Digital technology is credited with changing the nature of scholarship and teaching, but perceptions of the benefits of the technology vary widely from person to person. Many librarians have embraced the technology as the best vehicle for expanding access to information resources, while also broadening the roles and responsibilities of the traditional library. The perceptions of scholars in the humanities and related social sciences are far more varied. Some scholars warmly endorse the librarians’ focus on electronic resources because they want better access to collections at remote sites. But other scholars express concern that funds presently used to purchase and preserve books and journals will be diverted to building network infrastructure and purchasing electronic resources.

To understand how technology is changing the nature of scholarship and teaching, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) joined forces to establish five task forces that examined these questions by looking at the special requirements posed by different types of information resources.

The deliberations of these task forces are detailed in this report. Little here will come as a great surprise to either the library or scholarly communities. The interests and enthusiasms of the task force members vary, based on their beliefs about what the future holds for them and their professions. What scholars want from librarians of the future is not so different from what they have wanted all along-the full range of resources they need to do their work. While they may sympathize with the financial decisions that plague librarians, they do not focus on them. Certainly, there is no single scholarly perspective that libraries can use as a guiding principle.

From the discussions, we have extracted all of the recommendations that were proposed by individual task force members. While some clear priorities emerged, the groups did not always attempt to reach consensus on the various recommendations nor to place them in priority order. Many of the ideas, we believe, will be pursued by professional associations and scholarly societies. We hope these recommendations will be discussed and adopted wherever appropriate.

As for our two organizations, we hope to facilitate librarians’ and scholars’ continuing discussions to help guide the development of digital library resources to be made available for scholarship and teaching. And we would hope to assist the smaller scholarly societies make the transition to electronic publishing. We believe such partnerships between libraries and scholarly societies benefit both organizations.

The recommendations of the task forces will prove helpful to both ACLS and CLIR as we continue to address these issues. We are grateful to the Gladys Krible Delmas Foundation for funding these preliminary discussions. Our hope is that many librarians, faculty members, and university officers will find information here that will help them make better decisions on local campuses.

John D’Arms
American Council of Learned Societies

Deanna B. Marcum
Council on Library and Information Resources

Executive Summary

The American Council of Learned Societies and the Council on Library and Information Resources appointed 36 scholars, librarians, and leaders of various academic enterprises to five task forces “to consider changes in the process of scholarship and instruction that will result from the use of digital technology and to make recommendations to ensure that libraries continue to serve the research needs of scholars.” The task forces met in the 1997-1998 academic year.

From a large number of detailed recommendations, there emerged five areas of concern for the future of research libraries.

  1. Despite predictions of the collapse of research libraries because of the widespread availability of information on the World Wide Web, in fact the roles and responsibilities of libraries and librarians have expanded because of the Web. While libraries are proud of their accomplishments, scholars are concerned about the tendency of library collections to grow more similar in content under fiscal pressure. They believe that research libraries should amass collections of deep relevance in a coordinated fashion, encompassing information resources in both digital and traditional formats. Librarians agree, adding a requirement of cost-effective coordination of effort among research institutions.
  2. There is a good and expanding system for providing intellectual access to information, both in libraries and on the Web. Institutions must invest fiscal and other resources to make unique or special collections more broadly accessible. Faculty are urged to make increased use of primary source materials to develop critical thinking in students.
  3. Copyright and management of intellectual property are key issues. Scholars and librarians on the task force believe that institutions and learned societies favor the rights of users over those of the creators of copyrightable material. Library organizations and learned societies should explore the possibilities of exploiting and managing intellectual property to yield greater benefits to the scholarly communities.
  4. Institutions of higher education and research should place more emphasis on training and support for faculty use of information and instructional technologies. Research libraries and learned societies should endeavor to specify improvements in the system of scholarly communication and to provide models designed to make more scholarly materials accessible to scholars everywhere.
  5. The task forces believe that there is too little sharing of information to enable the scholarly community to participate in the philosophical and policy issues arising from the use of information technology in research and teaching, as well as in libraries. They urge CLIR and ACLS to improve communications with individual institutions and with each learned society to close the gap of understanding and to encourage broader participation in policy setting.