/CourantandNielsen.pdf
  36. This is a reference to a story called “The Star Thrower.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star_Thrower
  37. Schmidt, Janine Developing a Library Collection Today: Revisiting “Collection Evaluation, the Conspectus and Chimeras in Library Cooperation,” Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 47:4, 2016, 190-195, DOI: 10.1080/00048623.2016.1250598
  38. I am mainly thinking of Alma Primo and OCLC WMS, but Marshall Breeding confirmed in an email that no academic library system he knows of supports ebook browsing.
  39. Peggy Johnson. Fundamentals of Collection Development and Management. Vol. Fourth edition, ALA Editions, 2018, p. 290.
  40. Chan, Lois Mai. Cataloging and Classification: An Introduction. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2007, pp. 309-310. Chan states that “In addition to shelving and display, classification is used as a tool for collection management, e.g., facilitating the creation of a specialized branch libraries and the generation of discipline-specific holdings lists. In online public access catalogs (OPACS), classification also serves a direct retrieval function because class numbers can be used as access points to MARC records.” Chan also mentions that seven functions of classification in libraries, identified by ALCTS, as location, browsing, hierarchical movement, retrieval, identification, limiting/ partitioning and profiling.
  41. Reference to Frederick, Donna E. Managing Ebook Metadata in Academic Libraries : Taming the Tiger. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Chandos Publishing, 2017.
  42. https://knowledge.exlibrisgroup.com/Alma/Content_Corner/Community_Zone_MARC_Enrichment%3A_Provider_Submission_Guide
  43. E-book Bibliographic Metadata Requirements in the Sale, Publication, Discovery, Delivery, and Preservation Supply Chain A Recommended Practice of the National Information Standards Organization, NISO RP-29-202X, Available for Public Comment: June 18-August 2, 2020, https://groups.niso.org/apps/group_public/download.php/23850/NISO_RP-29-202X_E-Book_Metadata_Draft_for_Public_Comment.pdf.
  44. LOC E-books CIP Program, https://www.loc.gov/publish/cip/ebooks/
  45. Email correspondence with Janis Young, Senior Cataloging Policy Specialist at the Library of Congress, 9/1/20.
  46. http://classify.oclc.org/classify2/
  47. Frank, E. and Paynter, G.W. (2004), Predicting Library of Congress classifications from Library of Congress subject headings. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci., 55: 214-227. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.10360
  48. Lynema, Emily, et. al., “Virtual Browse: Designing User-Oriented Services for Discovery of Related Resources,” Library Trends, vol. 61, no. 1, 2012, p. 218-233https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/34605/61.1.lynema.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y
  49. Mingyu Chen, Misu Kim & Debbie Montgomery, “Ebook record management at The University of Texas at Dallas,” Technical Services Quarterly, 2016, 33:3, 251-267, DOI: 10.1080/07317131.2016.1169781.
  50. Carrot/Lingo here: https://search.carrotsearch.com/#/web
  51. Soliman, Sara Saad et al. “Semantic Clustering of Search Engine Results.” TheScientificWorldJournal vol. 2015 (2015): 931258. doi:10.1155/2015/931258
  52. https://knowledge.exlibrisgroup.com/Alma/Content_Corner/Community_Zone_MARC_Enrichment%3A_Provider_Submission_Guide
  53. Burton Fiona and Kattau, Maureen. “Building in the ‘e’: creating the virtual bookshelf.” VALA2012 proceedings, Melbourne, Feb. 16, 2012, p. 3 https://research-management.mq.edu.au/ws/portalfiles/portal/17160948/mq-17841-Publisher+version+%28open+access%29.pdf.
  54. Burton Fiona and Kattau, Maureen. “Building in the ‘e’: creating the virtual bookshelf.” VALA2012 proceedings, Melbourne, Feb. 16, 2012, p. 3 https://research-management.mq.edu.au/ws/portalfiles/portal/17160948/mq-17841-Publisher+version+%28open+access%29.pdf.
  55. Johnson, Michael and Traill, Stacie. “Classify All the Things: Enhancing LC Classification Data for Better Collection Assessment and Management”. In: ELUNA 2018 Annual Meeting, May 1-4, 2018, Spokane, Washington.
  56. Lynema, Emily, et. al. “Virtual Browse: Designing User-Oriented Services for Discovery of Related Resources.” Library Trends, 2012, Vol.61 (1), p.218-233. https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/34605/61.1.lynema.pdf?sequence=2
  57. Databases must be configured to sort by LC classification rather than alphanumerically but this is not a big deal. Our systems do have the ability to generate a shelf list of print books by call number, but not ebooks, because they lack local call numbers; and the alternative field which has the Library of Congress classification number has not been configured for LC classification searching and sorting.
  58. Johnson, Michael and Traill, Stacie. “Classify All the Things: Enhancing LC Classification Data for Better Collection Assessment and Management”. In: ELUNA 2018 Annual Meeting, May 1-4, 2018, Spokane, Washington.
  59. Burton Fiona and Kattau, Maureen. “Building in the ‘e’: creating the virtual bookshelf.” VALA2012 proceedings, Melbourne, Feb. 16, 2012, p. 9 https://research-management.mq.edu.au/ws/portalfiles/portal/17160948/mq-17841-Publisher+version+%28open+access%29.pdf.
  60. Wilders, Coen. “Predicting the Role of Library Bookshelves in 2025.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, vol. 43, Sept. 2017, pp. 384–391. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2017.06.019.
  61. Schmidt, Janine Developing a Library Collection Today: Revisiting “Collection Evaluation, the Conspectus and Chimeras in Library Cooperation,” Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 47:4, 2016, 190-195, DOI: 10.1080/00048623.2016.1250598
  62. Foster, Anita K. “Determining Librarian Research Preferences: A Comparison Survey of Web-Scale Discovery Systems and Subject Databases.”  The Journal of Academic Librarianship. Volume 44, Issue 3, May 2018, pp. 330-336. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S009913331730438X
  63. Coleman, Jim. “The RLG Conspectus. A History of Its Development and Influence and a Prognosis for Its Future.” The Acquisitions Librarian. Vol. 4, 1992, pp. 25-43.
  64. According to Peggy Johnson, Fundamentals of Collection Development and Management, a conspectus is a “comprehensive collection analysis tool intended to provide a summary of collecting intensities arranged by subjects, classification scheme, or a combination of both. The Conspectus is a subject hierarchy, arranged into divisions that are divided into categories, which are, in turn, divided into subjects. Subjects provided the greatest detail.” p. 292. She omits a critical part, that is based on the Library of Congress Classification, and second, that Collection Mapping is part of a Conspectus. I have used a modification of the WLN Conspectus to benchmark collection development for a large digital library.
  65. Karen Harker, Janette Klein, and Laurel Crawford, “Multiplying by Division: Mapping the Collection at University of North Texas Libraries” (2015). Proceedings of the Charleston Library Conference. http://dx.doi.org/10.5703/1288284316279 ;  Harker, Karen; Klein, Janette & Crawford, Laurel. Multiplying by Division: Mapping the Collection at University of North Texas Libraries, presentation, August 7, 2015; (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc802011/: accessed November 23, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu
  66. Johnson, Michael and Traill, Stacie. “Classify All the Things: Enhancing LC Classification Data for Better Collection Assessment and Management”. In: ELUNA 2018 Annual Meeting, May 1-4, 2018, Spokane, Washington.
  67. E-book Bibliographic Metadata Requirements in the Sale, Publication, Discovery, Delivery, and Preservation Supply Chain A Recommended Practice of the National Information Standards Organization, NISO RP-29-202X, Available for Public Comment: June 18-August 2, 2020, https://groups.niso.org/apps/group_public/download.php/23850/NISO_RP-29-202X_E-Book_Metadata_Draft_for_Public_Comment.pdf.
  68. https://www.loc.gov/marc/bibliographic/nlr/
  69. Johnson, Michael and Traill, Stacie. “Classify All the Things: Enhancing LC Classification Data for Better Collection Assessment and Management”. In: ELUNA 2018 Annual Meeting, May 1-4, 2018, Spokane, Washington.
