Book Review

D-Lib Magazine
January 1998

ISSN 1082-9873

Gateways to Knowledge

". . .the library as a point of access to other research resources via technological tools; as a place for teaching; and as a site for services and support where students and faculty can obtain the information they need in the form in which they need it."
By Laurence Lannom, Corporation for National Research Initiatives

Gateways to Knowledge
The Role of Academic Libraries in Teaching, Learning, and Research

Lawrence Dowler, ed.
240 pages. Illustrations, Index. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England:
The MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1997, $35.

This is a volume of fifteen essays resulting from a conference hosted by the Harvard College Library to explore the future of the academic research library in the age of the information revolution. The authors are a thoughtful mixture of librarians, academic administrators, scholars, and scientists. The editor provides a postscript in which he draws on the preceding essays to reach his own conclusions on the relevant issues and outstanding questions.

While composed of fifteen separate pieces plus the postscript, this collection is much more coherent than, say, a typical conference proceeding. The clear theme that comes out of the variety of perspectives and voices is that the future of the academic research library cannot be considered in isolation and that the digital revolution will affect the entire academic enterprise. Thus, any arguments about how new technologies will change or even eliminate the current roles and functions of the library are too simplistic. In large measure, the current organization of universities, and the place of libraries within that organization, is driven by the culture of print. As that changes, so will the entire university. This is a valuable perspective to try to hold on to in the midst of the cacophonous stampede of digital library technologies and projects. Otherwise unconsidered technological solutions to current library problems may be turn out to be tomorrow's solutions for yesterday's libraries.

The essays address these issues from many different perspectives, including the specific disciplines of physics, history, and social science as well as library and general university administration. Some report on past or ongoing projects, some on the state of their institution, and some are simply speculative. Most of the authors raise many more questions than they provide answers, but that is an accurate representation of the current state of affairs. They are good questions and should encourage critical thinking about the effects of digital technologies on the academy as a whole.

Finally, this is not a volume that should be consulted for summaries of current technology or even current digital library projects. While it has a publication date of 1997 (the date of the conference, oddly, is not given), most of the essays are clearly a year or two older. There are many more references to Mosaic than to any later browsers, and in at least one case, the list of important protocols defining the Internet ends with gopher. Fortunately, the core issues raised are independent of the latest and greatest digital technology and the volume is well worth the time for anyone seriously involved in the future of academic libraries.

Copyright © 1998 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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