Relevancy of Libraries in a Digital World

21 Aug

Critical Review: Heath, F. (2009) Documenting the Global Conversation: Relevancy of Libraries in a Digital World, Journal of Library Administration, 49:5, 519-532.

 The survival of libraries in the information age is often discussed with predictions of demise not uncommon (Joint, 2006);(Carpenter and Green, 2009). Heath, from the University of Texas (UT) Libraries, suggests challenges confronting research libraries are the same as challenges confronting the overall information sector, thus placing libraries within a global context.

 Heath frames his paper from a dichotomous framework, outlining challenges confronting the ‘sister professions’ in the information Sector. Half the paper is dedicated to this discussion while the second half is dedicated to Libraries.

In the section on Libraries, Heath takes the personal focus outlining how UT libraries, where he is director, have implemented changes and transformations addressing challenges universally confronting the information sector. Strategies for survival employed by UT library are a combination of maintaining focus on the importance of library instruction in critical inquiry with information literacy focal, with transformation of physical and virtual presence as a response to user behaviour, the impact and opportunities of the Web and restrictive budgets. Ideas presented include embedding widgets and increasing library presence via virtual worlds pushing into spaces inhabited by patrons, transforming approaches to search with federated search options and search options linking to other libraries or the web such as ‘Worldcat’. Other changes include transformation of physical spaces, approaches to collections such as ‘rental’ arrangements, storage offsite and increasing collaborative efforts within the university and with institutions. Heath mentions specialism in collection development, as a process of differentiation, aiding maintenance of reputation of UT and drawing people to it. UT is focused on building a repository of Human Rights Records via digital preservation that can be shared with other institutions.

Heath concludes with a rejection of dichotomy and acceptance of many possible futures (Reuda-Sabeter & Derosby, 2011), concluding, academic libraries will remain relevant by maintaining their purpose of ‘facilitating critical inquiry on the part of our university community’ (p.531).

What does Heath contribute to the ‘Global Coversation’ he is documenting as highlighted in the title? Half the paper is dedicated to explicating scenarios of the information sector including music, newspapers, books, (Parkes, 2010) and higher education (Kealy, 2009). Heath’s purpose is to correlate and highlight Global change and the Web also affecting libraries (Joint, 2006) (Fox, 2009). The arguments about global change and the impact of information communication technologies are documented by Tapscott (1996) and Castells(1996) with Heath reiterating this conversation at a more simplified level.

Specific to contribution to knowledge about libraries adapting to challenges of the information age, proponents of Library 2.0 such as Casey (2006) and Stephens(2007) outline encompassing aspects adapted from Web 2.0 principles. Harris and Lessik (2007), Mendes. (2008) and Fox (2009) chronicle examples such as pushing out of Libraries via widgets and gadgets into virtual spaces of users and incorporation of user-generated metadata. Mcmenemy(2007), Kalfatovic discuss importance of digital content creation, Carpenter and Green (2009) discusses the importance of networks as a way to offer better collections and Kalfatovic, (2008) provide an example of cross-institutional collaboration in a Web 2.0 setting in creation and sharing of digital repositories. All concepts Heath reiterates in the UT experience.

A key weakness resides in not addressing the skills of staff for the transformation undertaken as Kealy(2009) indicates in relation to the transformations undertaken by the University of Melbourne with the introduction of the Melbourne Model of undergraduate education. Heath mentions a new undergraduate school at UT and collaborating via instruction but fails to provide logistics regarding staff impact, training in new technologies and skills implementation. Heath provides a surface level of information. In writing to an audience of library specialists, after years of conversing the need for the ‘How’ becomes relevant (Carpenter and Green, 2009) and this is what Kealy(2009) exemplifies in relation to staff.

Heath’s tone suggests playfulness. Consciously framing his writing dichotomously contributes to this. Writing in first person, conversational, at times choosing the vernacular, alongside anecdotal stories contributes further. This tone, is an interesting choice, it aids alignment with the audience as readers. Writing in the Journal of Library Administration and establishing a mood of collusion his work reads as public relations for UT. This playful tone contributes to a diminished seriousness of his article. This is further amplified in the choice of sources being a majority of media articles and not peer-reviewed articles. As a result, the article is less likely to be perceived as a credible source.




Carpenter, M. and Green, R. (2009) Managing Library 2.0, Journal of Access Services, 6, 158-162.

Casey, M.E. and Savastinuk, L.C. (2006) Library 2.0: Services for the next generation library, Library Journal, 9, 40-42

Castells, M, (1996) The Rise of the Network Society, Blackwell Publishers Inc., Massachusetts, USA.

Fox, R. (2009) The advent of the 21st Century Library Services, OCLC Systems and Services: International Digital Library Perspectives, 21(1), 8-15.

Joint, N. (2006) Digital Libraries and the future of the Library Profession, Library Review, 56(1), 12-23

Kalfatovic, M.R, Kapsalis, E., Speiss, K.P, Van Camp, A. and Edson M. (2008) Smithsonian Team Flickr: a library, archives and, museums collaboration in Web 2.0 spaces, Arch Sci, 8, 267-277.

Kealy, R. (2009) Do Library staff have what it takes to be a librarian of the future?, Library Management, 30(8/9), 572-582)

McMenemt, D. (2007) Less conversation, more action: putting digital content creation at the heart of modern librarianship, Library Review, 56(7), 537-541.

Mendes, L.H., Quiñonez-Skinner, J., Skaggs, D. (2008) Subjecting the catalog to tagging, Library Hi Tech, 27(1), 30-41.

Parkes, D. (2010) Transforming the library, e-books and e-buildings, in D.Parkes and G. Walton (Eds), Web 2.0 and Libraries: Impacts, Technologies and Trends, pp. 13-29, Oxford: Chandos

Rueda-Sabater, E. and Derosby, D. (2011) The evolving internet in 2025: four scenarios, Strategy and Leadership, 39(1), 32-38.

Stephens, M. (2007) Web 2.0, Library 2.0, and the Hyperlinked Library, Serials Review, 33, 253-256.

Tapscott, D., (1995) The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence, McGraw Hill, New York


Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: