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CLIR Report Examines Transition of Research Collections from Print to Digital

subject: CLIR
pub 147
Idea of Order

CLIR Press Releases

For Immediate Release: June 3, 2010

Kathlin Smith

CLIR Report Examines Transition of Research Collections from Print to Digital

Washington, DC—A new volume from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) examines challenges associated with the transition of research collections from an analog to a digital environment for knowledge access, preservation, and reconstitution.

The volume, The Idea of Order: Transforming Research Collections for 21st Century Scholarship, comprises three reports offering perspectives on this transition from librarians, an economist, and scholarly users.

CLIR President Charles Henry introduces the volume by suggesting that the digital environment may be fundamentally changing how the human mind acquires and retains knowledge. The speed, scale, and complexity of digital information and tools are eclipsing the “order” of the analog world and transforming the idea of a library and the nature of research.

If one were to design a research library for this new environment, what would it look like? Lisa Spiro and Geneva Henry of Rice University focus on this question in the first report, “Can a New Research Library Be All-Digital?” Most established research libraries would face serious challenges in moving toward largely digital collections-one major concern is how to manage the print legacy that has long been a key metric of a library’s value to scholars. The authors consider this and other obstacles to realizing a virtual library, then profile seven recently established academic libraries. On the basis of their findings, they offer recommendations for startup libraries, as well as suggestions for additional research.

As service demands increase and budgets shrink, libraries must fully understand the costs of making collections accessible, whether in analog or digital form. The volume’s second report, “On the Cost of Keeping a Book,” examines the economics of storing and
providing access to print volumes and provides a preliminary comparison with the cost of keeping e-books. Economist and University of Michigan Library Director Paul Courant and coauthor Matthew “Buzzy” Nielsen, assistant director of the North Bend Public Library in Oregon, conclude that from the perspective of long-term storage, digital surrogates offer a considerable cost savings over print-based libraries.

The proportion of digital information used and created on campus continues to grow, and is indeed changing how scholars in many disciplines do their work. Large-scale text databases being created by Google Books and other mass-digitization efforts offer great potential for supporting new forms of scholarship, but how well are these text corpora meeting scholarly needs? What are the implications of these projects for teaching, research, and publishing? These questions are addressed in the volume’s final report, “Ghostlier Demarcations,” based on commissioned research and subsequent discussions involving scholars in the humanities. A Web-based adjunct to the report provides detailed findings of investigations conducted against large-scale digital text data sets by scholars in four disciplines.

In a concluding chapter, Roger Schonfeld of ITHAKA S&R observes the tension that research libraries face between fulfilling their time-honored role as custodians of scholarship and enabling a digital environment for scholars. He notes the growing potential for systemwide responses to mitigate this tension. Charles Henry echoes this idea in an epilogue that summarizes the results of a recent study on the feasibility of a cloud library and its recommendations for large-scale, coordinated solutions to print and digital storage.

The Idea of Order is available electronically at Print copies will soon be available for ordering through CLIR’s Web site, for $25 per copy plus shipping and handling.

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the management of information for research, teaching, and learning. CLIR works to expand access to information, however recorded and preserved, as a public good.

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