Is the library more than just a building?

Junior academics can access services without physically visiting premises, writes Holly Else

December 8, 2016
Librarian helping student at computer in library
Source: Alamy

Are libraries becoming invisible to early career researchers? It is an interesting question.

Certainly the next generation of academics do not need to walk over to the library and spend time wandering through journal stacks on the hunt for the information they need, as some established academics might once have done. The world has changed, and so have libraries.

If part of this change means that the physicality of the library building has become less important to junior scholars, as the report by the Publishing Research Consortium suggests, a perhaps more important question is “does that matter?”.

Even if they may not know it, early career researchers are likely using library services when they access research articles or fulfil the open access criteria attached to their funding.

By their very nature, early career researchers are going to be the most tech-savvy generation of academics because they have grown up with the internet providing information at the click of a mouse.

This group of researchers has also embraced more quickly, and with more skill than others, the wonders of social media networks and what they can offer. Many groups lobbying for change in the working conditions for junior academics have coordinated their actions via Facebook and Twitter, for example.

So it should be no surprise that this spills over into how they use the university library. As Martin Reid, deputy director and head of academic services of the library at the London School of Economics, says, libraries are adapting to the new needs of academics because they know this is where their future lies.

But only time will tell how successful this transition will be and whether libraries still need a physical presence to remain relevant and successful.

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