The Infinite Collection: OCLC Symposium on Resources in the Digital Age

OCLC held a symposium after their Americas Regional Membership Meeting on digital resources. They brought together Clifford Lynch, Rick Anderson, Bobbi Newman, and Brian Schottlaender to share their thoughts, and it was a thought-provoking and engaging session. It ended up being the one of the best sessions I attended, and I hadn’t even planned to go.

Here are some of my notes; there’s a lot here, and I hope to pull some more things out for further discussion in the future. These are mainly some questions and ideas worth exploring:

  • The TAIGA forum asserted this year that there will be no more collection building. Does this mean the library no longer as a curatorial role? That we will no longer have a preservation role? That we will only ever purchase things that are specifically asked for by our communities?
  • Lynch says, “We thought we understood what a library’s collection was before the digital age.” With print collections, we were considered stewards of materials. Does this role still hold in the digital age? We can’t be stewards of general digital content, because we aren’t allowed to own it, we are only allowed access. We can be stewards of our own local collections, special collections. We can digitize them; preserve them both in print and digitally. What about materials that are not digitized by a publisher, are not widely held?
  • The Collective Collection: Is this the collections of libraries alone? What about individual collections: If I make my digital collections available on p2p networks, do my collections become part of the collective collection? Do I become part of the library (leaving aside issues of legality…)? If the Collective Collection is just “official” libraries, where do the boundaries about inclusion get drawn? Does Google get included, or only HathiTrust? What about publishers’ content?
  • National libraries are trying to map out the new cultural records from a national perspective. Are there benefits to thinking nationally instead of globally? Are there downsides?
  • The boundaries of the scholarly record are murky and becoming murkier. What is private and what is public? If we are interested in the lived lives of citizens, the information citizens publish on the network becomes part of the scholarly record. But libraries/scholars can’t own it. The study of history has benefited from the archiving and release of private diaries, personal letters, but people conduct their private lives more publicly than ever before. What will archives have to archive?
  • What is the relationship between payment, ownership, and “the collection”? Open Access journals are a good example of the blurriness around these questions. The responsibility of libraries around open access journals isn’t clear. We don’t own them, and we aren’t stewards of them. Should we provide access to them and how? What happens when the publisher of an open access journal no longer wants to publish or maintain the content? Who’s responsibility is preservation when no one has purchased it or owns it? Similar questions arise with “news,” especially when considering citizen journalism, blogs, etc. Who preserves this content?
  • With eBooks we are moving into the world of licensed content, the same way we did with serials. What does our role in preservation become? Do we have a right to preserve? Do we have a responsibility to preserve? What kind of conversations should we be having with publishers about preservation and long-term access? Are these questions being asked as contracts are being signed right now?
  • As our collections become more fluid, it becomes our role to help people find out what’s out there, regardless of whether we “own” it, or whether it’s in our local collection. Tools that can uncover the totality of information become more useful, rather than tools that only document what we “hold.” What is the role of metadata in this kind of library? What kinds of metadata would be more functional than what we’re doing right now for fluid, digital collections?
  • Our role is in making the connection between the patron and what the patron wants. It isn’t just about discovery, but about access. It reaches outside of our traditional collections. This is why I have no real problem with providing a “buy this” link next to a “access from the library” link: Patrons should be allowed to make the choice about how they want to access material.
  • The early 1990s were a time of hardware and software instability, so there were a lot of preservation issues, and issues around software and hardware obsolescence that we don’t have to be as concerned about now…or so we think. We don’t really know wha tissues might arise around new platforms, especially with materials that are being designed for specific platforms (like iPad only journals and books).
  • Rick Anderson at University of Utah had some terrific things to say about patron privacy: Namely, that we are being a bit paternalistic in the way we talk about the privacy issue in libraries. People negotiate privacy issues everyday, choosing what privacy they will give up for various benefits. We have to allow our patrons to make these choices, instead of trying to make these choices for them. We have to accept that people today have different ideas about privacy than they did in the past.
  • We have to provide access to “the flow, not to the stockpile.”

Also, this may sound really weird, but I think Bobbi Newman and I are long-lost twins. Ok, not really, and I’ve never thought this before from looking at pictures on the interwebs, but when she was on stage talking I kept feeling like I was looking in a mirror. It was a bit uncanny. I wanted to introduce myself to her, but I was too weirded out after that experience. I probably should have introduced myself to her anyway, but oh well.

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