RE-Read: Academic Libraries in a Digital Age (2000)

I just re-read John Lombardi’s 2000 article “Academic libraries in a digital age” and was struck by how so many of his observations on digitization issues in libraries continue to be true.  In 2000, Google was still a relatively new company.  Librarians were struggling with hardware, software and content that was hard to access and mostly inhospitable to end users.  The struggle between user rights and intellectual property protection of digital content had only started.

From the article, his “Rules for Digital Survival” still ring true:

1. The objects are not as important as the content. Collection development becomes access development. Access to content is the primary mantra of all library work. Geography becomes increasingly irrelevant.

2. Helping clients find resources in a digitally chaotic world is the first priority. Digitizing the rare book collection might be the second.

3. If a vendor promises you seamless access and modular compatibility with any future developments, expect expensive upgrades.

4. If others spend money on a similar project, let them finish before you start yours. Being first to invent large scale digital library projects is for those with money to lose, tolerant customers, and tenure. If it will take ten years to deliver value, let someone else invest in it.

5. If someone else has a service you need, buy it, do not invent it. If someone has 80% of the service you need, buy it; do not invent it.

6. Nothing currently defining the Internet will remain recognizable after 5 years.

7. There is safety in numbers; join consortia and urge others to take the lead.

8. Invest in unique products only when you have a comparative advantage and someone else pays for it.

9. For the next ten years, if it works well, is reliable, and you know how to use it, it is obsolete.

Lombardi, a professor of history who also served as President of Louisiana State University, is one of the most engaging writers on tell-it-like-it-is university administration.  He is a featured keynote speaker at the upcoming Library Assessment Conference in Charlottesville.  A complete list of his articles can be found at

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