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The Future of the Print Record
Recommendations from the MLA’s Working Group

The Modern Language Association’s Working Group on the Future of the Print Record released its report last month and I urge the library community to consider it carefully and respond. As a member of the working group, I have been impressed with the collaboration of scholars and librarians in dealing with an issue that is both important and complex.

Librarians have witnessed a dramatic change in students’ and researchers’ use of print materials housed in their collections. The convenience and immediacy of electronic texts has significantly altered both reading and research practices. Added to this are the space pressures higher education institutions are experiencing. More interactive classrooms, collaborative work spaces, places where interdisciplinary work can advance, digital humanities labs—all are in demand, but options for creating new spaces are severely limited due to financial constraints.

Amidst all of these changes, there are other unchanging factors to consider. For certain types of humanistic scholarship, the physical artifact—the book—needs to be available for study. Different editions, printings, bindings are important research considerations for these scholars. And for librarians, there continues to be an attachment to the size of the collection. In describing the quality of a collection, so many librarians begin with its size.

The digital revolution, not surprisingly, has led to a clash of cultures that the Future of the Print Record white paper seeks to address. The working group acknowledges that electronic content is the preferred choice for a great many users, but libraries continue to have responsibilities to meet the research needs of all of their users, and print collections must be maintained for certain uses. A collaborative, large-scale approach is recommended to meet both sets of needs.

The working group readily acknowledges that it is not practical for every library to continue to maintain legacy print collections on their own. Instead, the group proposes a policy and governance structure that blends existing, high-density book facilities with strategically built and managed new facilities that would be operated as a coherent system that supports scholarship and learning.

The Modern Language Association is soliciting comments from the community by January 31, 2017. An open discussion of the report is scheduled for the annual MLA conference in Philadelphia on Friday, January 6, 2017, at 1:45 p.m. in the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, room 401–403.

This is an opportunity for the library and academic communities to develop a collaborative strategy to ensure that the print cultural heritage is maintained in a digital world.

 

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