Librarians: Many faculty members embrace digitization

Librarians remind students that some valuable literature isn't yet avaiable online.
Librarians remind students that some valuable literature isn't yet available online.

The sentimentality that college faculty members have for the old-fashioned campus library isn’t the norm at some institutions with vast digital libraries, higher-education librarians and technologists say—countering recent research that lists faculty resistance as a roadblock in digitizing library collections.

Research that refers to the “wistfulness” for the days of wooden bookshelves and massive piles of literary works was released June 2 by the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Library and Information Resources, a nonprofit group that advocates for greater access to information.

The study, titled “The Idea of Order: Transforming Research Collections for 21st Century Scholarship,” charges that entrenched professors and staff members have slowed the creation of digitized book collections. The study also cites the conflicting ideas about whether information should be commodified or made freely available online as a persistent impediment to library digitization.

Roger Layton, communication manager for Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library, said most professors accept students’ research findings from the school’s collection of 162,000 items scanned into a digital repository, which includes books, thesis dissertations, and pieces of art, among other content.

“There are certainly some [faculty] who assign students to find print versions of books,” he said, adding that BYU’s Digital Collections web page received 20 million hits last year. “But, by and large, the digital versions have been embraced by faculty. … I don’t see them dragging their feet on it, because they want anything to streamline the process for students” searching for research material.

Clearing the mounds of books that once took up entire floors of BYU’s library, Layton said, has made room for student study areas—a move many professors encouraged.

“There’s very little hesitation from many [faculty] to move toward the online model,” he said. “That is the direction things are going.”

Professors accept electronic sources for homework and research projects, but many faculty members have become wary of sources found through a simplistic Google search, said Leslie Haas, director of Loyola University Chicago’s Richard J. Klarcheck Information Commons, where students go to study and relax using a range of technologies.

“What I see more and more is faculty noticing that students don’t always evaluate things they find online,” she said. “They tend to take things at face value. … But I think the faculty, as long as it’s coming from a scholarly source, they haven’t indicated a preference of paper over electronic.”

The Council on Library and Information Resources’ research included the results of a search for usable digitized books by Melissa Baralt, a Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

In the summer of 2008, Baralt conducted online searches for 61 digitized copies of books about the history of language and linguistics published between 1533 and 2007.

Baralt found 72 percent of the books in digital form, but not all of them were of high quality, according to the research. Many of the books published before 1924 had “two or more unintelligible pages” or were unsearchable because of complications with English characters.

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