Big Data Analytics and the Future of Libraries

We have not crash landed in the world of Big Data. Systematic data analytics is not new to us. Historians like Yuval Noah Harari, think the erection of the Vatican Apostolic Library in the Vatican was the foundational moment in the field of data gathering and data analytics. The Vatican Apostolic library was founded in 1451. Its collection included priceless letters, manuscripts, books, drawings of artists, maps, scrolls, papyri in Latin, Greek, and earliest known Slavic alphabets dating back to the third century. It also housed thousands of coins, medals and photographs. It documents and artefacts not only covered religion but also science, mathematics and astronomy.

Today the precious resources of the library are fast getting digitized to save them for deterioration and decay. The systematic preservation, management and the use of data was revolutionized by the Apostolic Library but as time went on it got fixated in its old techniques of archiving information but did not grow into the new digital revolution of archiving and analyzing data that we see in the world today. Harari says that Vatican like other religions, suspected science and technology and became reactive and as a result could not produce the next revolution is the systematization of preservation of data and analysis of the same. Hence, it was left to scientists and computer wizards to produce what we call digital revolution.

Harari seem to be wrong in identifying only the church as an institution that remain frozen in time. He does mentions that Jewish Rabbis were rejecting the internet when it first arrived. But his view appeared to be religiously biased. The church is not the only institution that tried to gather, preserve and use information and data. It is said that Ancient Egyptians around 300 BC tried to gather data that was available at that time in the library of Alexandria. It is also said that the Romans would analyze the statistics of their military to analyze the optimal distribution of their armies. Humans seem to have valued information and drew benefits from right from the days hunting and gathering food for survival. Without it , humanity may not have survival advantage on the scale of evolution.

Today the volume, scale, diversity, and complexity of data that is being generated and gathered has changed beyond human comprehension. This is why we cannot handle it and need Big Data analytics to clean, to store , analyze and optimize its applications. Big Data has several applications. But one of the important category of its applications among others is the manner in which it has come to affect libraries, the most important houses of data gathering and applications of the earlier days. Big Data promises to transform the future of libraries. Libraries therefore cannot choose the politics of status quo. They have the challenge to join the data movement.

To what extend is Big Data a major challenge to the libraries? The very concept of library seems to be undergoing a fundamental change. The architecture, algorithms and techniques of Big Data analytics are inducing this change. We are living in a world of datafication and libraries and research is not cut off from it. The role of the libraries and librarians are therefore, becoming challenging today. They have a rival in the information scientists. The collection, preservation and distribution of data sets are also done by the data scientists and hence, the libraries need to engage information and data scientists to catch up with the fast paced world of Big Data analytics. This coming of the Big Data applications in our libraries can add value to the services that libraries provide their patrons and increase the band width of the user experience and increase user satisfaction.

Libraries appeared to be already to use the fruits of Big Data analytics when some of them automated their cataloguing functions and circulations systems through OCLC and other similar data sharing organizations. One of the first instance in bibliographic and library services is said to be WorldCat, the world biggest network library content and services. There are also other players in the applications of Big Data analytics like the Library Congress, Big Data Applications for Books (Harvard University) etc.

In fact Big Data analytics can assist individual libraries that are not networked to determines which books are to be added to resource store as well as understand which books or journals are being often used by researchers. They could also share this information with the researchers to who wish to mark a domain or produce bibliography for their research needs.

Libraries have always provided raw material for knowledge production. Big Data analytics also shows data as a new raw material for knowledge production that produces actionable information. It is because of this that libraries can help in harnessing the potential of Big Data analytics. Libraries can be new resource houses that provide access to data information sets and even train new data scientists. This means libraries can become a site that offers Big Data services as additional services besides their regular research services . This is why we need a new librarian who are equipped with knowledge of data sciences. The old methods of harnessing data as knowledge cannot match with new Data Science movement. This is why we have no option but are challenged to join the movement of Data analytics.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao