By Mary Cunningham-Krupp
Helen Shenton, Librarian and College Archivist of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, presents “The Library of the Future; the Future of the Library” on Thursday, March 2, at 7 p.m.
Shenton explores the seismic social and technological shifts underway in education, research, teaching, and learning that are transforming libraries. Cumulatively, these challenge the very notion of what a library is and offer exciting potential for what it might become.
The free event is the Ransom Center’s Donald G. Davis, Jr. lecture.
With broad experience in both public and private memory organizations on both sides of the Atlantic, Shenton shares some of her unique perspective on the research library community.
The post-WWII research library community has historically represented a mix of initiation of and response to the evolution of social and technological change. At its core, however, the conceptual foundation of the research library has remained fairly static. What makes today different?
I think what makes today different are exponentially expanding user expectations, transformative technology, and potential availability of information. It has never been possible before to aspire to the universal accessibility of so much material, compounded by the expanding appetite for, and expectation of, universal access.
Maybe about a decade ago, the research library experienced something of an existential moment, with the much heralded “death of the book” portending the complete irrelevance of the library. But it is a much more sophisticated and nuanced picture than that, and the very concept of what is a library is changing and evolving.
Preserving collections for future generations is a central mission of research libraries. What do you foresee is the role of material analog collections in the library of the future?
I see the role of unique and distinct material in analog collections as increasingly important. As the world becomes more and more virtual, and more analog collections are available digitally, so the physical, experiential value of collections becomes more critical. A similar phenomenon is happening in music; I’ve heard the head of the BBC’s Classical Radio Station observing that the more music they make available online, the more people attend live concerts. Furthermore, in a world of MOOCs, the unique and distinct collections in research libraries are becoming more of a distinguishing factor between universities.
Much has been conjectured in recent years about an increasing convergence of the missions of libraries, archives, museums, and similar memory institutions. What is your perspective on this topic and how it pertains to the library of the future?
Having worked in museums, libraries, and archives, I have long considered these natural bed fellows. Whilst there are specific characteristics of the different organizations, there are overlapping, fundamental imperatives around access and stewardship. There are even more substantial opportunities for the library of the future to collaborate with other types of organizations in the digital world.
Another convergence is libraries and information technology; more recently there has been movement towards libraries and research data, and research data management. Taken to the next step, we’re thinking along with the computer scientists as the library being not so much “big data,” but “big content.” I see these opportunities for convergence and collaboration as being critical for the future of the library.