As a European-wide platform, RESILIENCE will have much to offer to librarians, archivists, and collection managers. In this blog, Lieneke Timpers reflects on the recent presentation she held at the 50th Annual BETH conference at Rolduc.
The association of European Theological Libraries (BETH), recently celebrated its 50th jubilee during their annual conference: “Facing the Future: Theological Libraries in the 21st Century”. RESILIENCE was invited to participate with a presentation which focused on the kinds of services and tools librarians of theology and Religious Studies are in need of – now and in the future.
Academic collection experts are the Renaissance men and women of the 21st century. While expected to keep sophisticated collections up-to-date, they face issues of storage space, require labor-intensive digitization, and are confronted with an exponential growth in digital tools, databases, and search engines. The overall picture can be summed up by growing costs, reduced budgets, and reduced staff – not a particularly hopeful view of the future.
The spirit, energy, and many ideas of all the collection representatives was therefore refreshing. Oxford Librarian Hannie Riley introduced the plans for their new library, which include 70 overnight accommodations for visiting scholars – showing that in spite of the move towards the digital, physical research is still very much in demand. The VU University Library presented a pilot project which experimented with several ways in which unused physical books can be reused: from decorating study areas, to reworking books into art, to Little Free Libraries. Finland has created a national repository for unused books; guided by certain criteria, dust-gathering items can be transferred to the repository for permanent archiving. The bubbling effervescence of these ideas is inspiring – and catalyzing.
As a European-wide platform, RESILIENCE will have much to offer to librarians, archivists, and collection managers. Librarians nowadays are much more than keepers of books: they are expected to be experts in IT and digital tools, customer service, academic research, publishing and copyright, as well as participating in national and international networks. To thrive in such an environment, there is a need for services such as digitization (tools, services, labs, teams), data (data management, data repositories), and open access (providing open access and networking with publishers). Just as crucial however, is the need for simple and accessible training opportunities targeting all of these skills and services – training which RESILIENCE can provide.
There is also an urgent need for networking and collaboration across national boundaries. This is especially useful for the many smaller institutes that characterize theological libraries. Collaboration has the potential to reduce staff costs, as well as acquisition costs through collective negotiation. Here too, RESILIENCE has something to offer: through the creation of a single platform for all of theology and Religious Studies, it will be much easier for stakeholders and users to find and contact each other.
In the final plenary session, the very meaning of the word ‘librarian’ was questioned: ‘What is our task?’ ‘Are we needed?’ And even, ‘Should we disappear?’ Facing such questions takes courage, and although no definitive answer was given, glimpses could be caught throughout the conference: the librarian of the future is a knowledge and information specialist, able to navigate the currents of the digital world, while preserving the best features of the beautiful collections and libraries they inherited. Much is needed to bring this vision about, and most of it is built on working together, rather than as a single institution – something in which BETH, with its 50 years of European collaboration, has once again shown its both its strength and its potential.
Lieneke Timpers, KU Leuven