University of Cambridge > > Arcadia Lectures > Revolutions (and Elephants) in the Library: the Third Arcadia Lecture

Revolutions (and Elephants) in the Library: the Third Arcadia Lecture

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Digitization is seen variously as a boon and scourge, depending on the viewer, the issue at hand, and sometimes even the time of day. As with many polarizing phenomena, there is merit on both sides. If we look carefully at the functions that we want libraries to perform, we see that although most (but not all) are made technically easier with digitization, many are made organizationally more difficult, both within libraries and within the institutions that support them and use them.

Preservation, an essential function of academic libraries, is the most straightforward example of something that is much more difficult to organize with digital media than it was with print. Scholarly publishing, without which libraries would have little to do, is stuck with a set of institutions and practices that are ill-suited to take advantage of digital technologies. And then there is copyright.

Taking as given that we now live in a world where it extremely inexpensive to copy, distribute, search, mix, and remix, it is still not entirely clear how best to respond to what should be good news. The answers depend on what we want and how willing we are to collaborate in the interest of achieving what we want. In libraries as elsewhere, successful exploitation of changes in technology requires changes in the way activities are organized.

The Lecturer

Professor Courant is is an expert in public goods whose recent research has focussed on the economics of universities, the economics of libraries and archives, and the impact of new information technologies on the scholarly publishing system. He is University Librarian and Dean of Libraries, Harold T. Shapiro Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Professor of Economics and Professor of Information at the University of Michigan. From 2002-2005 he served as Provost and Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs—the chief academic officer and the chief budget officer of the University. He has also served as the Associate Provost for Academic and Budgetary Affairs, Chair of the Department of Economics and Director of the Institute of Public Policy Studies (which is now the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy). In 1979 and 1980 he was a Senior Staff Economist at the Council of Economic Advisers in Washington D.C.

Professor Courant has authored half a dozen books, and over seventy papers covering a broad range of topics in economics and public policy, including tax policy, state and local economic development, gender differences in pay, housing, radon and public health, relationships between economic growth and environmental policy, and university budgeting systems. More recently, his academic work has considered the economics of universities, the economics of libraries and archives, and the effects of new information technologies and other disruptions on scholarship, scholarly publication, and academic libraries.

This talk is part of the Arcadia Lectures series.

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