Electronic document storage raises concern in U libraries

Moving to paperless course guides makes archiving difficult because online documents must be printed.

Amy Horst

The convenience of using electronic documents comes with drawbacks, University librarians said.

Increased use of electronic documents can sometimes make preserving information difficult and also raises copyright concerns.

Lois Hendrickson, acting head of University archives, said the University’s decision to make course guides and schedules only available online concerns her.

“That’s one of several heavily used, key documents,” Hendrickson said. “It’s one thing to print a single-page newsletter, but course guides are much bigger,” she said.

Librarians print online-only course guides and other University documents for their archives.

The archives library has course catalogs, also called bulletins, from 1877, class schedules going back to 1954 and course guides from 1992.

Historians, scholars and students use the archive library, Hendrickson said, and expecting librarians to print course guides can be problematic because courses change continuously.

Copyrighted electronic documents such as journal articles found in online databases can also introduce problems.

“There are new responsibilities that people have to be aware of,” said Janice Jaguszewski, co-director for academic programs in sciences.

“You can’t just download article after article – publishers don’t like that.”

However, the University must balance those concerns with fair use issues to ensure that people can get the information they want, Jaguszewski said.

Advances in technology will pose challenges for libraries and their staff, but the University is working to make the transition easier, said Eric Celeste, associate librarian for information technology.

They are considering a number of programs that will store information that is now only available digitally.

He said many institutions like the University are now grappling with this question, and where libraries will go from here remains unknown.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve got it solved by any stretch,” Celeste said. “It’s very important and very exciting.”

“The biggest problem will be people,” Celeste said. “If we’ve done our job, they’ll be able to access today’s important information online 50 years from now.”