In years like these when cash flow is tight, endowments are down, and enrollments are sagging, schools of all sorts look for ways to slice a few lines from the operating budget. But when boards and administrators are investigating creative solutions, how often do they turn to the library, tried and true, as a possible source of innovative savings? If knowledge is the lifeblood of the academy, then books are the veins through which knowledge flows.
Colleges and universities are increasingly turning to innovative solutions and the fast-paced development of new information technologies to trim overhead, maintenance, and staff budgets, while at the same time improving services for a changing student demographic. It's becoming more common to outsource certain functions (e.g. cataloging). Because of aggressive archiving and digitizing, the prominence of actual paper books is decreasing in favor of new ways of delivering knowledge.
Daniel Greenstein, vice provost for academic planning and programs at the University of California system, recently spoke to the academic information technology group Ithaka about the "Library of the Future." He suggests that future libraries will be "sparsely staffed, highly decentralized, and have a physical plant consisting of little more than special collections and study areas." He even broached the taboo, predicting that Google will soon expand its current efforts and provide Web-based applications for librarians to collaborate and more easily digitize their collections.
The journal Theological Librarianship (recently launched by the American Theological Library Association) appears to be on the leading edge of developing and applying new technologies specifically in theological schools.
Not all academics agree, however, that their storehouses of knowledge should be outsourced or their shelf-space traded for trendy "information commons" or even coffee shops. But as seminaries are increasingly confronted with the high cost of their existence and limited streams of revenue, the library might be a place where technology and innovation will trump tradition and factor positively into the institutional bottom line. (Imagine, even, if the library itself could become a revenue stream!)
While most seminaries do not have the financial flexibility to jump wholesale into the digital library age, boards and administrators will be remiss not to investigate the possible savings that new technology and creative solutions can afford a struggling institution.
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