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Expanding Content Options Mean New Challenges to Libraries

Computers in Libraries [October 2022] The Systems Librarian


Libraries must adapt to the changing information landscape. A central aspect of their mission involves providing access to content, usually without direct cost, to their community members or patrons. Free access for library patrons requires substantial investments. Libraries must purchase or license that content, dedicating significant portions of their budgets for building collections. They must also invest in the technology systems that they use to acquire, manage, and provide access to each type of material. These systems must continually evolve to accommodate each new variation of the content ecosystem.

New Publishing and Content Models

The forms in which content is published continually expand and may be governed by different business and legal frameworks. Printed materials prevailed for centuries, but recent decades have brought fundamental changes via new forms of digital content and upheavals in the scholarly publishing industry, as well as trends in the consumer and business sectors. Electronic documents, digital images, ebooks, audiobooks, and streaming videos are routine parts of library collections. We should anticipate increasing interest in 3D content, such as holograms and VR experiences. The rate of change in the publishing and content arena will continue to accelerate, and libraries will need nimble processes and technologies to keep pace.

Academic and research libraries must adapt to rapidly changing business models in the scholarly publishing industry. Until a few years ago, the model of subscriptionbased publication prevailed, with only tepid progress toward OA options. Much has changed in recent years, with mandates asserted by grant-making and governmental agencies for scientific papers based on their funding to publish through OA channels. Recently, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy updated its guidance that by 2025, all papers reliant on U.S. federal funding be published as OA with no embargoes. This new mandate signals a dramatically accelerated shift to OA publishing. The expected rapid increase in scholarly resources available through OA represents a great opportunity for libraries and their users. It remains to be seen whether strengthened mandates for OA will result in savings for libraries.

Opportunities to Enhance Library Services

The diversity of content types enables new opportunities for libraries. Collections that span this rich array of physical and digital formats reach more deeply into the needs and interests of their communities. Public libraries, for example, continue to fulfill traditional roles of lending print books from well-curated and diverse collections, with growing services for lending ebooks and audiobooks. Even with the almost universal availability of ebooks, large portions of the public prefer to read in print. Public libraries face incredible challenges in balancing their print and digital book collections relative to the interests of their users and the capacity of their budgets. Lending ebooks has proven to be much more expensive and complex than print books. But regardless of cost and technical challenges, providing access to print books, ebooks, audiobooks, and streaming video makes libraries more relevant.

The formats of collections must align with the needs of the community served as much as the areas of content covered. Some patrons benefit from cutting-edge content formats and related services. Others are better served with traditional formats. The ideal balance of print and digital content is determined through informal perceptions of the interests of the community, as well as via empirical measures (such as use statistics and predictive analytics). These trends and user preferences continually change, driving libraries to constantly evolve the shape of their collections. Providing content in appropriate forms for each type of user is not just a matter of convenience or preference, but it also addresses issues of equity and inclusion.

Impact on Library Management Systems

In the early days of the internet and during the transition to e-resources, there was an optimism that these new formats would simplify the demands on libraries and reduce costs. It seemed that managing library collections would eventually be much easier, since all content would be digital and the costs would dramatically decline with less dependence on print and physical distribution. The vision of all-digital libraries was unrealistic then, and it's still unattainable now. Physical books and media will endure into the foreseeable future. The costs for libraries to acquire electronic and digital content can be even higher than those for print materials. The vision of digital libraries has instead turned into a reality of libraries that offer content in many forms, shaped by trends in scholarly publishing and those in the consumer, business, and technology sectors, as well as by the preferences of their users.

Libraries draw their collections from the prevailing information ecosystem and must employ tools and technologies that are able to handle the complexities of each flavor of content distribution. Today's libraries acquire, manage, and provide access to print materials and other content on physical media, as well as a wide range of digital resources. Their collections are increasingly complex, spanning many formats, distribution arrangements, and business models. This complexity requires sophisticated library management systems and library workers who are well-versed in the legal and business frameworks associated with the various publishing and distribution models.

The expanding formats making their way into library collections bring multiple challenges for the technology systems used to manage library collections. Each format of content may give rise to its own business and legal issues. How do individuals or organizations acquire legal access to the materials? Can they be purchased permanently, or are they licensed for limited periods? Are there special arrangements possible for libraries?

The functional design of the ILS emerged when print materials dominated library collections. Although substantially evolved, the ILS is optimized for print materials and is not especially well-suited for managing electronic and digital content. Libraries using ILSs often manage these kinds of materials with separate tools or applications.

Library services platforms were developed to manage a broader range of content types, with integrated knowledgebases and other components needed for efficient management of e-resources. But even this latest type of library management system must further expand its flexibility to also handle the complications associated with OA materials. They should be able to manage article-processing charges (APCs), whether paid directly by the library or other parts of the institution, in order to assess the financial impact of this publishing model.

The shift to OA publishing does not simplify the management of e-resources. Rather, it adds new layers of complexity. The standard model of eresource management focuses on the subscriptions purchased by a library and on enabling access to the specific packages of journals and other content covered by those subscriptions. OA integrates the additional layer of accounting for the relevant content available to library users beyond what is provided through its subscriptions.

Libraries must also provide ways for their users to find and access these materials. Library discovery interfaces need to address the diverse forms of content that comprise library collections. These interfaces have to guide users to the materials held in the library's physical facilities and its online content. Library discovery interfaces must manage a variety of complex technical issues related to authentication and integration with diverse content sources and platforms. At the same time, they must provide an interface that hides these complexities so users can easily find and access library-provided content regardless of its format or source.

Ongoing Needs for System Development

Despite remarkable progress in the advancement of library management and discovery services, many challenges remain. Ideal forms of managing the current range of physical and digital materials have yet to be fully realized. We can also expect that changes in the broader information services and publishing arena will bring new forms of content, business processes, and legal frameworks. Continued development of library management systems and discovery services is essential to ensure that libraries have all of the tools they need to manage and provide access to collections spanning all forms of content, ranging from books and manuscripts to those not yet conceived.

Marshall Breeding is an independent consultant, writer, and frequent library conference speaker and is the founder of Library Technology Guides His email address is marshall.breeding@

View Citation
Publication Year:2022
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Computers in Libraries
Publication Info:Volume 42 Number 08
Issue:October 2022
Publisher:Information Today
Series: Systems Librarian
Place of Publication:Medford, NJ
Notes:Systems Librarian Column
Record Number:28456
Last Update:2024-06-20 05:12:01
Date Created:2023-01-30 06:27:05