Notes From The Campaign Trail: Part 4

Editor’s Note: Here is the fourth post in a series from Scott Walter, ex-ACRLog blog team member, in which he shares his learning experiences as a candidate for ACRL office.

There are two basic questions that one addresses on the campaign trail: what are we doing wrong, and its companion, what can we do better? Over at Free Range Librarian, Karen Schneider showed us recently how these questions can be asked, answered, and, most importantly, engaged. One of the topics she raised about ALA writ large – our publishing model – is one that I also heard about this Spring.

For many people, at least part of this discussion revolved around information literacy, EDUCAUSE, and the ways in which our sibling association seemed to be enhancing its leadership on this issue across the higher education landscape. While ACRL spent time this year planning to review the Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education and identifying a process by which sections could create subject specific information literacy standards, EDUCAUSE was bringing a robust discussion of this issue to campus leaders and to the higher education press (subscription needed), through research projects, white papers, and presentations – all supported by a publishing model very different than ours.

EDUCAUSE has become an effective voice for campus IT organizations, educational technologists, and, yes, academic libraries because it has embraced a publishing model designed to get persuasive, high-quality information in front of both information professionals and academic administrators in forms they can use.

For example, while ALA/ACRL continues to privilege print publishing (with some important exceptions, and some real promise in the recent hires of people like Jenny Levine, David Free, and Kathryn Deiss), EDUCAUSE focuses on open access for a huge amount of the material available in its library. Also, while ALA/ACRL publications tend to focus on enhancing discussions within the library community, EDUCAUSE focuses on publishing in media designed specifically to bring the discussion of information issues to a wider audience.

This is not to suggest that ACRL publications aren’t good. C&RL is the leading LIS journal, and many ACRL monographs are seminal works in our field, but where is the ACRL version of EDUCAUSE Review (with its contributions from non-technologists who understand the critical nature of IT in higher education) or the 7 Things You Should About series (with its cogent synopses of emergent issues in a fashion timely enough to be useful across the academy)? What can we learn from the EDUCAUSE model in terms of bringing issues of significance to libraries (and their users) to the broader academic audience, both on campus, and in widely read venues like Inside Higher Education and the Chronicle? Our publications are of high quality, but what can we do better?

First (and you can all say it with me), we can improve our Web presence. We have to make our site more friendly to our members, but, as importantly, we have to find ways to better highlight our contribution to broader discussions that may be of interest to non-members. We have to make it easy for an academic administrator who knows nothing about ACRL to see what our members can contribute to local discussions of student learning, support for teaching and research, assessment of learning outcomes, scholarly communications, etc.

Second, we have to find a balance between the traditional ACRL publishing model, and the greater degree of open access found at EDUCAUSE. We need academic administrators, once pointed to our content, to be able to access it without hindrance. We may not be able to go “all open,” but we need to keep looking for ways to increase the amount of content available to all – especially those non-library faculty, staff, and administrators who we really want to see how we can contribute to critical campus concerns.

Finally, we need to think about how best to engage that critical audience of non-librarians on campus. Is there an ACRL counterpart to EDUCAUSE Review to be developed – a publication allowing non-librarians to contribute to the discussion of the importance of academic libraries and librarians to campus issues including: first-year experience, student engagement, co-curricular education, accreditation, copyright education, preparing future faculty, alumni relations, etc.? Could we create a tiny part of ACRL publishing nimble enough to bring out something like “7 Things” on a regular basis?

As with the example I gave in an earlier post about the 5 Weeks to a Social Library experiment, there are many examples of grass-roots efforts by academic librarians interesting in thinking differently about publishing about how social networking tools allow us to share amongst ourselves very practical advice about how to better “market” the role of the library in the academic enterprise to the campus colleagues who are our most important supporters and partners in the 21st century.

And finding ways to bring those grass-roots efforts to the Divisional level is something we can do better, and that will be the subject of my final observation from the campaign trail.

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