The new British Library Strategy was published last month. So far, it seems, commentators (e.g. CIE thoughts and Information World Review (issue 215 July/August 2005) have mostly focussed on the digital aspects of the BL strategy. However this is really just a tactic to enable the BL to deliver its services more effectively. The strategy recalls the founder’s aims from the18th century for the original collections to be “preserved therein for publick use to all posterity” providing access to the world’s knowledge for “all studious and curious persons”. The new strategy redefines that for today and talks about serving an “unusually broad range of audiences with researchers, businesses, education, the general public and the library network…” Later on the vision states it more directly. “..we exist for everyone who wants to do research for academic, personal or commercial purposes”
An important underlying point I take from the strategy document is that the BL is clearly moving its focus to the end user. It is no longer the just the “library of last resort” and has “enrich the user’s experience” as its number one strategic priority. Part of that means that now ordinary citizens can use the reading rooms more easily than in the past. The library is also to “open up through the power of the web” and has launched a new online interface to its document delivery and image delivery services—“British Library Direct”.
Having registered I can get an article delivered by several routes including delivery to my PC in PDF format for £7.45 plus around £13-£16 for the “copyright fee”. Hmmm… that’s seems quite a lot so maybe I should request it at my local library and just pay the 60p request fee? It would probably be sourced from the BL but would take some while to be delivered (as a photocopy) to the local library for me to collect. Or if I am a student I might get it free from via the Inter-Library-Loan service of my university or college library. It too might be sourced from the BL. Will these “intermediaries” survive? Does it make sense for them to pay the BL on my behalf? Should a university subscribe to a journal that the BL subscribes to if articles can be so easily disseminated electronically directly to the end user? Will “enriching the user’s experience” mean weaving in BL Direct into my local library web presence? New “ web services “ technologies certainly could make that possible. Or should my local library resources be woven into or “remixed” with BL direct or into Google –or does it matter which? Maybe we should have all these possibilities?
New technology is exposing these conundrums. At the beginning of the strategy it is started that libraries have existed “to collect and organise information, make access to knowledge more democratic….” Compare this to Google’s vision: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. It looks very similar but it makes no mention of “democratic”. Does democratic mean to those without a credit card? New business models will need to be found. There are innovative moves afoot in Scotland to look as smartcards as a way of providing “digital entitlements”. Will Scottish citizens in the future be able to get digitised articles delivered “free” as part of this entitlement? There is certainly some redefining of libraries to be done…