The recent discussion about open science has emphasized the need to ensure access to research documents to every reader, and this should not be dependent on the individual’s ability to pay for the increasing costs demanded by academic publishers.
The roles and tasks of academic libraries have gone through several major paradigmatic shifts in recent decades. During the 1990s, we saw the emergence of electronic journals as the basic tool for disseminating scientific findings. At the same time, economic crises led to fiscal resources being cut back.
At the beginning of the new millennium, we started to see a rise in the availability and use of digital books. This digitisation of library resources also meant that libraries started to restructure their premises away from an organization based on printbased thinking towards a learning centre type of ideology.
Open or closed academic libraries
The open use of academic libraries and their resources has been a trademark of Finnish higher education libraries. The digital revolution meant that the use of library resources started to move from an open society towards paywalled use, designated for the library’s own users. It also meant that the costs of digital scientific resources started to consistently rise.
Thus, decision makers and science funders have started to require openness from the scientific community. The library community has been a keen advocate for open access, and several repositories have been created in order to ensure open access and the use of scientific results.
This is also changing the library’s role inside the academic community. The role of the library has become more and more important for both academics and students, and the ever increasing amount of digital resources available via the Internet has meant that the expertise of libraries is needed more than ever.
The future academic library
The main roles of Finnish academic libraries seem to be threefold. Libraries and their expertise are still needed in managing the collections. The main body of these will be digital. For the libraries, this means the building of new digital environments where the users can find and manage the resources they need for their studies and for research purposes.
The other role is building new types of learning environments. Users need places where their expertise meets that of the libraries and where that expertise can be bolstered by library materials in order to build new knowledge. We have seen a lot of new or renovated library space projects recently in Finland.
The third is active academic librarianship. This includes both marketing library resources and services, and the ever increasing teaching input of the academic library staff. It seems that library users are overwhelmed with the huge amount of data and publications available for their use. Thus, there is a constant need for tutoring and coaching users in academic literacy skills.