The news is filled with a secret that long-time library users have known… “you can get really great stuff without paying for it.”
That great stuff includes music, videos and/or DVDs, books, computer access, and not just Internet but high quality, commercial databases that offer a wealth of electronic information. Stephen Arnold provides a really insightful commentary on this issue.
The reality is that libraries, at least public and state-funded academic libraries here in Kentucky have been facing the budget crunch Mr. Arnold mentions, for about a year now. Last year the Kentucky Virtual Library faced some serious choices of what to keep and what to sacrifice in order to provide the most comprehensive and affordable support to the electronic information wealth of the state.
The commercial providers of these resources were aware of the budget crunch and remain so. They realize that negotiations must be flexible and that it is better to retain current customers at a reduced subscription level, than to have no customer. I fear that this trend will continue for the next several years unless some thought is given to investing in the intellectual capital that libraries provide.
Since budget shortfalls are the norm of the day in Kentucky and other states why not think about information services and access to electronic services as part of the economic stimulus map? Now, I don’t know all the projects that are being funded, but if funding for library services is part of the stimulus it’s certainly not making the news.
What is making the news is the increased usage of libraries. And while no shovel is required, helping to maintain the funding for important electronic resources such as those provided by KYVL would certainly seem to be an appropriate use of funds. Average Joe’s who are attempting to beef up their computer skills, search for jobs or just provide reading and leisure materials to their families on a ever tighter home budget are already walking into the library more often. They are using services they probably didn’t even know were available at this time last year and once you are a library user, you rarely stop.
The demand for these resources will continue to increase and in the law of supply and demand, libraries are, or soon will be, unable to meet the demand due to the budget crunch. The suppliers must be considered.
Commercial vendors such as those mentioned in the above referenced Beyond Search post are an important part of the intellectual capital of society. Google very well may be the wave of the future in this sector of content supply. But for the here and now, let’s think about ways to sustain and increase the funding of our public information institutions. Without educational resources and information access how can human intellectual capital grow? And without human intellectual capital how can anything improve?