Got a ticket to see “The Future of Libraries and Reading in the Digital Age” featuring President of NYPL Paul LeClerc & French Enlightenment scholar Bruno Racine in conversation with Paul Holdengräber.  Friday, April 29th, 2011, 7PM in the Celeste Bartos Forum of The New York Public Library.  BE THERE!

Rethinking the boundaries of the library

Ever since we started talking about networks in the second class of my class on Emerging Web Technologies I’ve been wondering: how do networks change the nature of the library?  Lorcan Dempsey and Brian Lavoie ask that question in regards to the effects of networked technologies on internal vs. external library services in "Rethinking the boundaries of the academic library" from the OCLC newsletter.

Brief synopsis

The calculation of transaction costs, i.e. “special costs involved in arranging for someone to do something for you rather than doing it yourself”, are an important factor in shaping what services libraries have performed internally or externally.   But the library is being reshaped by new calculations of transaction costs based on the new kinds of networked technologies - cooperative cataloging, electronic journal subscriptions, non-library based discovery services like Google Books - which libraries can utilize to provide for users.

But there is no hard and fast rule of whether networked technologies will augment or reduce the kinds of services libraries take on.

"[T]he shifting boundaries of the library are not the result of a one-way downsizing process. Even as some activities are shed, new ones will be taken on."

The big takeaway is that, as networks change calculations of transaction costs, networks will change the traditional boundaries of libraries.

My opinion:

A monetary-based cost-benefit analysis like that of transaction costs is an extremely powerful evaluation, especially as libraries’ monetary resources dwindle.  But libraries should be especially wary of how people will use “transaction cost” to reshape the library purely according to that definition of value.  If information/knowledge wants to be free - or better, we want them to be free - then libraries and the services they provide must retain an evaluation of worth which can stand outside of the market logic.  What services might be given up in pursuit of reducing transaction costs which would be a disservice to the users of the library?  What services of the traditionally bounded library should be retained even as we begin to rethink the boundaries of the library in the presence of networks?