Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Needle in the haystack - the role of a library

I was prompted to write a few words the other day in response to this article in the Financial Review "Last hurrah for the traditional university library" by Geoff Hanmer.

Today I wanted to comment on something else that nettled me from the article.

"I believe that nearly all books or journal articles will eventually be available online"

I don't dispute this, indeed I'd say - is this news? However the point that is missing, and one that is often missed, is that a library isn't just a storehouse of materials. Whether they are in print or online a large collection doesn't a library make. If you have a dozen books at home you can find the one you want. If you have several hundred then finding becomes a problem. The larger the haystack the more difficult it becomes to find the needle. 

Finding the needle is what separates a library from a haystack, and why I don't believe that libraries, or librarians, are in immediate danger of extinction. Indeed, once all books and journal articles are online (not to mention tweets, videos and maps) then finding will not be easier. And this doesn't even begin to cover discovery!


  1. Thanks Peter for commenting on this article. I was particularly annoyed by the "most books are just a mouse-click away" line - if they are a mouse-click away it is because library staff have either arranged inter-library loans or purchased expensive contracts with ebook suppliers.
    Tracy Bruce AALIA CP

  2. I am wondering if folks such as Geoff Hammer who advocate e-books as being widely available would be happy to know that uni libraries may only be licenced to allow users to save or print one chapter or less in some cases, unless they are prepared to read it on their computer screens, and that if someone else is using it they will have to wait. Free Google Books out-or-print aren't exactly the ticket for students training to be the health professionals of the future.
    Janice Knopke AALIA