Summer Project Leads To Some Old Gems

For academic librarians the summer means time to get to projects that go untouched during the academic semesters. One of my summer projects is an attempt to get the hundreds of article printouts I have collected over the years into my RefWorks space. My assistant is helping me in this endeavor, but it’s required me to pull the articles out of their file folders, assign them to a RefWorks folder, and attach some descriptors to each that I hope will enable me to retrieve them at some future point. The work has mostly gone quickly, but every now and then I come across an article that requires a second look and a new reading – which of course slows things down. Here a few good examples, and what I find these ones have in common is that they discuss issues or make suggestions that still hold up well. You might say that in some ways they were ahead of their times.

Ken Kempcke. The Art of War for Librarians: Academic Culture, Curriculum Reform, and Wisdom from Sun Tzu. Portal: Libraries and the Academy V2 N4 (2002) 529-551.
Kempcke raises a number of good questions about why our efforts in collaborating with faculty haven’t resulted in better integration of information literacy into the curriculum, and more equal status with faculty. He writes:

Collaborative efforts are important. But let’s not be so busy patting ourselves on the back for something that should be part of our everday job that we lose sight of our larger goals…We must make IL skills unquestionably as important as writing, speaking, math and science skills.

This is just one of many good observations and suggestions. I didn’t recall reading this one when it first appeared but I have no doubt it influenced some of my own thinking about blended librarianship as a strategy for better integrating the academic librarian into the teaching and learning process.

Steven Stoan. The Library as an Instrument for Teaching and Learning. Presented at the Council of Independent College’s 2002 Workshop on the Transformation of the College Library.
Stoan, Director of the Drury University Library, is a College Libraries Section colleague and seeing this paper again reminded me of how impressed I was by the writing and ideas the first time I came across it. It dwells on a number of themes related to collaboration and improving the quality of student research. He writes:

Librarians must also be brought along, since such changes would involve significant new roles for them and alter their work environment and job expectations considerably. The college administration might have to take a hard look at staffing patterns as librarians assume new responsibilities. In short, the new collaborative model would move the library away from the traditional reactive, bibliographic instruction model that fit in with the traditional lecture approach to education. It would require that library instruction be integrated with certain coursework in a more seamless way in which the instructors and librarians would share responsibility for creating the learning environments that would accomplish desired information literacy outcomes.

Since this was written many more academic libraries are making the transformative changes suggested by Stoan, but going back and reading it again is a good reminder of why we are making these changes and why we must continue to do so.

James Rettig. “Technology, Cluelessness, Anthropology, and the Memex: The Future of Academic Reference Service.” Reference Services Review V31 N1 (2003) 17-21.
It’s almost impossible to read something by Jim Rettig and not be impressed by the breadth of his knowledge and expertise in the field of reference service. Now I see why I held on to this one in particular as it offers some early expressions of the simplicity vs. complexity conundrum with which academic librarians must cope. Rettig notes the changing values of the “Net Generation”, their desire for immediacy, and their cluelessness about information’s complexity. He writes:

Students are naive or clueless about the complexity of information even as they trust information they retrieve or that is pushed to them in ways consonant with their values of immediacy and itneractivity…Nevertheless, many students recognize quality information when they see it; they just do not know how to search for and retrieve it. All of this can work to our advantage and theirs.

But where this article really shines is in it’s suggestion that “we need to become expert anthropologists of our user communities.” This certainly predates the work being done at the University of Rochester, which now includes an anthropologist on their library team so they can do exactly what Rettig suggested – “learn their information-handling habits”. I can’t quite say how this paper has impacted on the future of reference librarianship, but it is a good reminder that in whatever ways it changes it must remain user-centered.

Gary Hamel and Liisa Valikangas. “The Quest for Resilience.” Harvard Business Review September 2003 pp. 1-13.
If you don’t care much for applying business concepts to library leadership then just skip this one. But if you want some insight into coping with ongoing technology change and how academic libraries might avoid being marginalized this one is worth a read. Hamel and Valikangas write:

Strategic resilience is not about responding to a onetime crisis. It’s not about rebounding from a setback. It’s about continuously anticipating and adjusting to deep, secular trends that can permanently impair the earning power of a core business. It’s about having the capacity to change before the case for change becomes desperately obvious…It must begin with an aspiration: zero trauma…The goal is an organization that is constantly making its future rather than defending its past.

I don’t know about you but this strikes me as being eminently applicable to the position that academic libraries find themselves in at this very moment.

These sorts of articles lack the nuggets of practical, how-to advice found in the standard “here’s how we did it good at my library” type article. But what they do incredibly well is get us thinking about our position in the higher education enterprise, and how we can remain relevant to our user community. Even in the summer as we rush to complete projects for the beginning of the fall semester it is important to be inspired and to think about where our libraries are headed – and how the library team will get there. What’s lurking in your file cabinet?

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