Leveraging the digital collection: The community college response
Keynote delivered to the Academic Libraries of Indiana
Annual Meeting, May 10, 2012
David Peter, Dean of Learning Resources and Technologies
As the growth and expansion of portable, personal digital devices continues to grow and stretch
our technological infrastructure, the shift from print to digital is pushing the boundaries as well.
This shift is inevitable as well. More and more powerful, small and highly intuitive devices are
finding their way into our libraries. And, within our virtual libraries, we are attracting patrons from
all corners of the globe at all hours of the day and night. Burton (1985) stated that the “LRC is a
place where learning occurs, not simply a storehouse for materials” (p. 19). It is a natural
extension for the LRC to be a focus for digital collections, aligned to the digital student. The
community college library, or learning resource center, is shifting also, from “curriculum driven,
containing materials that directly support coursework” (Cohen and Brawer, 2008, p. 203) to one
where the materials may or may not be physically housed in the building. Still focused on the
curriculum, the library collection is transforming to embrace more digital assets, increasing the
potential “circulation” of assets farther than imagined (McCray and Gallagher, 2001).
We edge ever closer to the tipping point (see Gladwell’s 2002 discussion of the tipping point) for
e-books: the continued and explosive growth of Google, the emergence of e-readers (Barnes
and Noble’s Nook, and Amazon’s Kindle, for example) and the growth of personal digital
devices (the Apple iPad, for example) and finally, the notion that “electronic books are a viable
and easy alternative to printed ones” (Johnson, Smith, Willis, Levine and Haywood, 2001, p. 8).
Trends identified by B. Lamar Johnson (1969) are still trends that we are attempting to address
today: the growth, or explosive growth of knowledge continues to shape and reshape the library
landscape as do advances in technology. Both of these trends have their place, still, in
leveraging the digital collection. Adding to Johnson’s ideas, Brown (2003) found that “when all
students have computers, the mentality and metabolism of the community shifts” (p. 5).
Likewise, as the collection shifts more and more to digital assets, the shift is even greater.
Wouldn’t this shift also require a greater level of information literacy as well? As the collection
becomes more digital, individuals should be able to “access the needed information effectively
and efficiently” (Information literacy competency standards for higher education, 2000, p. 2).
The digital collection strengthens the need for information literacy, and information literacy
expands as the digital collection grows.
The nature of the book itself continues to morph and evolve. B. Lamar Johnson (1939) noted
that “books are a constant and natural part of the student’s environment” (p. 115). The book
continues to change, but it is still a necessary part of teaching and learning. With some of the
newer free apps, anyone can be an author, publisher and distributor. Even with these changes
the physical book has survived. Thankfully, not everything has been digitized. But, the digital
world is changing our ideas about "the library" and "books." The digital collection is somewhat
easier to access. The digital collection is changing our notion of the traditional library being just
a physical building and bound hardback (or paperback) library books. It is worthwhile to note
that the Standards for libraries in higher education (2011) does not delineate between different
types of collections, be they digital or print: the collections must be “sufficient in quality, depth,
diversity, format, and currency to support the research and teaching mission” (p. 11).
But, the very nature of our patron is changing and evolving. There are those who clamor for the
"real" book. There are those who will ONLY read digital books. And, there are those between
the ends of the continuum. But it is becoming necessary, given the realities of budgets, to find
ways to deliver services, and books (in whatever form) to our patrons. One issue that has not
yet been explored or exploited is to market our collections, both digital and print, to students.
We need to “become a premier campus destination, rather than just a place that students have
go to” (Mathews, 2009, p. 1). And, it is the array of our resources that should help us become
their first choice, rather than their next choice. Students and patrons at a distance are faced with
the idea of interlibrary loan, and the associated wait. The digital collection makes it seem as
though there are personal libraries waiting on them. The digital collection transcends time and
place. This new digital collection must “assist patrons in making sense of the world” (Horava,
2010, p. 143). This new approach for patrons creates a heightened sense of response, the
digital collection responds to the immediate needs and searches. While the digital collection
may APPEAR to work best, we need to ensure that the very nature of this collection, digital and
not print, matches our patrons’ lifestyles and their approach to finding and locating information.
The digital collection makes use of, and exploits the power of, personal technology that most
students are comfortable in using (Oblinger, 2003). We also need to help our users and our
patrons develop the ability to “follow the flow of stories and information across multiple
modalities … [the skill of transmedia navigation]” (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison and
Weigel, n.d. p. 4).A digital collection in the hands of an information literate individual will
promote this new skill.
