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  • Scientific Libraries: Past Development and Future Changes
  • Michael Dzanko
Scientific Libraries: Past Development and Future Changes. By Tomas Lidman. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2008. xvi, 123 pp. £19.95. ISBN 978-184334-268-5.

This book, or, as Tomas Lidman describes it in his preface, "this scientific essay" (ix), is most assuredly intended for the expert. This slender volume is part of the Chandos Information Professional Series, no doubt the reason for its readability and coverage of practical topics of interest to librarians and other information professionals. And yet there is far more to this volume than a mere chronology of scientific libraries over the last thirty to forty years; in fact, its discussion of both past developments and future changes in the field might just as easily be read as a memoir of the storied professional career of Lidman, the former national librarian of Sweden and current general director of the Swedish National Archives. For if, by his own admission, the text often "errs towards the personal and mirrors my own values" (ix), it is only because Lidman's reliable analysis provides the best means of helping the reader understand the profound changes that have occurred within scientific libraries and the dynamic changes that, perhaps, are not so far in the future.

The book's structure is set out for easy reference, and the decade-by-decade chronology and numbered subheadings within each of the five chapters are clearly designed with the professional reader in mind. Perhaps the most surprising and interesting feature of this study, given its orderly nature, is not necessarily what is explained but rather how each question is framed—for questions permeate the text and even feature in the subheadings. In the introduction the author asks how [End Page 389] one might "see the context in a wider perspective, tie up the loose ends and point toward important tendencies and lines of development that have changed and influenced the condition of scientific libraries" (3). And though Lidman's answers are the essential part of the book's function, it is the well-framed questions that will be most impressive to experts in the field.

There is a palpable sense of institutional anxiety running through the first two chapters. Vigorous expansion of higher education during the 1960s first caused modern scientific libraries to seriously rethink how to manage their affairs. As the internationally renowned library expert Bjîrn Tell relates his own entrance into the world of librarianship: "It felt as if one was confronted with patricide and ill-fitting suits. Levels of tolerance were low and one wished for a window to be flung open to the world. Changes incurred consequences no one even wanted to contemplate" (6–7). The period of the 1970s is described as one of a series of false starts, punctuated by the inevitable tension between an autonomous body of librarians accustomed to being "allowed to master their own destinies without heeding the needs of the surrounding world and its users" and a changed society and student body that unexpectedly "began to evolve into the most important user group" (8). The next chapter concerns itself with the 1980s, exploring the inevitable transition from cards to computers. Appropriately, it begins with a question put forth by John Blagden that still preoccupies librarians and scholars: "Do we really need libraries?" (17). And while there is no doubt as to Lidman's reply, he makes it clear from his experiences that if libraries are to survive, they must change with the time. Even national libraries are shown to have been most reluctant in making the transition from their longstanding book-oriented organizations to more customer-oriented ones. Indeed, when Lidman was appointed national librarian in 1995, despite the library's technological advances, he "entered an organisation which had in principle remained the same since the library was institutionalised in 1878" (21).

The last three chapters take the reader from the 1990s to the present and future, even as they continue to point to the past. Two recurring images in this narrative arc are the reinaugurated library in Alexandria, Egypt, and the new building housing the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which stand in...


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