Exploring Models For Academic Libraries

It’s always interesting to come across visions for new ways of thinking about academic libraries and higher education institutions. Colleagues pointed me to two new additions to this particular genre with the literature of academic librarianship.

The first is by David W. Lewis who is Dean of the Library at IUPUI University. His paper is titled:
A Model for Academic Libraries: 2005-2025. It begins with four assumptions about the current environment in which academic libraries operate:

1. Libraries are the mechanism for providing the subsidy that is required if information is to be used efficiently in communities and organizations.

2. Libraries confront a variety of disruptive technologies and these technologies will disrupt libraries.

3. Real change requires real change. Incremental adjustments at the margins will not be sufficient.

4. We have a window of opportunity. Books and libraries are revered in academic culture and librarians in general are well thought of by faculty and even administrators.

Lewis then presents his five strategic pieces “for maintaining the library as a vibrant enterprise worthy of support from our campuses”.

1. Complete the migration from print to electronic collections and capture the
efficiencies made possible by this change.

2. Retire legacy print collections in a way that efficiently provides for its long-
term preservation and makes access to this material available when
required. This will free space that can be repurposed.

3. Redevelop the library as the primary informal learning space on the
campus. In the process partnerships with other campus units that support
research, teaching, and learning should be developed.

4. Reposition library and information tools, resources, and expertise so it is
embedded into the teaching, learning, and research enterprises. This
includes both human and, increasingly, computer-mediated systems.
Emphasis should be placed on external, not library-centered, structures
and systems.

5. Migrate the focus of collections from purchasing materials to curating
content.

The remainder of the article elaborates on these strategies. Much of what is presented in the document is not radically new ideas. Rather, Lewis does a nice job of blending them into a model that academic librarians may wish to use as a blueprint or foundation upon which to develop some strategic initiatives. Of particular interest are sections on the need for a flexible work force in the library which is related to Marc’s recent post on Wilder’s essay, and on disruptive technologies and libraries – a topic that Lewis has written about previously.

The second is a draft document titled Ultimate Internet Cafe: Reflections of a Practicing Digital Humanist about Designing a Future
for the Research Library in the Digital Age
by Bernard Frischer. This is not a new document; it was posted to the web in 2002. It is the first time I came across it and thought it might be worth sharing as some of the themes are becoming more important to us in 2007. It begins with a vision for the academic library of 2012, which appears to be based on the concept of a learning theatre. He indicates there is a prototype of this theatre at UCLA. One thing I particularly like about this theatre idea is this:

Since the theater is the only place users can go to work with this information in groups and in a totally immersive environment, it makes the research library more than ever the center of learning and research on the campus.

We know that our future success depends largely on how well we integrate the academic library into the teaching and learning process at our institutions. Frischer then goes on to explain the core of his vision for the academic library of the future:

The central feature of the vision is a new activity–collaborative, interactive demonstrations of virtual reality models in the context of teaching and research–housed in a new space, the immersive theater. In this essay, I will argue that putting the activity and the space into the research library is both appropriate, in view of the research library’s mission, and desirable, if we wish to see the research library flourish well into the new century.

For the remainder of the essay Frischer elaborates on his “three consequences of digital technology for the research library.” The are:

1. The research library will be special not so much because of the quantity of information it can offer the user but because of the quality of the experience in which that information is presented. (read more on the importance of the “user experience“)

2. Producers of digital content need research libraries every bit as much as print authors needed them in the age of Gutenberg.

3. In the age of cyberspace, real space and compelling architecture matter more than ever.

Frischer wraps up this discussion he discusses his belief that the future of the academic library is strongly connected to adopting digital technologies:

My message is thus an optimistic one: the research library will survive because of the introduction of ever more and newer digital technologies, not in spite of it. If managed well and if understood strategically in terms of the evolution of our educational system and culture, the transformation of the library from the old analogue technologies to the new digital
technologies can occur with a minimum of pain and a maximum of gain.

I think there are themes within Frischer’s essay that will strike a familiar chord with academic librarians these days, but I certainly found it interesting that this vision was coming from a humanities researcher, not a librarian, and that it was first developed five years ago.

3 thoughts on “Exploring Models For Academic Libraries

  1. So when those kids who are buying books in greater numbers than ever arrive at college and need a fix, they’ll have to go to the nearest bookstore, huh?

    Seriously, I’m a little confused about how we’ll shift from creating collections to curating collections. Collections of what? The real question is whether there will be a new model of publishing so robust and search engines so refined that we can create well-produced texts (which requires editing, reviewing, design…) and can find the ones that will suit our purposes.

    We used to do this through publication and building library collections that matched the curriculum. It all got too difficult and expensive and collections aren’t as important as they once were, now that other sources of information are out there. But – how will curating replace those functions, or in fact are we just assuming those functions will happen, somehow, and that will free up our time and space to do other work, including curating things that wouldn’t have been published in the past?

    Maybe I just don’t know what “curating” means. And maybe I’m just too skeptical that by 2025 printed books will be irrelevant.

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