Towards a Library in the Cloud

From Jeff Kahn

It goes without saying that the library is changing in the new age of digital content; after all, libraries have led the way with cloud computing, moving content to remote storage before we had such a cute term for it. As colleges and universities become increasingly (or entirely) digital and cloud based, we’re beginning to see the broader implications for faculty, administration and librarians. With digital content accessible from anywhere, the traditional library may be going the way of the reference book.

Let’s take a look at how the university library is evolving and what that means for different university staff members.

The web has displaced the very idea of what constitutes a library, let alone a first-class library. It can no longer be defined by the number and type of books it holds—in fact, I doubt a library’s primary location will be a physical one.

The doomed print encyclopedia is a useful example. Traditionally, librarians have been responsible for purchasing sets of encyclopedias every few years. This makes them the gatekeeper for reference materials, the library a storage unit for large sets of books and the institution responsible for a large, infrequent expenditure.

However, we’re quickly adopting a pay-per-view model that depends on content stored remotely. This has implications for how institutions purchase content and the role of librarians. Though funding issues vary from school to school, librarians—whether at your local public library or at a large university—are becoming information sherpas, guiding faculty and students through the deluge of multimedia content.

With easy access to digital authoring and media production tools, faculty are creating an increasing amount of that content. They will depend on the library to manage and store that content, while still depending on the library to discover materials. This puts a burden on libraries and librarians to catalog and sort an ever-increasing variety of educational content for teaching and learning.

The move towards a virtual library raises questions for administration and IT departments, as well. Administrators now have to think about libraries as a place to store and access educational content beyond the lifespan of any one LMS or tool. Plus, IT staff and librarians must begin working closer together on tasks such as standardizing searches and citation, as well as the sticky, complex intellectual copyright issues raised by the web.

Though we all love our stately university libraries, a move towards cloud-based libraries is happening rapidly, with the proliferation of digitized content, quality web-based, licensed content and open educational resources. How do you see the library’s role shifting in terms of content creation, discovery, sharing, distribution and preservation? Sound off in the comments.

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