Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Winter 2000

Conference Reports

Science and Technology Section's General Discussion Group Highlights from Midwinter 2000

Kimberly Lyons-Mitchell
University of the Pacific

Julia Zimmerman
Ohio University

The General Discussion Group hosted 62 participants in a discussion of Digital Libraries now and in the future. Two facilitators, David Flaxbart of the University of Texas at Austin and Kimberly Douglas of Cal Tech, set the context for the two-hour discussion. The facilitators described the environments at their respective institutions, and many questions followed, provoking an interesting and exciting discussion.

Topics ranged from troubleshooting the digital library in its infancy, to predicting what the library of the future will hold. Questions and comments included the issues of our continued reliance on print resources, the OPAC and electronic products , statistics, electronic journals and the librarians role in the library of the future. The topics of promoting the use of electronic media and training of users were also discussed.

Even as electronic products are expanding in number and scope, print materials are still widely used. In some cases print continues to be the preferred source. With regard to print resources, the issue of ARL accreditation was brought up. In many libraries the number of print volumes is decreasing due to their replacement by electronic resources, but libraries are penalized in their ARL statistical ranking because of dropping volume counts.

In terms of the issue of the library maintaining its status as a "place", one concern of the attendees as well as the speakers was the dwindling gate counts and decreases in other traditional library use measures. It was suggested that new and innovative statistics need to be developed to complement the traditional statistics that we are currently using. Some of the ideas mentioned are to place more emphasis on database usage statistics and library web page hits. With these types of statistics we can attempt to capture patrons "entering the library" through the web.

Electronic journals seem to be on the minds of all librarians. The discussion surrounding electronic journals ranged from access issues and promotion, to statistics provided by vendors. Access issues include such problems as linking individual titles in the OPAC and remote access for off-campus users. The issue of promoting these resources is also near and dear to our hearts as librarians. In order for our users to know what is available in electronic format, we must develop innovative ways to promote electronic products.

Increasing availability of electronic resources has encouraged migration from print indexes and abstracts to electronic and full-text databases. While databases are a great innovation, they are very expensive and pose problems for librarians. One of the problems broached in the discussion was that of statistics reporting. Librarians use statistics in many ways, including retention decisions for serials. However, we encounter a lack of standardization in the reporting of statistics. No solutions were reached, as this is a new area of inquiry, but many suggestions were offered.

The discussion continued with speculation about what the library of the future would bring, from its architecture and aesthetics to its content and personnel. Kimberly Douglas spoke of the future library fostering a strong relationship between the librarian and the user. The library of the future, Kimberly added, should also focus on integrating print and electronic, not allowing them to be mutually exclusive entities. Kimberly also said that the library will still look like a library, but with power ports. The library of the future will be aesthetically pleasing as well as being a gateway to the electronic media of the future.

Finally, the group addressed the perennial question of the role of the librarian in the digital library, and whether we, as a profession, will continue to be needed. After many comments, the group agreed that patrons will always need librarians to guide them through the world of information, regardless of format of information.

The discussion was a lively one with many contributors. The facilitators brought much to the table that was both stimulating and useful.


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