Lidman, Tomas. Scientific libraries: past development and future changes. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2008. xvi, 123 p. ISBN 1-84334-268-5. £ 19.95. (Chandos Information Professionals Series).
Tomas Lidman is a known name in Swedish, European and global librarianship and archives work. He characterizes his book as 'a kind of summary of my life-long engagement and interest in the need for scientific information among researchers and students' (p. ix). I have picked it up with great curiosity, read with unwavering interest, and closed with deep respect.
The book is not very long, but it covers the period that is among the most interesting in the history of academic, scientific libraries (from the beginning of the 1960s to the present) and company research libraries. However, it is the experience and the engagement of the author as well as his intelligence and understanding of the processes that he participated in that makes it especially interesting.
It is surprising to follow the text written both by a disengaged analyst and an engaged actor in one person. The author's horizons are worldwide and he embraces the most important areas of change: national and academic library policies and globalisation trends, technology (from cards to computerized systems and the World Wide Web), the expansion of higher education and the shifting focus of library services, changes in scientific communication and its impact on profession. The breadth of his overview does not mean the text becomes superficial. The author spots the main reasons or trends and keenly points out the most important turning points. His vast international expertise allows him to provide the best examples and cases throughout the world.
As Lidman writes about the period that mainly falls within my own professional development it was very interesting to compare my own experience and thoughts with those expressed in the book. The joy of meeting own thoughts and sometimes the spark of disagreement: both are mixed with the surprise of recognition of the processes, events, subjects and objects that once filled or still fill the professional life of our generation.
It was also quite unexpected to travel with the author through the 'decade of optimism: 1990-2000' again. Astonishing how much has happened during this short period. New technological, managerial, political and architectural solutions were introduced, Web publishing and digital libraries emerged as if all by themselves. For librarians in Eastern Europe, and many other countries, all this was combined with growing freedom and creativity. I guess that I have realised that this period was as important for Western librarianship as it was for us in the East.
One of the basic ideas that I picked up while reading is about the ability of the libraries to change quickly in response to a wide wariety of factors: be it user's demands, political pressures, a wave of material thefts, changing technologies, or new practices of the communities served. The scientific library has become one of the most dynamic institutions and the library profession one of the most flexible among modern professions. The author admits that he has 'merely scratched the surface' with regard to some important problems, but he also managed to follow through his main idea to the optimistic and at the same time realistic ending.
I heartily recommend the book to my colleagues in libraries and in professional education. It is a thoughtful review of modern academic library development written from within, but with the very keen understanding of a knowledgeable outside observer.
Professor Elena Maceviciute