Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Research Library in the Modern Era

In 1944 Godfrey founder Fremont Rider addressed what he perceived as a growing problem in research libraries in his book The Scholar and the Future of the Research Library: A Problem and its Solution.  The problem then, as it is now to an extent, was that the number of books available was growing at such a rate that research libraries would soon no longer have the space or staff to maintain a complete, yet modern, collection.  He proposed a more streamlined system of interlibrary loans as well as his invention, microform cards, small cards containing miniaturized pages of books, as parts of the solution. 
The advance of digital storage techniques curtailed much of Rider’s worry over a library’s limited physical storage space.  But at the same time technological innovations, particularly the rise of the internet, created a host of new problems for libraries. 

Scholars like Rider could not possibly imagine the incredible amount of information now available to the public at the touch of a button.  Websites like Archives.org and GoogleBooks allow people to read complete texts without leaving the comfort of their home or paying a cent.  JSTOR and other digital repositories grant access to innumerable articles regarding every subject imaginable.  And we cannot forget Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.com, where novice and expert researchers can single out individual names in documents from all over the world right from their computer.   With such resources as these, never mind the rise in digital reader devices, one might wonder if libraries and books will find themselves going the way of the cassette tape and typewriter. 

To survive research libraries are becoming more like their online only competitors.  Whereas most research libraries, the Godfrey included, used to focus solely on their print collections, by necessity the growth and maintenance of their digital collections is now just as important, if not more so.  The Godfrey spent years researching, experimenting with, and improving our digital library.  As you read this the Scholar is undergoing another set of changes.  We are discarding unwieldy PDFs in favor of the Page Viewer, not only eliminating loading time but also allowing all of our typed documents to be searchable! 

As of right now the Godfrey Scholar contains five hundred and thirty-five books, with more added weekly!  Certainly this is just a drop in the bucket compared to our print collection, but in time we hope to bring more and more of our unique print content to the Scholar.  In particular the Godfrey is in possession of many family histories and handwritten records that are unavailable anywhere else! 

Libraries face more obstacles than ever if they wish to survive in present times: obstacles that many are already surmounting and emerging stronger than before.  In the end computers, digital storage, and online collections only make is easier to perform a library’s primary function to preserve and share information with the public.  The research library in the modern era, while vastly different than the model proposed by Fremont Rider, will certainly be around for years to come.

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