What difference do we make?

It’s post comps. Still don’t know how well I faired. I’ll let you know when I know. For now, I’m sorting thru old articles, ridding my library of unnecessary papers, and preparing to write a paper on open access and the PKP (Public Knowledge Project) for my design project.

While doing a “formal” academic database search on open access, I happened upon an editorial by Dr. Rush Miller, Hillman University Librarian and Director at the University of Pittsburgh, entitled “What Difference Do We Make?” Although I found it of little use for my project, I found a lot to ignite my soul. Dr. Miller shares, by far, my notion about the future of libraries, knowledge professionals, and where the two are converging.

I am a bit dissapointed that I cannot find the editorial via open access?!? For those of you who are not separated from The Journal of Academic Librarianship by the digital divide, I encourage you to access Volume 33, Issue 1, January 2007, pages 1-2. For those of you who ARE separated by the digital divide, i.e. have no access to a database that archives the article, I’m including significant excerpts:

“With the advent of the Google Print Project, open access journal publishing, repositories, and many other developments of the last few years, the nature and future of the academic research library are becoming less clear to us.

“Above all, it is time for us to stop criticizing alternatives to libraries and to begin to understand better why some of them are so appealing to our users. If we continue to base library practice on tradition or unquestioned assumptions about what is best for our users, we will fail.

“For example, instead of arguing that the controlled vocabulary of the OPAC produces better results, we need an analysis of how to incorporate the clearly superior aspects of Google and Yahoo into our approach to searching. Rather than presenting arrays of obscurely named databases to our users, we must create search environments that drill down below them and quickly return federated results, and eventually compete with Google and other search engines for the attention of our students and faculty.”

When speaking about a collection of materials known as Historic Pittsburgh, Dr. Miller said, “the use of this online corpus of books is already far greater than the traditional use of these same physical books on our shelves. Approximately 5,000 users per month access or view about 80% of these books. I dare say that the circulation of this entire corpus in its print version over the lifetime of the books has not equaled one month’s online usage.”

While it is still early days in terms of gathering and analyzing the data, I will be very surprised if we discover that the primary access to our digital materials is from the tools we created for them, as superior as they are! I believe Google may well emerge as the most popular route to the content of our digital projects while our OPAC may be the least used entry point. It would be very useful to me, and I believe to others, as we think about our future to understand better the relationship of the digital content we create and the methods of discovery of it by our users. We must particularly keep in mind that the purpose of knowing these things is not to better ‘‘educate’’ our users to the superiority of the traditional library approach and tools, but to create better integration with the actual tools of choice now and in the future used by our students and faculty.”

All this I offer as a way to further make a point about issues raised in my November, 2007 “metacrap” post.