Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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1.1 Institutional transformation
We use "institution" in its social construct sense: "a custom, practice, relationship, or behavioral pattern of importance in the life of a community or society." Institutions, such as the institution of marriage, are complex social constructs that arise and are shaped in response to social needs, constraints and balances of power among stakeholders. In this sense, research libraries as a whole are an institution; an individual library is an instance of the social institution. Institutions generally provide stability because they do not easily change quickly, although a particular instance of an institution, like a particular marriage, may quickly change.
To illustrate by example, some institutions that bear familial resemblance to research libraries are K-12 education, the bookstore industry, and public parks. Each requires a flow of funds; each engages the interests of multiple parties; each is familiar to its participants and more or less uniform across different instances. Each is designed or emerges to serve a mixture of needs, subject to the social constraints and power relationships. Each institution has numerous individual instances (e.g., individual bookstores).
When there is significant change in the needs or constraints or power relationships on which an institution is based, the practices and behavioral patterns embodied in the institution may no longer effectively serve the new configuration of needs, constraints and power relationships. In the face of such change in external conditions, institutions adapt and change. Institutions, because they comprise a web of social conventions, practices and structures, adapt slowly. Slow adaptation is usually suitable because the foundational conditions (needs, constraints and power relationships) change slowly. However, during times of rapid change in needs and constraints, slow institutional adaptation may lead to frictions and stakeholder frustrations.
The institution of the public access library emerged slowly as needs and constraints changed. The development of the university-based research library grew out of the monastic scholasticism of the early Enlightenment and Renaissance. This development was an early adaptation to changes in power and user needs: the declining power of the Church and the growing importance of secular study. Arguably the first university research library was at Oxford University, founded by Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester, in 1320. In 1598 Thomas Bodley set himself to restoring and opening the library to students; in 1602 the famous Bodleian Library at Oxford officially opened (Bodleian Library (2007)).
The great modern national libraries such as the British Library and the Library of Congress were at least in part a transformation in response to the growth of the bourgeois class and the emergence of populism. These libraries had their origins in mandatory deposit laws of the 17th century, and in the donation of royal collections to the citizenry in France and elsewhere during the 18th and early 19th centuries. The familiar system of multiple, distributed, small-to-medium public libraries with open access to all local citizens developed in the latter half of the 19th century, with substantial help from Andrew Mellon and other benefactors.
Similarly, the history of the scholarly research journal reflects a gradual evolution from the communication mission of the scientific societies founded in the 17th century, to the 18th century emergence of journal articles as a mechanism for registering ownership of discoveries. In the 19th century, journal publications became more closely associated with professional standing (Schauder, 1994).
This three-century evolution of journals illustrates the gradual shaping of community practices as new vehicles for communication emerged and new practices were adopted.
The practice or behavior pattern that defines the research library as an institution comprises a web of interactions between various stakeholders each with distinct interests in the collections of a library. These stakeholders include authors, publishers, librarians and users. Each has an interest in and participates in the processes of creation, publication, distribution, acquisition, organization, archiving, and usage. This web of interacting participants and processes shapes both the research library's collection and the success of the library in meeting the expressed needs of users over time. It is this interdependent, interactive context—the ecology of libraries—that frames this book.