Libraries and museums are evolving and re-inventing themselves for the 21st century

Bee in lavender field

Richard P. Hulser – Chief Librarian
Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County

Richard Hulser is the chief librarian at the Research Library for the family of museums: the Natural History Museum Los Angeles County, the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, and the William S. Hart Museum. His role is to help research staff with their scholarly investigations. He also works with other areas of the museum to achieve the mission to inspire wonder, discovery and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds.

Richard discusses his work at three museum libraries and gives us an insight into the challenges faced today by research libraries with smaller FTE and smaller budgets to cope with the increasing cost of subscriptions.

Role and Objectives
“Libraries and museums are evolving and re-inventing themselves for the 21st century. Our museum has been very active in a multi-year initiative ‘NHM Next’ to update many aspects from exhibit halls, physical facilities and programs. The library has also been changing. It was recently closed for about 3 years and is now in the process of being revived and enhanced. Key focus is to ensure the library has an active role in the visitor experience and an integral part of supporting the museum’s mission.

The library has been a part of the museum since its founding in 1913 (this year is our centennial) and operations have been much the same throughout those years. I have been in my current position for just over 2 years, working on changing perception and reality of the library from an early 20th century paper-based operation to a combination print and electronic enriched information service. I emphasize combination of print and electronic because while digital resources enable wider and more enhanced access to content, licensing costs for access to scholarly research are rising at a faster rate than many academic and research organizations can afford.
Increasing expense of subscriptions and online access to research information is a big challenge. For example, many professional societies appear to be getting out of the publishing business and in a number of cases turning over such operations to commercial publishers with the promise of an increasing revenue stream. As a concept that is great for the society. However, those commercial publishers are significantly increasing licensing and subscription costs for institutions whose budgets cannot meet those increases and must then reduce or cancel access to those resources. The key missed factor is that research institutions such as museums are a strong contributor to scholarly advances though have a relatively small staff with resource use nowhere near that of a university or similar institution. Most publishers do not seem to understand the difference and the licensing fees reflect that situation. I have been watching this for a while and my colleagues at similar institutions to mine have this same observation.  Thus continuing increased budget and staff constraints require creative thinking on provision of information services at an adequate level.

As for the future role of libraries and librarians, technological advances have enhanced access to information while also challenging librarians and information managers to incorporate those advances into their operations as well as their personal skill set. I have worked in a variety of academic and research library positions as well as in technology and information management roles outside the traditional library arena. My past experience at IBM in marketing, software development and technology strategy consulting is a part of my toolkit in the multiple responsibilities I have as a solo librarian at the museum. Availability of graduate students for internships and volunteer experience from traditional and online library and information management programs has been very helpful in moving projects forward.”

Impact of digital techology
“Use of mobile and other technologies are significantly increasing access to information. There is the expectation that if it isn’t in digital form it doesn’t exist, yet we know otherwise. It is also a challenge to balance the perception that digital information is widely available for free with the reality that much and more of it is available for a fee. There are also significant variances in quality level of scholarly and other digital content such that researchers request access to the original print version to do their work.

This is where librarians become even more important as we can work with scholars to move forward with better and wider access to information for research. It is not on our shoulders alone but in collaboration with those we help achieve their goals. We are connectors of people to information and to each other, not just managers of static warehouses of content. We interact with many facets of an organization and can connect the dots.”

More about Richard
Richard Hulser is chief librarian, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. He is also founder and principal, Richard P. Hulser Consulting, providing services for clients regarding technology strategy planning, content licensing and management, and digital library implementation and management. He has over 30 years of international experience working with a variety of library and cultural institutions to enhance their use of technology for information management.

To read more about Richard’s work, please visit his blog: or contact him at


  • Sana Kazmi

    Sana Kazmi