Collection Development: Access in the Virtual Library

Don Lanier (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Collection Building

ISSN: 0160-4953

Article publication date: 1 March 2000




Lanier, D. (2000), "Collection Development: Access in the Virtual Library", Collection Building, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 38-40.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

In setting the context for this collection of papers on collection development in the electronic library, editor Maureen Pastine refers to Brian Hawkins’ influential work, The Unsustainability of the Traditional Library and the Threat to Higher Education (Aspen Institute, 1996). To a considerable degree, technology and economics have determined that the traditional library is unsustainable for most institutions of higher education and in many other institutions as well. A compilation of papers dealing with collection development in such a dynamic environment is much needed.

In addition to Pastine’s introduction, bibliography and conclusion there are seven other contributions – one of which is another bibliography. The six remaining chapters or papers deal with specific aspects of librarianship in an environment in which a prominent feature of collection development is “access in a virtual library”. The first chapter is an essay by David Goding on the implications of fast‐moving technology for the future of libraries and librarianship. Goding’s observations are both insightful and realistic. While he assures us that librarians are not an endangered species in his “back to basics”, I think he would agree that many of us have not yet comprehended the magnitude of the Internet’s impact on library collections and services.

Barbara Kemp clarifies some of the issues and definitions in what she terms shifting paradigms between ownership and access and the impact on public services. While the impact of the paradigm shift and of technological developments on services is discussed, little is said regarding future directions in providing such services. Koll takes a different approach in a chapter on the ownership‐to‐access shift. This shift is discussed in light of actions by libraries to take full advantage of the changing environment. Koll provides several examples of projects that represent proactive responses to technological and economic changes in library collection development. From these examples he suggests basic elements to be used in “a new strategy for thinking about and dealing with collections issues in tomorrow’s world”.

The chapter by Curt Holleman focuses on a narrow aspect of access in the electronic environment – studies of collection patterns, collection strengths and collection overlap. He provides a context for the development of such studies in the last 25 years – as these have been encouraged and facilitated by networking and technology. To be sure, technology and the online environment make analysis of collections statistically relatively easy when compared with manual methods. Whether this improved capability has led to or will lead to better, more cost efficient collection development is left unanswered – but readers will be able to use Holleman’s observations to produce better studies.

In “Distributed education and libraries” Robert Skinner provides a brief overview of some of the principal technologies used in the distributed education classroom – e‐mail, Chat, WWW, FirstClass, Lotus Notes. He then attempts to relate library services for distributed education classrooms (perhaps classrooms without walls) to these technologies. James Kopp’s chapter, “The politics of the virtual collection”, overlays the well‐known political influences of traditional collection development onto the access‐dominated virtual library. Kopp is effective at identifying long‐standing political issues in collection development and correlating these issues with the newer electronic environment (with cooperative or virtual settings). Kopp concludes that “seeking to understand the politics of the virtual collection and to learn how to work with the political process at all levels will aid considerably in the realization of the virtual collection. Without that effort and accomplishment, the virtual collection is very likely to remain a utopian vision” (p. 99).

As with most collections of papers, there is some unevenness in quality and in adherence to topic theme in this volume. Simultaneous publication as a serial volume and as a monograph is not uncommon – publishers are influenced as much or more by technology than libraries. However, there is little in the content of this particular publication that justifies separate, monographic publication. Its primary strength probably lies in its reminder to the most recalcitrant of its librarian readers that the virtual library is not peripheral to our interests.

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