The library has come a long way since the fire at the Great Library of Alexandria. Talk about a failure to protect big data. The fire destroyed works from the greatest thinkers and writers of all times: Plato, Homer, Socrates. That fire represents the loss of the greatest collection of ancient writings and knowledge. Too bad it wasn’t all backed up digitally and saved on the cloud. Libraries today, luckily have the resources and know-how to not make that same mistake.
Over the years, as technology advances, the traditional functions of a library have evolved and processes have built up and digitized allowing libraries to meet historical needs and offer even more in this digital age. Yet, the function of libraries remains essentially the same.
Physical model meets the digital world
Traditionally, libraries build collections. This is still the case. Collection building involves selecting appropriate content for a specific audience, making the materials easy to access, managing and preserving it. Libraries continue to purchase digital content, but this now involves licensing. Digital content is stored on local servers and made accessible to the community. To maintain long-term access to digital content, modern librarians deal with license conditions and by creating backup copies of information. The modern library, as with libraries of the past still have responsibility for and control the content they provide and the future access of that content.
Libraries move into the information age
Although it is currently working, with the way information is collected and shared online in this information age, the traditional model of library collections may become obsolete. Many libraries are already providing access to content that they do not own or manage.
At the University of Michigan’s Library Image Service, image content from independent providers is pulled together into a central collection, but each provider manages their own content that’s being pulled into the overall collection. Each content manage is using their own metadata and descriptions, however the library converts and standardizes the metadata.
Even with the modern-day advantage of backing up data and working with independent providers, the library isn’t necessarily safe from the fate of the Great Library of Alexandria. Some may argue that the library of Alexandria was lost, not because of fire, but because of budget cuts. And the modern-day library is certainly facing budget issues, just like most organizations doing their best to manage and secure records on limited resources.
The library continues to change and evolve as records themselves change and evolve. It’s a lot more complex than buying books and keeping the bindings in shape. It’s an exciting time for libraries and the communities who use them.