Two new reports from ACRL serve to remind the academic library community that our future is increasingly one based on digital collections and a virtual presence. Both the Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025 and the 2010 Top Ten Trends in Academic Libraries point to the importance of paying attention to our external environment and the ways in which it could impact on our operations and services. The short-term view in the latter report makes multiple references to digitization projects and an increasingly electronic collection; that’s certainly what many of our user community members want us to offer. But the former report points to one scenario that may come to pass well before 2025, that should concern all of us who acknowledge our growing digital future.
Of the scenarios that the majority of the respondents thought were both possible and likely to happen sooner rather than later, the likelihood of disruptive cyberwar, cybercrime and cyberterrorism was among the top four. Any one of these different forms of cyber attack has the potential to cripple a largely digital academic library operation.
The same week the 2025 report was issued, MIT’s Technology Review for July/August 2010 featured an article on the dangers posed by cyber warfare:
Ingenious solutions are multiplying, but the attacks are multiplying faster still. And this year’s revelations of China-based attacks against corporate and political targets, including Google and the Dalai Lama, suggest that sophisticated electronic espionage is expanding as well. “What we’ve been seeing, over the last decade or so, is that Moore’s Law is working more for the bad guys than the good guys
So what does all of this mean for academic libraries? Clearly we are poorly positioned, as are our institutions, to have much impact on the growing possibilities for global cyberwar. Even Google, with all of its resources, was breached by cyberattacks from China. Russia lives under constant threat of cyberterrorism from its enemies. The United States is taking this so seriously that it just appointed a general who will focus entirely on preventing cyber attacks and developing a strategy for engaging in global cyber warfare.
So at best we need to be aware and alert, and add this new and challenging threat to those other ones in our disaster plans. What would we do without access to our digital resources? How would we communicate with our users and each other? How would we support both on campus and off-campus faculty and learners if there was an extended loss of connectivity, files, networks or other essentials of our digital age? Just as with all those disasters for which we prepare in our plans, be they fire, floods or worse, we all hope they never come to pass. But be prepared we must.
Finally, the threat of cyber war and terrorism should bring attention to the value academic libraries provide to their communities as stewards of the print institutional collection and experts in locating information in those collective assets. The challenge of balancing growing print collections and diminishing space already moves us toward growing our digital materials. There are many good reasons to maintain strong print collections, and the potential for a total network collapse should remind us that doing so is just one of our many important responsibilities.