Digital Libraries in the Clouds

Digital Libraries in the Clouds

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4454-0.ch005


The business of free represents a radical cultural shift, and many social institutions will need to adapt as a result. This chapter examines the situation of libraries and museums, which are both facing a marked struggle to compete with free and convenient online content. In fact, it seems that for-profit companies, in using various strategies, have essentially beat libraries and museums with their own free content model. Recent decades have seen a decline in public interest in the services museums and libraries provide, which may have multiple possible causes and has led to a loss of revenue. In order to remain solvent, these institutions will need to make changes in their business models to adapt to new technological realities and market conditions. Some efforts to add value to the traditional library or museum experience have already been initiated, although cultivating sustainable funding sources may represent a significant challenge.
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The Necessity For Reform

It is no real surprise that some of the institutions hardest hit by the rise of the information age are academic libraries and museums. Once the de facto sources of public knowledge and archives of important records, both of these types of institutions are suffering from diminishing interest and funding as fewer people are utilizing their physical space and print collections. Across the country, libraries and museums are cutting back services or even closing up shop altogether, citing a lack of public support as well as insufficient funding from local government.

Some of the recent library casualties have been especially noteworthy. On March 23, 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that the city of Los Angeles would be forced to shorten its libraries’ hours of operation substantially and close them completely on Sundays (Reston, 2010). Granted, these libraries were caught in difficult economic times, but it is significant that libraries are high on the list of institutions targeted for budget cutbacks. The city of Birmingham, Alabama has undertaken even more drastic measures: on June 18, 2010, the Birmingham News published a story stating that three of the city’s public libraries would be forced to close entirely by the end of July (Wolfson, 2010). While not as populous as Los Angeles, Birmingham is still a sizable city. Historically, it could support multiple branches of its public library—but apparently that is no longer the case.

It’s not just public libraries that are feeling the pinch, either: research libraries at universities and colleges across the country are beginning to see diminishing use of their collections and facilities. Previously, research libraries were the foremost means of accessing archives of academic and scholarly journals; now, millions of such articles are easily found in online digital collections. The result is that institutional funding for libraries is decreasing proportionate to the size of the overall funding base. A recent survey by Ithaka shows that the majority of research librarians are not only reporting a decline in transactions but are actively worried about retaining institutional relevance and are seeking institutional support with an emphasis on digital preservation of existing materials (Oder, 2010). Some academic libraries, particularly the largest and most well financed ones, have taken proactive steps to respond to these trends. Recent examples of this include the extensive support offered by libraries at Harvard and Michigan and digitization of electronic collections by organizations like Google Books or JSTOR.

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