The January/February 2006 issue of EDUCAUSE Review features the article “Changing a Cultural Icon: The Academic Library as a Virtual Destination” as its cover story. The author is USC CIO and Dean of the University Library, Jerry Campbell. He is a recognized leader in our profession, and it’s good to see a new publication from him. I find an interesting parallel between this article and the Paul Gandel column about academic libraries that appeared in the previous issue of EDUCAUSE Review (“…Wrong Platform, Wrong Train”). Both seem to be a bit behind the times in that they report on issues that academic librarians have debated over the last few years in their literature, on discussion boards, and in blog posts. For example, Campbell begins with observations about the marginalizatin of the academic library, and proceeds to base much of the article on the question, “what comes next” as libraries re-engineer themselves for a volatile information landscape. Both are reasonably familiar topics. He then builds on this by discussing several services that could hold the key to the future of the academic library. This includes library as place and learning space, metadata development, virtual reference, information literacy, electronic collection management, digitization, and repositories. Again, fairly familiar territory.
In all fairness to Campbell his audience isn’t librarians. It’s CIOs, our IT colleagues, and faculty. These are the folks who haven’t thought much about the future of the academic library, and the changes taking place there. In that sense the article provides a good overview of electronic services that these colleagues should become familiar with if they have not already done so. He says:
“In addition, at this point, the discussion of the future of the academic library has been limited to librarians and has not widened, as it should, to involve the larger academic community. Consequently, neither academic librarians nor others in the academy have a crisp notion of where exactly academic libraries fit in the emerging twenty-first-century information panoply.”
I don’t know if it’s correct to suggest that this conversation hasn’t been taking place. I’m sure it has been on campuses where librarians and IT staff work collaboratively. The Council of Independent Colleges has for several years now run workshops on the transformation of the academic library that bring together librarian-administrator teams to discuss how to position the library for a digital future. The TLT Group has for nearly a decade now brought together librarians with faculty and IT experts to discuss how as a community we advance the possibilities of applying technology for teaching and learning – and the integration of the library into the teaching and learning process (a critical role for the future academic library and one that continues to be overlooked or undervalued in these “where are we headed next” articles).
These limited opportunities aside, Campbell’s article makes the right point about widening the discussion. EDUCAUSE serves this cause well by giving this article a high profile that will allow the issues to gain attention from other sectors of the academic institution. Despite the proliferation of our own library literature, which we can be reasonably sure is rarely (if ever) read by non-library administrators and faculty, academic librarians, as authors, association officers, or editorial board members, are rarely at the table where other academic administrators sit. As a result we have little power or representation in creating change in higher education. Perhaps Campbell’s article and others like it that will follow, but only if we make it happen, will do more to create a voice for academic librarians in the broader academic community.