  70. Bailey, Timothy P., Amanda L. Scott, and Rickey D. Best. “Cost Differentials between E-Books and Print in Academic Libraries.” College & Research Libraries. Jan. 2015, p. 8. https://crl.acrl.org/index.php/crl/article/view/16398/17844
  71. “On the Cost of Keeping a Book,” http://www.leverpress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/CourantandNielsen.pdf
  72. Anderson, R. (2011). Collections 2021: the future of the library collection is not a collection. Serials: The Journal of the Serials Community24(3), 211–215. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/24211
  73. A good library collection in this context does not necessarily entail ownership, persistence, or format, but rather that items are deliberately selected based on their value according to objective criteria which would allow for transparency, predictability and consistency.

    What this means is that users should have a pretty good feel for what items are and will be included in the collection based on the other items that are there, and librarians should be knowledgeable about the collection, not just know how to summon relevant resources forth from databases when called upon to do so. Collections present users with knowledge of the publication activity and authorities in their discipline. Good library collections have an intentional feel to them: they are not ad hoc accumulations of materials, or passive aggregations of academic content.

  74. Anderson, R., 2011. Collections 2021: the future of the library collection is not a collection. Serials, 24(3), pp. 211–215. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/24211
  75. Sanborn, Lura. “Bookless library? I raise you the building.” eContent Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 2, 2013, p. 6+ Retrieved from http://tsuhhelweb.tsu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1490685978?accountid=7093
  76. Kenny, Brian. “So You Think You Want to Be a Librarian?” Publisher’s Weekly. May 3, 2013. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/57090-so-you-think-you-want-to-be-a-librarian.html
  77. Daniel, Katherine, et al. “Library Acquisition Patterns.” Ithaka S+R. Ithaka S+R. 29 January 2019. Web. 8 April 2019. https://doi.org/10.18665/sr.310937
  78. Wilders, Coen. “Predicting the Role of Library Bookshelves in 2025.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, vol. 43, Sept. 2017, pp. 384–391. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2017.06.019.
  79. There are several studies comparing usage of DDA with library selected materials, but I am not really referring to that so much. This is a very impressive study, though: Walker, Kevin W. and Michael A. Arthur. “Judging the Need for and Value of DDA in an Academic Research Library Setting.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, JAI, 31 July 2018, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0099133318301745. In there, effort is made to evaluate DDA vs. traditionally selected titles based on a number of criteria, and the conclusion is that DDA titles provide greater ROI than traditionally selected titles; however, one question I have is whether the faculty and graduate students who once collaborated with librarians on acquisitions are utilizing DDA instead.
  80. Crain, Caleb. “Twilight of the Books.” The New Yorker, 16 December 2017, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/12/24/twilight-of-the-books
  81. See Rebecca M. Sullivan (2010) Common Knowledge: Learning Spaces in Academic Libraries, College & Undergraduate Libraries, 17:2-3, 130-148, DOI: 10.1080/10691316.2010.481608
  82. Digital School Library Leaves Bookstacks Behind” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120097876
  83. http://www.maschoolibraries.org/newsletter/reintroducing-printed-books-to-the-cushing-academy-library
  84. “How Hunt Library Redefined the Library for the Digital Age,” https://www.slideshare.net/duvalunionconsulting/how-hunt-library-redefined-the-library-for-the-digital-age, slide 5
  85. Sanborn, Lura. “Bookless library? I raise you the building.” eContent Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 2, 2013, p. 6+ Retrieved from http://tsuhhelweb.tsu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1490685978?accountid=7093
  86. “On the Cost of Keeping a Book,” http://www.leverpress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/CourantandNielsen.pdf
  87. I quoted from the pdf, but it originally appeared here in print: Paul N. Courant and Matthew “Buzzy” Nielsen, “On the Cost of Keeping a Book”, The Idea of Order: Transforming Research Collections for 21st Century Scholarship. CLIR Pub#147. June 2010, p. 102
  88. http://www.newsweek.com/even-university-libraries-arent-keeping-hard-copy-books-364853
  89. an assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact.
  90. Barr, Catherine, and Karen Adams. Bowker annual library and book trade almanac. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2016. 360. Print.