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A Summary of a Report Published by the Council on Library and Information Resources

Emerging Visions for Access in the Twenty-First Century

Proceedings of the Second Documentation Abstracts, Inc. Institute for Information Science

August 2003

What will the library of tomorrow be? What should it be? Such questions are being raised with urgency and purpose. A rapidly changing information service environment and a challenging financial environment are pushing information providers-especially librarians-to think in new ways about how they provide information services to their users.

To encourage such thinking, the Council on Library and Information Resources and the California Digital Library organized a conference about the future of libraries. The event was held April 21-22 in San Francisco, with support from Documentation Abstracts, Inc. (DAI). The conference drew participants from research centers, public libraries, funding organizations, and technology departments in the United States and abroad. Seven leaders in the information field put forth their views of the possibilities-as well as the challenges-for libraries and information access in the new environment. Their papers are presented in this volume of conference proceedings.

Robert Martin, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal grant-making agency, believes that digital technologies enhance our ability not only to improve learning but also to create a “learning society.” Formal educational institutions, such as schools and universities, can link with informal educators, such as museums, libraries, and public broadcasting stations, to create “bold new models of integrated action” in providing people with opportunities for lifelong learning. He notes, however, that the current system of copyright will impede our ability to realize the potential of universal access to digital collections.

Jens Thorhauge, executive director of the National Library Authority in Denmark, sees libraries changing from individual collecting institutions to cooperating, networking partners in coherent systems for providing access, federated at national, regional, or state levels. This “Danish model,” developing in steps, would integrate library collections and services for convenient access by individual users, creating what Mr. Thorhauge calls “the personal library.” Denmark has already established legal structures that enable libraries to optimize their cooperation and serve the greatest number of users.

Gary Strong, director of the Queens Borough Public Library in New York, finds that digital technologies are not replacing the traditional library but are enabling it to extend the resources it can provide its patrons, helping them identify and connect to multiple information sources online. The library of the future will be multifaceted, in his view, providing a physical place for learning activities along with new means of empowering people with information. At Queens Borough, one example of this potential is WorldLinQTM, a multilingual system that helps the library’s growing immigrant audience find information via Web links throughout the world. By providing such services, the library is expanding and enhancing its role as a leader in the community.

Robin Stanton, dean of faculty and vice provost of the Australian National University, believes that digitization will dramatically change not only information management but also the institutional structures of universities. His institution has built an integrated infrastructure that encompasses information technologies and both corporate and scholarly information, including libraries. To serve academics better in the digital world, he argues, it will be necessary to broaden the base of skills in librarianship to include the design and specification of information structures and the ability to define access and rights-management structures. At the same time, he writes, it is crucial for academics to become engaged in information management processes. There is a great need “to build academic practices while introducing new services.” This approach argues for input from “communities of interest,” which he defines as “the academic communities that have common or cognate research methods inasmuch as those methods depend on particular information services.”

Michael A. McRobbie, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at Indiana University, believes that libraries will “inexorably” move in the direction of using an integrated information technology (IT) infrastructure to provide widespread, organized access to collaboratively held collections. The librarian’s role will be to help users find what they need when they become overwhelmed by the massive digitized contents of large research libraries that are now available. Large data-storage systems, visualization and virtual reality technologies, and high-performance networking, all under development for scientists, will be adapted for the humanities and arts. Partnerships among libraries, librarians and IT professionals will be essential in this environment.

Michael Eisen, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, proposes a scholar-driven approach to expanding access to scholarly materials. He is developing an alternative to the print-era system whereby scholars publish their research in journals that charge for access and restrict use. He is cofounder of the Public Library of Science, which plans to provide peer-reviewed scholarship electronically, without charge. The only requirement is that researchers or scholars who cite the material in their own work must provide appropriate author attributions. Funds to support management, editing, and peer-review will be built into the authors’ research-project budgets. Open electronic access, Eisen believes, would benefit scholarship enormously.

Daniel Greenstein, associate vice provost for scholarly information at the University of California and executive director of the California Digital Library, emphasizes the importance of building services that break down the “silos” separating librarians from users. He advocates developing digital-content collections in sufficiently “open” ways that electronic information services in multiple institutions may draw upon them. Current examples include online union catalogs and cross-collection linking services, but possibilities in this “layered library model” are endless, including services that tailor content from multiple sources to meet individual campus or community needs.


Emerging Visions for Access in the Twenty-first Century Library
August 2003.
84 pages.

The text of the report is available free on CLIR’s Web site at

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