The eLibrary and Learning
Discussion of libraries in general and eLibraries in particular can be found across a wide range of literatures, from the professional through the fictional to the fantastical (Terry Pratchett’s librarian, it will be recalled, is an orangutan whose limbs are ideally designed for retrieving books from the remotest shelf). The more serious literature may be less far-fetched—although some accounts of future libraries run Pratchett close—but its terminology frequently conspires to compromise communication.
Of course, in each case the favored term contains many layers of meaning. They are capable of, and indeed encourage, different interpretations by different observers in different contexts. To give but one example, in the U.K. the concept of the “electronic library” emerged in the early 1990s. But then it became fused with a major funding program in the higher education sector (the eLib Programme) which, while generally successful, revealed some of the shortcomings of the purely electronic approach. As a result the term now carries an amalgam of negative aswell as positive connotations in that country. It will, to the initiated, inevitably bring to mind the Programme’s conclusion that a “hybrid” library, delivering both digital and traditional sources, is most likely to meet users’ needs. To someone who had never come across the Programme such inferences would be far from obvious. Yet all this is not to deny the validity of the eLibrary concept (the term will be used generically throughout this chapter). It merely points to some of the connotations the term may carry in certain communities and some of the limitations it may signify. The perfectly valid question remains: How might we define and design an effective “eLibrary” which would contribute fully to the achievement of broadly based learning objectives? What, at its best, would an eLibrary look like? Although some might argue that the starting point should be elsewhere, we can begin to answer that question by exploring more traditional understandings of the “library”, examining electronic “equivalents” and then considering the question of and how, and in what manner, such models might be applied in the context of learning and eLearning.
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