This is crossposted from Hypermarc.

OK.  So, paper is limiting, but it is the physical nature of books that have defined libraries and library collections over the last few centuries.  If digital objects are the “ideal” in that they lack many of the restrictions that physical objects have, then what is the role of the library?  Do we need libraries any more?  Should we simply digitize everything and close up shop?

Some would say yes.  If we have Google, then we don’t need a library catalogue.  Google is the access point to the world’s collected knowledge.  This is where the true insight in Buckland’s Manifesto really comes into play.  Books are not knowledge and neither are the libraries that collect them.  Books and libraries are representations of knowledge and are primarily concerned with the management of these representations.  In a school library environment, this speaks directly to the mission of that institution, I would argue more so than any other type of library.  A school library, first and foremost, is an educational entity.  It is second, a collection of objects – physical and digital – that support that educational mission.  This is why the idea of a learning commons is becoming more popular in the school library world.  A school learning commons is a place where learners come to build knowledge using the collective resources of the library, the library staff and the other users of the learning commons.  It is a subtle difference, but it is an important one.  There are many libraries that I can think of that contain incredible collections of books and other resources, but that are unfriendly to the prospect of actually working with those objects.  These are libraries that one visits in order to retrieve objects so that one can go somewhere else to build their knowledge.  These libraries are collections first and participatory, social learning spaces second.  The Electronic Library allows less physical space to be devoted to the management of the resources and more physical space to be devoted to the work of learning through reading, writing, remixing, transposing, transcribing and socially interacting.  The human resources shift from being primarily concerned with resource management and administration issues and more with the education of users in becoming better at being able to navigate the myriad of changing ways of retrieving and working with knowledge objects.

Buckland spends much of his summation looking at ways that the move from paper through automation to electronic facilitates not a more efficient way of doing what we’ve always done, but a way of doing new things and tossing aside the restrictions of the past.  He speaks of moving from a localized, library-centric stance to a world view.  He speaks of decentralization and the collaboration amongst multiple libraries to address their individual missions in ways far more powerful than they have ever been able to before.  But I would argue that the shift toward a digital realm allows libraries to focus on their true mission which is to support their users in their quests to build their own knowledge.  Technology is allowing us to get much closer to the ideal that Alexandria was built upon.

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