If we look back 25 years to the late 1970s, we find that the UIUC Library was in the beginning stages of creating the Library Circulation System or LCS. Technical Services faculty and staff acquired and cataloged new resources while also working to retrospectively convert over 2 million catalog cards into machine-readable records. In the next 25 years, the library added another 3 million bibliographic records and reached a total of over 10,000,000 volumes. As this was occurring the Web was developed as a platform for research and learning. As recently as ten years ago, gopher was considered a sophisticated searching tool and the Web was just being developed as a platform for research, learning and commerce. As a library, we have seen a significant paradigm shift in the way researchers use our collections with the advent of digital resources, including full-text journals, websites, e-books, and reference online databases. We have come to a point where many of our users never set foot in the physical library anymore. Providing access to “all” our collections is at the forefront of providing the most efficient and effective service to our users. Good access guides the Tech Services Division now and, we bet, will continue to be the focal point of our Library in 25 years.
Sites such as Amazon.com and Google have raised the bar for what our users demand as they search for the information they need. Over the next five to ten years, the Library’s ILS (Integrated Library System) will need to continue to grow to meet the “on-demand” desires of our users or be left behind as our patrons turn to commercial, for-profit systems. Within 25 years, the Library will have an over-arching information portal where ease of accessibility is at the center of what we offer. An interoperable digital management system must provide access to UIUC’s digital collections and repositories, networked (and purchased) electronic resources, various institutional and commercial portals, and, of course to the Library’s print collection.
Within 25 years, millions of books will be available digitally through such services as Amazon’s Search Inside the Book (150,000 books presently with plans to expand widely within the next year) which allows users to search the text of millions of pages. Serial titles will have become relics of the past with individual articles residing in university or publisher repository databases. Individual researchers will access these articles through the metasearching functions of the Library’s information portal. Materials that are still produced in print form will be digitized so that they are more accessible to our users.
Focus will be on one aspect: simplicity. Our users want to be able to retrieve the information they want when they want it. Within the next ten years, the Library will hopefully become the first choice of users. They will no longer go to Amazon or Google first once they learn that the search results they discover are more authoritative and richer in content due to the hard work of UIUC librarians. Within the next few years libraries around the world will have developed search technologies that will be an alternative to the “commercial” search engines but still provide the ability to deal with an ever-increasing flood of information. The Library’s portal will be able to push information out to our users, creating a research profile for each user with the system data-mining and spidering information sources to the appropriate digital management system for each user.
Additionally, the UIUC Library will be a leader in preservation activities, allocating resources commensurate with its peer institutions. Insuring that the assets it has acquired will be preserved as the rich, cultural resources that they are for the university, the state, and posterity regardless of format, the Library’s collections will serve as a resource for students, scholars, and citizens, and its preservation program will serve as a site to educate future professionals. The library will be a trusted repository, preserving resources in print, digital, and other emerging formats.
Many of the activities, functions and workflows we have now in Technical Services will have ceased in 25 years. The difficult task the Division faces over the intervening years will be to continue to organize bibliographic content for print materials while learning new techniques and standards for the description and access of digitally produced works. Many activities that the staff are involved with now, like serial check-in and binding, will be needed at a greatly reduced level, due to the proliferation of online resources. The present workforce will have retired and the new workforce will need to be nimble, detail oriented, and well educated to bring a curiosity of and interest in new digital technologies. Self checkout of print material will be the rule, not the exception. Vendors will have taken over many of the traditional processing functions of the Technical Services Department, including processing, acquiring, and cataloging of many resources held by the Library. Clerical jobs will be eliminated through attrition and replaced by automated and digital means to get this work done in a timely and efficient manner.
Many of us will continue to work both traditional hours and “off hours.” There will be 24/7 services expected—online reference at anytime, online resources troubleshooting. People who are night people will be able to work those hours and do it remotely, if possible, from their homes. Telecommuting will probably increase.
Most importantly, by the year 2029, the librarians in the Technical Services division hope that we will be so integrated into the campus and the Champaign-Urbana community that there will be no doubt that in addition to having an unparalleled collection, we also have unparalleled faculty. Public engagement will be the order of the day. UIUC librarians will be full partners in the curricular decisions and the educational mission of the university. UIUC librarians will lend their expertise to the public and private schools, in both libraries and classrooms, tutoring and teaching students and helping them to become the very best readers and life-long learners. We will volunteer with Boys Clubs and Girls Clubs and the Girl Scouts. We will tutor children living in various shelters in Champaign County. We will teach conservation and preservation methods. In short, librarians will be active role models for information literacy from Head Start to nursing homes.