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An Arrow in the Cloud: aspects of cloud technology for academic libraries

Author - Yvonne Desmond

 

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Abstract

This article traces the impact cloud computing has had on the work of library professionals and how it can be exploited both to offer new services and make libraries more relevant for the 21st century. It then considers how Arrow@DIT, the institutional repository for the Dublin Institute of Technology,  represents a successful model of cloud computing applied to libraries and to academic publishing

Libraries in the Cloud

There is a lot of confusion about what the cloud really is. For most of us it is synonymous with the internet - the anything that is out there that we can get access to. But it is when the cloud is combined with computing that the need for a definition becomes more apparent. Even among information technology (IT) professionals there is no agreement on what cloud computing definitively is. The range of definitions is captured in the quotation below:

Some analysts and vendors define cloud computing narrowly as an updated version of utility computing: basically virtual servers available over the Internet. Others go very broad, arguing anything you consume outside the firewall is "in the cloud," including conventional outsourcing.
(Knorr and Gruman)

In the world of libraries cloud computing has come to mean digital services that are outsourced as against those produced in-house in the library. Increasingly as staff and resources become scarcer, more and more services are in the mix to be outsourced. This has led to a period of change and a certain amount of consternation for library professionals as their role becomes less as gatekeepers of knowledge and more one of facilitation and enablement. Technology was adopted very early on in libraries as a means of digitising services and of managing large information databases. Those of us who are old enough can remember the tyranny of the C prompt of the Disk Operating System (DOS) Program. The way the C prompt would blink at you first thing in the morning promising entry into the fascinating world of online information management but in most cases resolutely refusing to do what it was supposed to do. DOS programming involved a huge learning curve for operators as complicated sequences of commands were required to make it do the simplest things. There was the excitement of the first CD-ROM Towers where a user could switch between databases seamlessly, admittedly with a certain time delay and a clunkiness that now appears wonderfully antique. This early adoption of technology saw the rise of the systems librarian and the systems team who took on the task of managing these powerful new library systems and exploiting them as much as possible to offer new and varied services. Libraries started to combine their catalogues, to promote co-operation and sharing of services in a way that was not replicated in the real world. As systems grew ever more complicated, the teckie librarian, the super cool dude of the library world emerged who assumed an ever more pivotal role in the provision of library services. At this stage it was possible to keep up to date with the technological developments as the growth in technology and library services happened in tandem even if keeping up involved ever more time and money. And then came the internet and the world changed forever!

Anyone born in the late 20th century cannot imagine the world without online access to communications technology, without the presence of Wikipedia and Google, without mobile phones, apps and electronic gadgetry and a general interwingularity where everything is hyperlinked (Weinberger, 2011)a. Social networking and social computing have given rise to a global collective intelligence where people combine and help each other to share and exploit their individual expertise. People are no longer mere consumers of information but are now prosumers, producing as much if not more content than they consume (Dagstuhl, 2010). The average person spends a considerable amount of time in their browsers and some would argue that this is having such profound impact that it is leading to neurological changes in the brain where people can now only take in small amounts of information at a time and think solely in sound bites (Carr, 2010). As David Weinberger, a leading thinker on the internet has said we need to rethink knowledge 'now that the facts aren't the facts, experts are everywhere and the smartest person in the room is the room'(Weinberger, 2011).

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