The shift from print to digital is our tipping point: first, “little causes can have big effects”
(Gladwell, 2002, p. 9) and second, “change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment”
(Gladwell, 2002, p. 9). Simply introducing a small number of digital titles begins to shift the
reading and even browsing habits. And, with the simple shift comes a demand for more and
different digital resources. This shift is also leading or responding to a change in technology that
is capable of the on-the-fly, just-in-time, place and time independent access as well. We have
crossed that point. These changes, however small or insignificant they appear to be, must
provide an even greater sense of a “rich, interactive space” (Horava, 2010, p. 146). Digital
assets and especially media-rich/centric assets are transforming the spaces to ones that are
more visual, more sensory and more auditory than before.
We are now faced with the interesting assumption “that libraries are less collections, than useful
selections that gain usefulness from what they exclude as much as what they hold” (Brown and
Duguid, 2002, p. 181). We are not speaking of collection development, but of selection
development. It is not the collection that we are trying to increase value of, but of the selections
that have been made and housed either physically in or virtually by the library. The collections
should include “resources in a variety of formats, accessible virtually and physically” (Standards
for Libraries in Higher Education, 2011, p. 12).
It is the multiple formats, available with multiple devices, that begin to address the need of
Gardner’s (2006) “synthesing mind” (p. 155). With all of the information available, especially in
the digital collections, individuals need to develop (or be provided with) a taxonomy to help them
structure, and restructure the information. The growth of the digital collection also gives rise to
greater literacy skills, information literacy skills, and digital literacy skills. The digital collections
have the potential to provide some sort of organizing architecture or structure. One can wonder
if digital collections, and the way they are searched or queried can improve or change
information literacy skills.
The digital collection also changes the method of instruction. The greater availability of digital
texts and the variety of digital texts used to teach and learn promote and “encourage contacts
between students and faculty” (Chickering and Gamson, 1987, p. 4). Students read and explore
digital texts. Faculty have a greater range of instructional resources.
Digital collections provide a certain sense of immediacy. Click a hyperlink and the book is there.
No need to go to the physical library. No need to wonder if the library is open. The digital
collection is available anytime, anyplace, and from any device (well, almost).
Johnson stated that “If students are to gain maximum value from books, however, they must not
only use books extensively, but they must use them effectively” (Johnson, 1939, p. 40). To
increase the value of books, and reading, books must be a natural part of teaching and learning.
To use books extensively almost requires a digital version of the book, that can be used at a
keystroke. As digital collections are more and more accessible, one can only wonder if the level
of access is related to a sustained increase or episodic increase in use.
The insight from Johnson (1939) still holds true today, even more so with a digital collection.
Transparent access to a digital collection encourages more use. The transparency blurs the
physical and virtual collection, the physical building and the digital wireless building. And, in the
end, is there really a difference between digital CONTENT and print CONTENT? The content
may be presented differently, but it is, for all intent and purpose, the same (Brown and Duguid,
The digital collection serves the digital student. The digital collection fits the always on, always
connected student. Students see almost no uniqueness in digital collections; like the computer,
students see it not as “technology, [but] an assumed part of life” (Oblinger, 2003, p. 40). We
need to quickly realize that the concept of a “book” has shifted, into a more transparent form, a
digital book. It’s not the “role of the printed book … but about the diversity of learning channels”
(Sandler, 2006, p. 240). The technology, whether the digital book, or the personal computer,
tablet, or e-reader, has changed us and will continue to change our future as well as our present
A finite limit of shelf space, oversized books, and simple economic limitations have caused us
all to reconsider the role of the digital collection. Granted, digital circulation is the same as the
physical circulation, but it is difficult to imagine the shelf space required for the digital collection.
The digital collection, as it continues to evolve, places us in a unique position of shifting “from
collection storage to learning spaces” (Webster, 2010, p. 10). The digital collection is not likely
to end up lost. Should the term digital collection now be transformed to digital library? The digital
library “encompasses digital archives and museums … [moving] from capturing just text to
dealing with multimedia objects” (Ioannidis, 2005, p. 265).
Leveraging the digital collection gives us the ability to reach more students, regardless of their
physical location. Leveraging the digital collection helps us connect with the digital student.
Leveraging the digital collection helps us communicate our worth and value to a service-centric
world. Leveraging the digital collection allows us to be good stewards of our resources, fiscal
and physical. To continue to be the “third place” of Oldenburg (2001) requires us to be evolving,
and transformational. The digital collection, leveraged as our strength, can help establish and
solidify our place, as academic libraries, as the next “great good place” (Oldenburg, 1989).
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