Conversations About Higher Education, Libraries And Technology

Last week I attended a gathering of approximately 30 representatives of academic libraries, higher education institutions, higher education associations and technology vendors – and at least two search engines – brought together for an ACRL Summit on Technology and Change. ACRL brought this group together to have a wide-ranging discussion, roundtable style, to help in determining how ACRL might best develop strategies to help its members adapt to technological change – and use new technologies to benefit their user communities.

The conversation seemed to fall into two categories. One focused on challenges confronting academic libraries – and the role technology plays in creating the challenges. The other one focused on what academic libraries need to do to both get their messages out to the user community, and how librarians could make themselves indispensable to their communities. As the discussion bounced back and forth between these two topics, a number of themes emerged:

  • Are we victims or leaders? We seem to waver between lamenting about being the poor orphan child of higher education and showing how we can be education and technology leaders on campus. Who are we? Who do we want to be?
  • Is it our inning? Are these the best of times or worst of times for academic libraries? Are we poised for great success or are we headed for further marginalization? Some suggested that we should just operate as if it is our inning rather than ask if it is.
  • What’s our metric of achievement? Academic libraries can contribute to faculty and student success, but how do we measure our contribution and make it concrete for our constituents?
  • Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Many different opinions emerged in discussing this theme, and I sensed more half-full than half-empty, but some of our non-librarian colleagues were more in the half-empty crowd.
  • Are the ground troops prepared for a re-positioning or re-conceptualization of academic library services? Do academic librarians and support staff have the tools and abilities needed for transformations in learning and scholarship?
  • There was far too much wide-ranging discussion for me to capture it all. While it was a great meeting of the minds, at the end of the day we needed to come back to our reason for being there – identifying some concrete things that ACRL could do to advance the cause of academic librarianship. In particular that meant addressing how ACRL can help their members leverage technology to make the academic library indispensable to the user community. Three things that ACRL has the potential to do emerged:

  • Be the force that drives the re-positioning conversation in the academic librarian community.
  • Be the convener to bring together the diverse groups within higher education to put attention on the excellent contributions of academic librarians and libraries.
  • Be the missing voice that speaks to the larger world in order to capture more appreciation for academic librarians and libraries.
  • A position paper will be produced to report all of the ideas and suggestions that were developed at this summit. When ACRLog learns of its availability, we will share it here.

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