Libraries are often considered places of wonder and magic. The association is made with stories that live there, particularly those of literal magic and fantasy such as Harry Potter. Sometimes, the very concept of writing and literature is felt to be magical. Both apply: libraries are special places, in part because of the content they offer. Some of that content is hidden by paywalls or other restrictions to the “free web.”.
Occasionally, too, librarians are viewed as magicians, when they obtain hard-to-locate sources within the “Invisible internet” or demystify the complexities of advanced database or Google searching techniques.
These are all valid and helpful associations.
But, increasingly, I feel as if our powers are fading and outside forces are casting a spell upon us. I am speaking, in this case, of our databases and journal articles and the content we provide to our patrons in this manner.
I have tried to offer access to the richness of mainstream periodicals and journals with our library services. I do not want any patron, faculty or student, to have to pay for The Washington Post or Atlantic Magazine or even most journals. Essentially, with the help of our library databases, I try to offer an internal, miniaturized version of the best of the web. Or, that is my intention anyway, perhaps naive. This is a radical, even magical, idea that all libraries, from public to academic, offer to one extent or another.
However, I am increasingly stymied in this ambition. I speak specifically of the increasing supplemental and interactive content. I do not expect to provide access to the New York Times games, although that would be great. But I do want to offer interactive maps that accompany articles, for example. But my biggest conundrum is access to the proliferating “newsletters” and bonus content offered by magazines and journals, from The Atlantic to America Magazine. Too often, these are not included or offered too late to be of much value to my patrons.
At the same time, I believe such features will only expand as media companies try to entice more personal subscribers. With that, the power of the library fades, as more content is out of reach. So, the big question, what can I/We do about this? Accept that more patrons will need to purchase content on their own, will that make libraries less special, magical? Suggestions and ideas are welcome.