Future strategic considerations and development priorities for national museum libraries

Publication Date08 October 2018
Date08 October 2018
AuthorRupert Nicholas Williams
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Future strategic considerations
and development priorities for
national museum libraries
Rupert Nicholas Williams
Department of Information Studies, University College London, London, UK
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the main strategic considerations facing the libraries of
national museums over the next decade, and to examine anticipated future service and resource
development priorities.
Design/methodology/approach An explanatory sequential mixed-methods study was undertaken,
consisting of a quantitative research phase followed by a qualitative phase. An online survey was
sent to the head librarians of two hundred national museum libraries for the quantitative phase.
Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with the head librarians at seven national museum libraries
for the qualitative phase. The survey data were analysed using descriptive statistics and the interview
data were analysed through use of recursive abstraction. Mixing of the data occurred following the
qualitative phase.
Findings National museum libraries are facing a complex array of future challenges and opportunities as a
result of a rapidly changing socio-technical landscape, evolving organisational needs and priorities and
ongoing operational constraints. The main strategic considerations for many national museum libraries relate
to their preparedness for these issues, and their ability to deliver services and resources that are relevant,
required, and responsive to the future research needs of internal and external users. It seems likely that
development priorities will focus on consolidating high impact services and resources, whilst also expanding
provision into new areas that have the greatest potential for growth.
Originality/value This study identifies issues of strategic importance for national museum libraries and
examines the main priority areas being considered by museum librarians as they prepare to develop their
libraries into the third decade of the twenty-first century.
Keywords Information technology, Scenarios, Strategic planning, Digital age, Museum libraries,
National museums
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Museum libraries have been described as an information system within an information
system(Navarrete and Mackenzie Owen, 2011). This is due to the similarity of purpose that
they share withthe museums to which they belong, most obviouslyin terms of the acquisition
and management of cultural resources and the support provided for learning and research.
Museum libraries therefore have a role which is quite distinct and different to that of many
other types of libraries. However, as Koot (2001) notes, the position and influence of museum
libraries within their organisations is often not as clear cut as this portrayal might appear.
Koot, referencing a study of museum libraries undertaken by Esther Bierbaum (1996),
describes how issues relating to lack of organisational status, funding, and staffing, coupled
with low utilisationrates, means that many museum librariesfrequently struggle to maintain
a suitable level of visibility or make a significant impact within their museums.
Over the last two decades this situation has been compounded further by an increasingly
congested information marketplace dominated by easily accessible and often free web-
based resources. For researchers seeking the type of information that traditionally may
have only been available from a museum library, these alternative options may present a far
more attractive and compelling offer.
These issues have implications for many museum librarians as they seek to plan future
activities and prioritise resources, and as they look to maintain or increase the visibility,
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 74 No. 6, 2018
pp. 1204-1225
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-01-2018-0011
Received 23 January 2018
Revised 6 June 2018
Accepted 7 June 2018
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
utilisation, reach and relevance oftheir libraries. This study seeks toaddress this topic in the
context of national museum libraries specifically by asking the following research questions:
RQ1. What are the main strategic considerations for national museum libraries,
particularly in relation to emerging socio-technical challenges and opportunities
and evolving organisational needs and priorities?
RQ2. What will be the principal strategic development priorities for national museum
libraries over the next decade, and how will these align with and support broader
museum objectives?
For the purposes of this research, national museum libraries are defined as being libraries that
belong to or are directly affiliated with designated national museums, i.e. museums that are
funded by central government and that hold collections considered to be of national importance.
2. Literature review
To set these research questions in a wider frame of reference, it is useful to first examine
some of the main strategic and operational issues that have impacted national museum
libraries to date. However, due to the limited available literature on the specific theme of
national museum libraries, these issues are considered here from the perspective of museum
libraries generally.
Roles and activities
Museum libraries serve a dual function. First, to provide information and research
support to museum staff through the collection and dissemination of evidentiary
documentation. And second, to supply museum visitors, external scholars and
other members of the public with in-depth contextual information about the object
collections that are held and the exhibitions that are displayed by their museums
(van der Wateren, 1999; Watson, 2001; Lo et al., 2014; Vogel, 2014). Listing these functions
in this order is intentional as there is a tacit acceptance amongst many museum
librarians that supporting museum staff, particularly curators and others involved in
exhibition planning and delivery, is the main priority for their libraries (Collins, 2003;
Kolmstetter, 2007; van Boxtel, 2009).
Summarising the operational activities undertaken by and the outputs of museum
libraries as a collective group is more complicated though as they do not tend to conform
to a homogeneous identity. As Navarrete and Mackenzie Owen (2011) observe, there is no
single concept of what a museum library should be, with the authors pointing to the
considerable variety that exists within different museum libraries regarding their origins
and identities, funding arrangements, organisational relationships, acquisitions, and
collections. Nevertheless, there are many areas of commonality in terms of core service
functions and areas of responsibility. Bierbaum (2000, p. 8) suggests that the roles and
tasks of a typical museum library are spread across the entirety of a museumsoperations
and support all phases of a museums mission, ranging from provision of resources to
staff, to preservation of museum archives, to dissemination of information to the public
about museum collections.
Likewise, from a museum-specific perspective, Wasserman (1994) lists the main tasks
undertaken within the National Museum of Women in the Arts Library in the USA, which
include: providing information services to museum staff, interns and volunteers; supply of
materials and research assistance for preparation of exhibitions, tours, lectures and
scholarly papers; serving as a specialised scholarly facility for external art historians,
educators, and scholars; maintaining the Museums institutional archives; and serving as a
depository for the Museums publications.
for national

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