A gate with no fence

Plenty of chat around library blogs about the Ithaka (pdf) report, especially the assertion that “The declining importance assigned to the gateway role is cause for concern”.

Photo credit: Flickr user Rooney

My question is: Why do libraries want to be gateways?

A gateway implies that there is a fence, and that the gate is the only way to get through the fence to the other side.

Folks—there is no fence!

There are now so many entry points (gateways) to scholarly resources, including Google, Google Books, Google Scholar, thousands of proprietary databases, etc., that there is essentially no fence.

Why do we care if scholars use libraries as a gateway, when there are so many other ways to get to the same content? Who cares if scholars find books on Amazon first, then come to the library?

I fear we are putting lots of resources into developing and promoting fancy gates, when there is no fence.

See also:  No one wants to use a library catalog

8 Responses to “A gate with no fence”


  1. 1 James September 29, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Agreed. and libraries also have to get over the gatekeeper role for metadata. If we open up our metadata treasure troves (aforementioned APIs etc) then folks will find our stuff without having to go through our catalog AND interested people can combine our stuff with others (witness the mashup phenomenon!) to make even cooler resources.

  2. 2 Chris September 29, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    James–
    Good points.

    I’ll concede that there are some fences, for some content. I think that is precisely where we should be putting our resources — creating/maintaining/promoting pathways to hard to discover or hard to access materials.

    I just don’t want us spending so many resources creating fancy gates to discovery of materials that are easily discoverable already. Let’s spend our resources on the “special” stuff that is hard to find.

  3. 3 James September 29, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Perhaps I take a little different view due to the fact that I’m a govt documents librarian. While the metaphor of gates and fences is visually pleasing, I think there are still fences out there — but they’re more like those invisible electric dog fences. For example, much govt information that used to have a low barrier to entry due to being distributed to FDLP libraries around the country, now have paradoxically *higher* barriers to access. Even though much is digital or being digitized, the govt is frequently working with private companies who then get (often agregious) license over public domain government information (see for example here, here, and here). Additionally, google, g-scholar, proprietary databases etc do indeed have economic fences.

    I think you’re right though that libraries have to create and sustain more paths to content. We can do that by creating repositories/catalogs/library utilities with open APIs, writing/blogging/describing our collections, assuring easy and transparent connections from g-books, g-scholar, worldcat.org, article databases etc to library collections etc. Libraries don’t need to be the gatekeepers to information, but they can and should be great contextualizers.

  4. 4 Chris September 28, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks for the kind comment.
    I agree that more paths to content is a big part of the solution — I’m pretty sure that is at least part of what the whole Open Access movement is about.

  5. 5 Barbara September 28, 2008 at 9:50 am

    That’s a terrific insight. Thanks – I think I will see that image whenever I hear the phrase “gatekeeper” in future.

    Far as I’m concerned (I’m at an undergraduate library, which may influence how I feel about this) the fact our science faculty are more able to get what they need without going through the library means I can buy more books for people who need that format. This is a problem? I thought it was the solution.


  1. 1 Oldies but goodies from 2008 « Feral Librarian Trackback on June 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm
  2. 2 Who’s surprised by the Ithaka report? « Feral Librarian Trackback on April 14, 2010 at 10:51 am
  3. 3 Brave New Classroom 2.0 at Brittanic Blog « Feral Librarian Trackback on April 19, 2009 at 12:45 pm

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