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57 5 THE IMPACT OF THE DIGITAL LIBRARY ON THE PLANNING OF SCIENTIFIC, TECHNICAL AND MEDICAL LIBRARIES Wouter Schallier A framework for innovation Scientific, technical and medical libraries (STM libraries) are challenged by rapid changes in their technological, scholarly and educational context. STM libraries constantly need to improve and re-invent their services and products in order to address user needs. Regarding access to research literature, the core business of STM libraries today is almost completely concerned with the provision of access to electronic journals and databanks. Unless they have a specific archival or heritage function specialist STM libraries may not have a general cultural role, which may call into question the need for a physical library at all. It is clear that research staff no longer need to come to the library as they have access to (most of) all they need from the desk top. On the other hand if the STM library is based in higher education the needs of the students are also of paramount importance. Students still need a place to study, and all the indications are that their needs for study space of various sorts are actually on the increase. This may call for radical changes in the business planning of the STM library. At the biomedical library of the Catholic University of Leuven (K.U.Leuven) just such a radical review is under way. It has been decided on the one hand to opt as far as possible for e-only and on the other hand to change rapidly from a library to a learning centre model. The library as space Many STM libraries are facing the question of what to do with their physical space. There are several issues here. First, most collections of STM libraries are digitally available (e-journals and e-books). This means that most of the paper can be removed, or at least be stored in a less prominent and less costly space than a reading room. Second, STM libraries are no longer the exclusive places for access to scholarly information. Students and researchers have access to the Internet and to scholarly information almost everywhere: in the office, in the laboratory, on the train, at home. So the question is: does the STM library as space still have a place in education and research? Most STM libraries understand that the age of paper collections is over. Paper in a digital world has as much reason for existence as a horse in a world of cars: you buy a horse only because you like it, not because it is more practical for transport. Many STM libraries have made the move towards e-only collections. On the other hand, some paper collections still need to be preserved (usually because of their historical value) and libraries BPDG_opmaak_12072010.indd 57 13/07/10 11:51 Wouter Schallier 58 are trying to organise this as efficiently as possible: they store them in places where the loss of space is minimal and the climatic conditions are optimal, and they often share the storage facilities thereby distributing the preservation effort. Not all copies of journals and books are being kept in every library, but interlibrary agreements determine the responsibilities amongst partner libraries in terms of preservation and access to valuable paper collections. In Flanders, the K.U.Leuven is a partner, with the other universities possessing biomedical faculties, in a scheme to have shared storage of one paper copy of biomedical journals somewhere in the region. The scheme is governed by a service level agreement whereby each library agrees to store its allocated titles for the future as long as the paper subscription continues. This means that the most prominent library space, the reading room, can be almost completely freed from paper. Many STM libraries have been converting this space into a working and social environment that meets the needs of modern education and research. This means much more than simply replacing the book shelves with computers, because this alone will not attract more students or researchers. They have divided the public library space into flexible modules with adequate infrastructure for different work forms such as quick reference, individual study, group work, brainstorming sessions, presentations, classes, social contacts, etc. Many libraries are transforming into these kinds of learning and research environments, which are variously referred to as learning centres, learning zones, learning grids, etc., which gives them a tremendous potential to remain (or become again) a natural environment for students and researchers. Into the user...


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