EDUCAUSE Review Features Academic Librarianship As Cover Story

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.

3 thoughts on “EDUCAUSE Review Features Academic Librarianship As Cover Story

  1. I found this article to be of interest in the light of a research project that I completed in December 2005. The research was a review of selected academic libraries to ascertain if the institution was conducting “distance learning” or “online classes”. A large percentage were found to be conducting classes online for “distance learners”. For each of the institutions library staff listings were examined to see if they were meeting the ACRL guideline for one or more librarians who were “dedicated” to serving distance learners. The result was that none of the academic libraries were staffed up to serve the distance learner “market”.

    In addition to the review of selected libraries a list of job descriptions was reviewed that claimed to be for “distance” librarians. Of the 30+ adds only a few had a job description that were 100% dedicated to serving distance learners.

    The issue should be framed in a market context. Institutions are setting up educational offerings for the rapidly growing distance learner or off campus student population without providing library resources in the form of “dedicated” staff as set forth in the guidelines.

    Additional research is in process to develop this approach for publication.

    C. Noble, SCSU ILS

  2. Steven is correct that this is a nice overview, but nothing groundbreaking. While I could quibble with the limited view that Campbell seems to have of the significance of information literacy instruction, he does at least include it as one of the focal points for his vision of the future, which is certainly significance given his audience. I found two core pieces to his essay especially interesting:

    1) the argument for re-defining and re-deploying information expertise – information expertise is what academic librarians bring to the table in each of the functional areas that Campbell identifies, e.g., information literacy instruction, scholarly communications (including copyright management), design and description of digital collections, etc. Add to this point the half-dozen articles that have come out this week on how to teach students to be careful consumers and users of social networking sites, and what you have is a multi-faceted answer to the question – what is the unique role of the academic librarian in an environment in which the traditional role is increasingly under question? “Deploying expertise” is a phrase used most recently by government information librarians to describe one role for government information specialists in a world in which every desktop computer is effectively an 85% depository (based on open access to government information, regardless of whether or not one is in the FDLP). It’s a good way of thinking about Campbell’s argument, too.

    2) the library as icon – we must all respect and take into consideration the near-veneration that many members of our faculty (and our library staff) have for the library as cultural icon. Libraries and universities are among the most ancient of social institutions, and both are in the midst of a massive transition fueled, in part, by demographic change and advances in information technology. While some of us embrace this oportunity to redefine our role on campus and in the community, others are aghast at the potential for change. Campbell’s identification of the library as icon is a very good way of paying due respect to those concerns while keeping our eyes focused on the fact that things are changing.

    So, good piece, and (as Steven noted) as important for where it is placed in terms of likely readership as it is for articulating any new ideas.

  3. I have to disagree that Campbell is making familiar points and that the conversation is a familiar one happening all around us.

    His first fundamental point is that academic libraries are going to loose their position as providers of authoratative information, or as he puts it, “academic libraries have relinquished much of their fundamental and sustaining role.” Campbell then looks at what we might do once our collection and organizing roles are gone. As I read what he is saying many of the things we are currently hangin our hats on may not be good bets.

    He does make the very important point that libraries do have big budgets, but most librarians don’t think this is the case becasue they are not willing to give up what they are doing, especially in their collecting. In my expereince, we are not generally talking about the difficult organizational changes that will be required.

    Try this thoguth experement. As a library director you are standing in front of your faculty senate and you are explaining to then that the quality of the inforamtion on the web will improve and open access will be a success and ten years from now the library will be spending half of what it does now on purchased content and that these dollars will buy only 25% of what the library now receives. On the other hand, you explain, the library will be providing a large and robust institutional repository and digitizing its special collections so they can be used by anyone in the world. Are you:
    a. stoned
    b. laughted at
    c. locked out of the library by your staff
    d. hailed as a visionary

    Information literacy and Information Commons are easy, but I think changes in how we spend our collecction budgets are required and they will be difficult. And I don’t think we are really talking seriously about this yet.

    David W. Lewis
    Dean of the IUPUI University Library
    dlewis@iupui.edu

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