- Crises and Opportunities
The current economic crisis burst onto the public scene in the fall of 2008, though analysts have decreed now that the recession began officially at the end of 2007. The effects began to hit many libraries in early 2009, with mid-year budget take-backs, hiring freezes, and large endowment drops; and, over the course of the spring, the forecasts for FY 2010 got increasingly grim. As librarians gathered at professional association meetings this past summer, it was clear that the financial trends look bad or worse for FY 2011 and that all of our communities are now seeing a series of domino effects as unemployment, bank failures, business bankruptcies, and municipal service reductions play out. Universities, both public and private, are making drastic cuts that reach well into double-digit percentages. Most academic libraries face what could well be a permanent reduction in the scope of their collections, staff, and services. And yet, our libraries have to keep on delivering updated information resources to faculty and students in an expanding range of subjects. Are we in crisis, or are there new opportunities?
Although it may be a cliché, out of this crisis can come new and transformative ways of being. Especially since the impact is not limited only to one type of institution or geographic region, there is a sense of shared stress that seems to be motivating a greater willingness to devise innovative approaches. The size of the budget contractions is such that the usual belt-tightening is, in many places, just not enough. Libraries are taking bolder steps; and, as a profession, we may finally be able to overcome the more petty pockets of resistance and do things that have even been on the back burner for decades.
We are seeing a flurry of news bulletins and electronic list messages about branch closings, service point consolidations, layoffs, serials cancellations, shorter hours, delayed building projects, outsourcing, consortial contracting, and the like. But what about some of the recently announced developments that have the potential to reshape the information world more profoundly? [End Page 437]
There is an acceleration in large and small cooperative activities, long a mainstay for libraries. More libraries are forming or joining consortia, and even the consortia themselves are merging, as in the case of Lyrasis (formed from PALINET and SOLINET). As consortia grow increasingly large, how do we assess their benefits beyond simply price discounts? This spring, the libraries of Columbia and Cornell announced the 2CUL initiative, a concerted effort to forge shared operations in collections and technical services with the intent to make significant savings over the next few years. Will they develop innovative approaches that are extensible to others? Few details are publicly documented, but this is one to watch closely.
We have barely finished one fiscal year since this new environment descended, but my hunch is that we will see a wave of joint services and mergers on campus, especially in small and mid-size institutions. We have all worked on shared services involving libraries, academic computing, writing labs, faculty technology workshops, career centers, and various student services. Now we have an urgent need to find ways to support venturesome, difficult, and expensive things such as data curation for e-science, archiving courseware and video lecture capture, media-rich distance education, and the stewardship of an array of decentralized campus digital resources. Effective production, use, and preservation of such important academic assets can only be done with extensive ongoing partnerships. A challenge will be how to sustain these past the phase of start-up funding or grant support. Expect a proliferation of projects and models over the coming years.
Vendors and Virtualization
A dizzying variety of new services is hitting the street. Vendors are going well beyond new databases and research resources to new software systems that integrate and customize to new software systems that integrate and customize content and to offering hosted services that require little local effort from the library. OCLC has expanded the nascent WorldCat Local into a full suite of "Web scale" services that will, in effect, allow a library to operate its cataloging, acquisitions, and lending...