7 Nov 2011

Repositioning the medical library: moving to the digital model

The William H. Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore recently announced that they will no longer operate as a physical library from Jan 1st 2012. Instead the library service will be delivered exclusively through electronic channels.
The tipping point came last year, she said, when the library staff calculated that on an average day there were 104 people walking through doors of the physical library, there were 40 people checking out books, and there were 35,000 articles downloaded....

Interestingly, the decision does not involve any reduction in the number of library staff – indicative perhaps of a parallel shift in emphasis away from the library and towards the skills and expertise of the librarian, which is certainly a positive. The risk is however, that not all institutions may see librarians in this way. Decision-makers may falsely assume that such a service can ‘run itself’ on minimal staff levels, missing out on the valuable opportunity for library staff to step up research support and information literacy activities in consonance with a shift towards the digital model. In this respect, it is important that librarians drive the change themselves in accordance with how users’ needs and preferences are changing.
104 visits versus 35,000 downloads certainly presents a stark contrast, and it is clear that the library’s users are primarily accessing content online. However, there are still 104 people per day who will no longer have access to the library in the ‘format’ which they prefer. I wonder how these users will continue to access library services - if at all? It would be a shame, however insignificant the number may seem, if these users were lost.


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