Some Challenges facing the Modern Research Library, Part 2.

This is part 2 of the written text of my presentation for the New Frontiers Graduate History Conference at York University.  Click here to see Part 1.  Here I outline some possible solutions and future steps for the Wilfrid Jury Library at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.

Future Steps

The unfortunate thing in this process has been that I do not think I will have enough time to finish everything that I want to accomplish–a common reality in the not-for-profit sector.  My research assistantship ends at the beginning of April.  Much of what I would like to do will have to be completed by someone else.  Nevertheless, here are some future steps I would recommend for the library moving forward.

Remove the items we do not need off-site 

There are several ways the Executive Director and I have discussed to accomplish this.  The first method we are going to explore is a book sale.  Like many small museums, the Museum of Archaeology is struggling for funding.  If we could make some money off of these books, we would gratefully accept it.  We may also invite rare and antique book dealers in the London area to come around and peruse the books we are de-accessioning as well.

We will also explore donating the books to not-for-profits in the city.  We will first approach our colleagues at the University of Western Ontario since we are an affiliate of the University.  We will approach institutions such as the various libraries on campus, as well as the various departments such as History, Anthropology, and First Nations Studies.  I doubt though, that any of these institutions will take them because the departments on campus do not typically have libraries, and for Western Libraries collecting the books that we would want to donate would be in violation of their collection management policy, mainly because of their age, and that they already likely have their own copies of what we’re giving away.[1] [2]  We will also approach registered charities in the community such as Goodwill and Salvation Army.

The final solution we will look at will be to simply recycle them after we have done everything we can to give them to someone that can use them.  Though this sounds like a cruel end, if no one sees value in the books we are de-accessioning, then the books have fulfilled their purpose, and they can be reused as a medium for further great literature and writing.

Catalogue the Collection

We also need to catalogue the collection according to MARC standards in the Library of Congress style in PastPerfect.  Creating an electronic catalogue will make it easier for patrons to interact with the collection, and more easily search through the holdings.  This will also give staff a better idea of what the library has.

Hire a Permanent Library Assistant

As I said earlier, in order to be successful, the library needs to become a program within the museum rather than a project.  One way to do this successfully would be to hire a part-time librarian.  This person would preferably hold a Master of Library and Information Science and have a solid background in First Nations History or Anthropology.  This person could perform outreach initiatives at the university to attract students to explore the library and archival collections and provide reference services.  This person could also give tours of the library and museum as part of campus visits of prospective students, especially the graduate students.  I realize this is a bit of a dream scenario due to the Museum’s financial situation, but I think it is a necessity moving forward if the Museum wants to get full utility out of its library.

The library assistant would also conduct collection development duties like identify gaps in the collection, and acquiring books to fill those gaps.  For example, I am quite embarrassed that my collection–partially dedicated to First Peoples’ History–only has one book that tells the sad story of the Indian residential schools.  That piece history, however sad, needs to be acknowledged in our collection, and tell the story so that it is never forgotten.  I should also say that this is not a result of ignorance or insensitivity on the Museum’s part, this kind of collection occurs when the primary source of materials comes via donation, because the content is determined by donors who may not necessarily be aware of the library’s needs.  Unfortunately, the Museum does not have any surplus funds to put toward developing the library collection at this moment.

What this Means for the Modern Scholar

As I have been working through my project, I noticed a lot of parallels between the changes I was making and the changes that are occurring in the academic libraries throughout North America.

Librarians have to do More with Less

In this day in age, academic libraries have never been more expensive to run. Yet, budgets are getting smaller every year.  This need to meet growing demands has resulted in libraries to get more creative in their allocation of funding.  This, in turn, has resulted in creating retail spaces in the library, like cafes, to generate more revenue.  This has also led to librarians cutting out traditional formats of library materials entirely. Western has severely cut down on its reference materials like encyclopaedias, dictionaries, and handbooks.  Trent University has gone one-step further in basically not purchasing any physical items if they are available in electronic format.[3]

Observation is the Librarian’s Best Friend

In decision making, librarians typically base them on either their own observations[4][5][6][7], or by analyzing results of non-representative questionnaires.[8][9]  They do not have the time or money to carry out a large, institution-wide survey to really see what students, researchers and faculty want from the libraries.  Thus, they are left to their own devices to figure it out.  In other words, they are making educated guesses as to what patrons want from their libraries.

I will admit that I have been doing the same thing.  Judging by my observations, the Museum library needed more space.  I also noticed that the collection was not widely used.  So I decided some material deselection needed to happen so that I could create space for other the activities that occurred at the library.  This is what I think my patrons want.  And so it is with academic libraries.  Librarians are making changes to their libraries because they think that is what the patrons want or need.  I am not saying whether these changes are right or wrong, but I invite library patrons to reflect upon the changes they have witnessed, both in the libraries’ physical and virtual space, and consider if those changes are what they really want.  If they are, then they have amazing librarians.  If they are not, then please take the time to voice your concerns to the librarian and the library administration.  The librarians need to know what you want or do not want for your library.


[1] Dan Sich. “Western Libraries Collection Management Policy: Anthropology,” Western Libraries. http://www.lib.uwo.ca/files/policies/collections/anthropology.pdf (accessed Feb. 17, 2014).

[2] Elizabeth Mantz. “Western Libraries Collection Management Policy: History,” Western Libraries. http://www.lib.uwo.ca/files/policies/collections/history.pdf (accessed Feb. 17, 2014).

[3] Trent University Library. “Trent University Library Resource Management Guidelines.” http://www.trentu.ca/library/data/Trent%20University%20Library%20Resource%20Management%20Guidelines.doc (accessed Feb. 17, 2014).

[4] Sarah C. Michalak. “This Changes Everything: Transforming the Academic Library.” Journal of Library Administration 52 (2012): 412-422, doi: 10.1080/01930826.2012.700801.

[5] Alain R. Lamothe. “Factors Influencing the Usage of an Electronic Book Collection: Size of the E-book Collection, the Student Population, and the Faculty Population.” College and Research Libraries 74, no. 1, (Jan. 2013): 41-48.

[6] Scott Kennedy. “Farewell to the Reference Librarian,” Journal of Library Administration 51 (2011): 319-323, doi: 10.1080/01930826.2011.556954.

[7] Karen S. Fischer, et al. “Give ‘Em What They Want: A One-Year Study of Unmediated Patron-Driven Acquisition of e-Books,” College and Research Libraries 73, no. 3, (Sept. 2012): 469-492. (Note this article does not mention any demand of Iowa students wanting e-books, it is an assumption).

[8] Sarah Buck Kachaluba, Jessica Evans Brady and Jessica Critten. “Developing Humanities Collections in the Digital Age: Exploring Humanities Faculty Engagement with Electronic and Print Resources,” College & Research Libraries 75, no. 1, (Jan. 2014): 94-95.

[9] Gail Herrera. “Deliver the eBooks Your Patrons and Selectors Both Want! PDA Program at the University of Mississippi,” The Serials Librarian 63 (2012): 179, doi: 10.1080/0361526X.2012.700780.

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One thought on “Some Challenges facing the Modern Research Library, Part 2.

  1. Pingback: Some Challenges facing the Modern Research Library | Writing History and other things

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