Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Review: The Digital Factor in Information and Library Services

Book review by Bruce Royan.

There is something about the phrase “International Yearbook” that makes the reviewer’s heart sink. It conjures up an image of an arbitrary assemblage of re-cycled conference papers in indifferent English, cobbled together at random and in haste with minimal editorial control and no critical apparatus to speak of.

Having some familiarity with series editor Gary Gorman’s timely and practical contributions to the literature of information services, from Qualitative Research (1997) to Information Resource Management (2001) however, this reviewer was hopeful that the annual International Yearbook of Library and Information Management (IYLIM) series might buck the trend. To judge by this, the third volume in the series, that hope has not been in vain.

All the authors have been selected by a strong international advisory board, every paper is refereed, and each volume in the series has been constructed around a current unifying theme. For 2000, that theme was Collections Management and for 2001 Information Services provision, and both volumes filled gaps in the professional literature of their respective topics, which had tended to lag somewhat in describing the effect of matters electronic. The theme for 2002, predictably enough, is the impact of digital initiatives on library and information management.

The volume is arranged in 6 parts. Part One sets the scene under the provocative heading ‘In praise of the digital revolution?’ In it, Marilyn Deegan lays down general principles and working definitions for digital objects and digital libraries, while Lorna Peterson compares and contrasts digital and print formats and underlines the continuing need for both in information provision.

Part Two looks at institutional models, starting with Peter Brophy’s masterly review of the possible new models of the library that are emerging in the digital era. Simon Tanner concludes by examining the economic choices that need to be made by the library manager in taking account the costs and benefits of going digital.

The needs of the user and the digital packaging of information are considered in Part Three, with essays by Catherine Sheldrick Ross on the effect of digital media on reading, by Shirley Hyatt on the need for new structures and metaphors to support users in the location and utilisation of electronic texts, and by Denice Adkins on the particular needs of younger users.

This leads us to an extended section on digital reference services. Stephen Mutula and Sherry Shiuan Su each contribute chapters on the provision of web-based reference services, while Judith Clark points out a very significant trend; the convergence of digital libraries with Managed Learning Environments. Amid all this excitement we are brought down to earth in the chapter “It’s just a click away, or is it?” in which Diane Kresh characterises the current “digital divide”, and suggests how libraries might begin to bridge it.

Part Five is devoted to collection management, with Alastair Smith on evaluating digital collections and David Dawson on digitisation programmes, while Part Six looks at standards and technology, including Dan Dorner’s guide to metadata, Christopher Brown-Syed’s speculations on future tends in network resource discovery, and Shadrack Katuu’s exploration of the tension between access and security in the provision of networked information services.

Gorman is based in New Zealand, but the volume includes contributions from Australasia, North America, Asia, Europe and Africa (in the year that Kay Raseroka was elected as President of IFLA, it is particularly pleasing to see two excellent contributions from the University of Botswana). Being published in London, one might have expected a UK bias, but the contributions from Peter Brophy, Marilyn Deegan, David Dawson and Simon Tanner have each taken pains to chose examples from around the world to illustrate the points they make.

£60 does seem an awful amount to pay for 16 articles, but it has to be admitted that the quality of the finished product is high. There is a consistency of layout and reassuring lack of typos that smacks of strong editorial control, the references at the end of each chapter are well researched and current (the majority being web based resources accessed in early 2002). The index is professionally done and comprehensive, though this does throw up the puzzling omission of a few key current concepts in the field: IMS and METS come to mind.

Who would buy this book? Although explicitly not a textbook, I am sure it should be considered for purchasing by every school of library and information management in the English-speaking world. But its real target audience is what Gorman refers to as “the reflective practitioner”: practising information services managers could do worse than beg, borrow or (let’s suggest, buy) a copy in support of their continuing professional development.

Author Details

Bruce Royan
Email: bruce.royan@concurrentcomputing.co.uk
Concurrent Computing Ltd