Natalie Nezhati takes a look at "Five Incredible Things You Probably Didn’t know about Digital Libraries"
Disaster! The foreword you’re writing for that textbook is due in two days and you need a citation from a coveted copy of a limited-edition text that’s now out of print. You discover the book is on some kind of permanent loan at your university library and would take weeks to arrive from Amazon’s sellers. You look it up on WorldCat, but the only available copy is in Utrecht and you’ve run out of frequent flyer points! If only you could access every book, journal and resource with just your laptop and a decent Wi-Fi connection…
Fortunately, the landscape of higher education is shifting, and this dream is not far off. Libraries are transforming from what Simeon Ananou calls “book warehouses – largely passive repositories of physical objects” into “information commons,” where you can access digital resources anytime, anywhere, on any device. Apps are replacing library cards and the future looks likely to be digital. Librarians are no longer masters of the Dewey Decimal System, but wizards of online navigation too. The notion of the university library confined to four walls is reaching obsolescence.
But not everyone has approached the digital route without resistance. If we associate physical libraries with all things dear – knowledge, imagination, insight – it’s easy to understand why some have been putting up a fight. But part of this opposition comes from a lack of understanding about what digital libraries offer.
So, here are five incredible things you probably didn’t know about digital libraries.
1. They are student-centred.
Imagine a curious botany student coming across a peculiar species of fern on a mountain walk. As part of her coursework, she’s learnt how to navigate the latest research on ferns online and, within minutes, has accessed a wealth of digital sources that enhance her knowledge of that species. When students can access volumes of higher learning with a touchscreen on a portable device, the walls come down and learning weaves seamlessly into their everyday lives.
The ways we consume and digest information has changed. So-called “digital natives” now populate our campuses. They feel at ease downloading e-books and expect that journal articles will be accessible on tablets, smartphones and laptops. As more and more students are studying across institutions or between workplaces, digital libraries are open 24/7. This allows our students to flexibly engage with their own learning in ways that don’t make demands on their tight schedules.
2. They are active systems of knowledge and learning.
While wisdom is timeless, what we know about the world is being constantly updated. Print libraries could never keep up with the latest developments in neuroscience, the numerous blogs on modern poetry, all those endless tweets of political commentary and the plethora of articles on pedagogy now solely available online. Physical library spaces still offer sites of engagement and opportunities to browse ideas in the forms of physical books. But digital libraries allow students to engage with, converse over and browse between different ideas in virtual space.
3. They adapt to learning preferences and individual challenges.
With many of our students coming to higher education with cognitive and visual impairments, the digital library naturally adapts to their requirements. Digital tools allow students to overcome specific challenges. Texts can be transformed into speech, enlarged, and shared. When reading texts from digital libraries, students can access resources to help them overcome difficult concepts or words. They might even share their difficulties with a digital learning buddy or an online tutor.
4. They enable students to determine their own learning routes.
Today’s students are more curious and independent than ever before. With greater access to resources online, students can design their own pathways through learning. With Kortext’s 500, 000 ebooks, students can even design their own personal learning spaces. Many students now study at different institutions and combine coursework with internships or established careers. With Kortext’s social sharing features, libraries become collaborative. The active learning styles encouraged by digital libraries means students no longer limit themselves to the resources supplied to them by their institutions, but instead, engage curiously in their own learning. And Kortext makes it that much easier.
5. They emphasise competencies that support life-long learning.
Libraries support research and education. But a good digital library – and a good librarian – will also encourage students to adapt to the changing landscape of our educational system. Digital libraries support key skills like information literacy to facilitate life-long learning and success right across the curriculum.