During a presentation by a candidate for the directorship of our library, I mentioned that the real value of the library [ or more generally any library ] is not “as a repository of dead text, but rather in its subject specialists, research librarians, and special collections.” Apparently this raised some eyebrows. So what is this “dead text?”
Simply put, “dead text” is unsearchable text, unstructured data, or similar materials. Unfortunately libraries are filled with these materials, left stranded by the digital tide. The term has nothing to do with the relevance, ephemeral nature, or importance of the material itself. I would assert that part of the mission of any modern library is to resurrect this dead text and make these materials discoverable and usable by its patrons.
Similarly, I argue that enabling global access to the unique collections and resources of any library is of paramount importance as we enter the digital millennium. Historically the role of the library is as an archive, and the librarian as a gatekeeper and inventory control officer. However the benefits of a modern library extend well beyond these rather limited roles. This transformation from protector and gatekeeper to docent, contextualizer, and facilitator is under way.
The most successful and effective modern libraries are not those with the largest stacks, but rather the greatest capacity to facilitate it patrons to access the widest range of materials, irrespective of the physical location of either. They teach patrons to be savvy customers of materials positioned on a spectrum of quality and depth. They inculcate a sense of intellectual curiosity, and the skills required to act on that curiosity.