Lost in transition: libraries and cooperation strategies between print and digital

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Tommaso Giordano’s career as a librarian started in 1972, when he joined the University of Florence. He worked at the EUI from 1983 to 2014, where he started as deputy director and then became Library director. This is a translated and abridged version of his lectio magistralis, held on 24 November 2017 at the general assembly of the Italian Association of Libraries (Associazione Italiana Biblioteche).

The 1990s marked an unprecedented change in the history of libraries, and the consequences of this change have left us with much uncertainty. The transition from print to digital is still occurring, and it seems that ongoing ideas and projects coping with the transition are mostly attempts to control the change, and that they are only a phase of a lengthy process.

When enormous digital repositories such as Google Books exceed the collections of the largest libraries in the world, what kind of strategy should libraries devise to have a role in the society of information? The production of millions of digital books, partially available for free on the web, are bringing about a revolution in the management of library collections and in their use of space. This means, however, that libraries are facing the challenge of supporting a traditional infrastructure while introducing innovation without supplementary resources. One of the solutions adopted is that of developing library networks with the aim of sharing collections and enhancing their long-term preservation. The participants no longer invest in their own centralised storage, but they give way to a distributed model in which each library hosts part of a collective collection.

There are several examples of shared print collections: WEST (Western Regional Storage Reserve) in the United States counts 40 members in 18 states and 20,000 journal titles; UKRR (United Kingdom Research Reserve) comprises 29 libraries and concerns the conservation of periodicals; HathiTrust has 16 million digital volumes, mainly digitised by Google Books and is made up of 130 institutions, of which 50 are libraries involved in HatiTrust Shared Print Program.

The process of planning and managing collective library collections is complex. Data driven decision-making for preservation is at the basis of projects like the Print Archives and Preservation Registry, the Sustainable Collection Service (OCLC) and the National Bibliographic Knowledge Base (Jisc).

Many libraries are, nevertheless, experiencing a decrease of users, as they are not capable of managing information in this ever-changing digital landscape dominated by private parties. People go to libraries when they are unable to find information on the web or when they do not have the means to obtain it. The cooperation model might be useful then, if we think that in some countries the licences for certain electronic resources are negotiated with publishers on a national basis, therefore some e-resources, traditionally owned by academic libraries, are available also to public libraries.

Finally, libraries can be an active part of the change, as they are not just consumers of knowledge. Libraries also create knowledge by facilitating Open Access, by building institutional repositories, by preserving research datasets and by supporting self-publishing and public history initiatives.

Edited by Federica Signoriello

Original version