Credit should go to ProQuest / Serial Solutions for their ongoing research into what academics and students THINK of academic libraries, as distinct from whether they actually USE their academic library’s online resources. Both John Law and Jane Burke gave very good presentations at Information Online 2009 (io2009), but this post is about John's address, so on with the show.
As John put it, "the academic library's brand is impeccable. It is the first choice among students and faculty members alike when they must locate high quality research materials". Yet when it comes to the online offerings, academics and students appear to be turning away from the library, with "users... willing to sacrifice the quality of the search results in favor of a pleasant search experience" i.e. they are using Google rather than the library.
This contradiction (users liking the library but turning to Google rather than the library's online offering when doing research) has been discussed for some time, yet it remains an important topic of discussion and concern for any library who's focus is supporting research. The challenge for libraries is not to compete with Google (we have lost that battle a long time ago) but to mark out a space where the library can offer quality results from within a pleasant search experience.
I was pleased that John mentioned the "Ithaka's 2006 Studies Of Key Stakeholders In the Digital Transformation In Higher Education". This is an excellent report and I (along with a lot of other people) blogged about it in 2008. The Ithaka report has certainly generated a fair bit of discussion as it raises some interesting and troublesome findings. Findings that have been confirmed in the ProQuest / Serials Solutions research.
To get an understanding of how troublesome, check out the article Google Books vs. BISON from the Library Journal in June 2008. This article outlines how Google Books beat a university library's new online catalogue hands down. This is even more worrisome when you consider John Law's findings that academics and students use Google much more than they use Google Scholar or Google Books. These type of findings put the research library's online catalogue well down the list of resources clients are using.
Yet there is a positive note in Mark J. Ludwig & Margaret R. Wells Library Journal article that relates back to John Law's presentation. As a result of their work comparing their catalogue with Google Books, Mark and Margaret's library "plan[s] to implement a project similar to Google's “did you mean” tool to overcome spelling problems. [They] are also planning a regular monitoring program for “no hit” searches, with the goal of increasing overall results."
I also found their conclusion interesting and positive. They go on to say that (I have highlighted some bits):
"Our study also points out the necessity for librarians to investigate aggressively and stay abreast of disruptive technology and build it into new services wherever possible. Libraries and librarians must constantly be attuned to patrons' behavior; we need to consider how we can use our unique qualities and collections to everyone's advantage. The bar has been raised. The maturing Internet and evolving array of Web 2.0 services has turned our customer base into what many have called a “Google Generation.” We can debate that moniker, but, clearly, no one is calling this the “Academic Library Generation.” Our BISON catalog may not be extinct, but it is being hunted down by the competition. As in nature, libraries had best adapt, change quickly, and build on past successes."
Google might be bigger than us, but we don't have to take it lying down. :-)
Click here for a copy of my notes with a podcast of John's address.
Click here to see what bloggers are saying about John Law's presentation.
Click here to access John's inforamtion Online 2009 paper titled "Academic Libraries and the Struggle to Remain Relevant: Why Research is Conducted Elsewhere".