How have Libraries and Archives changed in the Digital Age?

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Susan Mizruchi

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The Digital Age has significantly increased the amount of information that is produced on a daily basis which is heavily impacting the way we are storing and preserving information.

As cloud storing capacities and archiving facilities are increasing to be able to store ever larger amounts of information, how are librarians keeping up with processing the high amount of information and how do librarians fit into the task of finding and safeguarding materials? Read on to explore how these developments are changing the role of librarians and the challenges they face.

The role of libraries in a digitised world

In order to effectively share information, we need to create maps to navigate our new information superhighway. Collaboration is key to expand the global network and improve the way information is shared. It’s inevitable that faculty, staff, administrators and library professionals share and pool their skills and knowledge basis and work together. 

Increasingly librarians’ roles in shifting research and designing research projects are becoming more substantial. To keep up with rapid innovations around digitisation librarians have to constantly update their skills and are being asked to take on pedagogical and technical roles. The way that scholarship and research is evolving it’s essential that librarians are keeping up with that innovation. However, their efforts need to be compensated and we need to be aware of just how much time these additional responsibilities take up in the day-to-day work of a librarian. Institutions increasingly need focus more on learning and development for their librarians in order for them to acquire the state of knowledge they depend them to have.

Prof Susan Mizruchi, director of the Center for Humanities at Boston University, is the author of Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age, where she explores the relationships librarians have with researchers and faculty. She believes that the expansion and acceleration of digital methods for keeping and storing our collective social and cultural resources forces us to address the fundamental questions of value. Susan fears that the current pandemic with all its economic stresses and anxieties might take us back to square one. She worries that a lot of the progress in recognising the need for greater compensation for expanding roles of librarians could experience a rollback because the pandemic has also made us increasingly dependent on remote access making the work of librarians less visible.

On the other hand, the pandemic has opened up new opportunities for libraries, highlighting their role in setting up remote learning access and providing digital resources. The pandemic has made faculty and other departments even more aware of how valuable their librarians’ services are. This is a good way for libraries, especially the ones that have been suffering from budget cuts in the past, to again prove their value to their administration.

Evolving forms of public access to knowledge

'Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age' also deals with the topic of preservation and community. In the book’s chapter 'Radical Recordkeeping: How Community Archives Are Changing How We Think About Records', the author Jeannette Bastian says that traditional institutional archives are being challenged by the emergence of community based archiving. Beyond that, she notes that community archives are also challenging the traditional perspectives of what an archive actually is and how they are built. Susan believes that the digital turn has unleashed all of these hopes and dreams you can see in the Digital Public Library of America, which encompasses great ambitions to amass intellectual and creative bounty and make it available to a global citizenry.

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) was launched in April 2013 in the US, aiming to provide public access to digital holdings within the framework of a large-scale digital library. DPLA was in the news in early December 2020, when it was revealed the organisation was in the midst of talks with Amazon to make the online retailers’ eBooks available to libraries. A chapter by Robert Darnton, university librarian emeritus at Harvard, in 'Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age' focuses on DPLA and the increasing importance of libraries as the digital future unfolds. He emphasises that, historically, the wealth of knowledge preserved in libraries was restricted to a privileged few. 

Projects such as DPLA, open access and other initiatives are slowly opening up access to research and over the past years, publishers such as Springer Nature have gotten on board with this development through partnerships with platforms such as for example ResearchGate and open access agreements with consortia.

Interested in finding out more? Listen to the Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age 4-part Podcast, where Susan Mizruchi talks to us about the onslaught of changes the digital age has brought to the practice of information preservation. Access the podcast here

Susan Mizruchi’s book Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age can be purchased as a single title or as part of Springer Nature’s Literature, Cultural and Media Studies eBook collection.

For access and information about pricing contact Springer Nature.


Springer Nature