Top Ten Assumptions About Future

The ACRL Research Committee has released a list of what they are calling ten assumptions about the future that would impact academic libraries and librarians. The Committee has already solicited a lot of input, and they are seeking further comment by Monday April 30. Here is the list in brief format, for more see the ACRL News article and the podcast .

Although the Committee has said they didn’t want to produce a list of predictions, it seems that this is what they have in fact done, regardless of what they call them. I would have called them Ten Sundry Issues That Need More Discussion and Fleshing Out, which is why I’m not on the Committee.

I appreciate how hard it must be to produce a list like this, but some of the brief statements are so vague and general as to not really do much work, so it’s hard to respond to them. What is this list really for?

The two that have generated the most discussion on the listservs have been 6 and 7, which deal with applying a business model to higher education and viewing students as customers or consumers. As this makes many academic librarians retch, I think the committee needs to spell out more exactly what this means, why they think it will come to pass, and why they seem to think we are powerless to do anything about it.

In general I think we need to be both more humble about our attitude toward the future (face it, we have no idea what’s going to happen) and be more rigorous when we do think about the future. Assumptions or predictions can sometimes seem as if they are being offered by those whose true aim is to turn assumptions in to self-fulfilling prophecy (look at #5 for example). Or perhaps there is no hidden agenda but assumptions turn into self-fulfilling prophecy anyway (this is the way things are going so we better go along with it.) I’d like to see more clarity and transparency about who thinks what may be happening and to clearly distinguish that from what it is that we want to have happen. When thinking about the future, let’s not give in to determinism or give up our agency. I thank the Committee for their work, and hope this list leads to an ongoing discussion about what the future may hold and what we want to do about it.

1. There will be an increased emphasis on digitizing collections, preserving digital archives, and improving methods of data storage and retrieval.

2. The skill set for librarians will continue to evolve in response to the needs and expectations of the changing populations (student and faculty) that they serve.

3. Students and faculty will increasingly demand faster and greater access to services.

4. Debates about intellectual property will become increasingly common in higher education.

5. The demand for technology related services will grow and require additional funding.

6. Higher education will increasingly view the institution as a business.

7. Students will increasingly view themselves as customers and consumers, expecting high quality facilities and services.

8. Distance learning will be an increasingly common option in higher education and will co-exist
but not threaten the traditional bricks-and-mortar model.

9. Free, public access to information stemming from publicly funded research will continue to grow.

10. Privacy will continue to be an important issue in librarianship.

5 thoughts on “Top Ten Assumptions About Future”

  1. I guess I’m having a similar reaction. There’s not much in the list that gets me activated about wanting to respond. To me they don’t seem as much assumptions as they are realities of the higher education landscape. Does anyone still think that higher education (at least the administration) isn’t being run like a business or that certain business practices may take priority over student needs? Given the many choices that I saw on the list of possibilities for developing the assumptions – and the time we all were asked to put into ranking them and identifying even more possibilities – this group seemed like a bit of a letdown. I’m not criticizing the committee that made the decisions; I’m sure it was hard work. I guess I just expecting something a bit more adventuresome – not necessarily futuristic.

  2. I have to agree. If we compare these assumptions with the more interesting approach to short and long-term futures forecasting found in the annual Horizon Report, we see how much more interesting this list could be. I appreciate the committee’s statement that these are “assumptions,” not “trends,” but they are largely so obvious (as Committee Chair Jim Mullins himself noted in Baltimore), that I’m not sure where to go with them. As Steven says, this is largely a very brief description of reality, so where do we go from here?

    I think the more interesting discussion at Baltimore was about the “assumptions” that were left out, e.g., a statement about information literacy or, more broadly, the teaching role of librarians in higher education. This was noted by the panelist from Inside Higher Ed as a central (if not “the” central) issue/assumption he associated with academic libraries based on reader response to library-related articles in IHE.

    So, my reaction, in a nutshell:

    1) what very important “assumptions” are missing from this list?

    2) what actions do we take based on the enumeration of these assumptions?

    3) should ACRL try to take a page from ELI/NMC and be a little bolder; maybe issue a similar annual report on emergent trends and issues, rather than articulating what Steven rightly calls “the realities of the higher education landscape”?

  3. Dear Marc, Steve, and Scott, thank you for your comments, the Research Committee is monitoring this list and is taking into consideration the comments presented here. As the Research Committee continues its environmental the comments will assist us in investigating issues raised. If you haven’t read the C&RL News article that accompanied the top ten you might want to do so at:

    Jim Mullins, dean of libraries, Purdue University

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