A Guide To The “New Normal” For Academic Libraries

I was able to attend only the first half of the ACRL program at which the just released ACRL 2009 Strategic Thinking Guide for Academic Librarians in the New Economy was introduced and discussed. Four panelists representing different perspectives within the profession reacted to the new report. If you want to read more about the panel session at ACRL you can do that here and here.

Not quite an environmental scan the authors state they were going for something a bit different:

In the wake of dramatic economic developments, government action, and a flood of higher education trends reports, we felt that a strategic thinking guide would better complement the current literature. This guide considers three important drivers in the current environment and poses questions to stimulate conversations and action in your libraries and on your campuses. Along the way, we point to the work of higher education associations, private foundations, government agencies, and individual experts for further assisted reading.

What are these three drivers? Nothing that will come as a total surprise:

Driver #1: The Economy and Higher Education – you can’t read a higher education news publication or engage in a conversation with a colleague without the economic meltdown finding its way into the discussion. According to the guide the big question for libraries is “how will we afford it?” But how can we not afford to develop new organizational structures and services that will lead to “student success and faculty productivity” as the report puts it.

Driver #2: Students – No one is quite sure what our student population will look like in the fall. Even now some public universities are expecting many more students who’d normally be going to pricier private schools. The report identifies a number of student trends, and asks how we can prepare to serve a new generation of learners who are quite different from their predecessors on campus.

Driver #3: Technology – For academic libraries, a rapidly changing technology landscape seems more like the old normal than the new normal. But our need to adapt is driven by advances such as cloud computing and smartphone communication. Not surprisingly this section has more points to make than the other two. But the bottom line for academic libraries is how are we going to leverage all of these technologies in ways that enable us to connect with students and faculty, and make it easier for them to use our technology.

The new normal is a concept that signals that everything we’ve taken for granted over the last 20 years is being melted down, re-thought and cast into a new reality. The old rules are broken and new ones must replace them. And most of all individual expections have to be set to a new and lower standard. We read extensively about the need for change in academic libraries, and perhaps ACRL’s new strategic thinking guide will serve as catalyst for discussions among colleagues about what changes will enable academic libraries to be meaningful, sustainable and viable in the new economy.

4 thoughts on “A Guide To The “New Normal” For Academic Libraries”

  1. [smile] The past 20 years for me have already been about “everything we’ve taken for granted… is being melted down, re-thought, and cast into a new reality.” There’s nothing new to me about that experience! At the risk of sounding like an “old school” voice, my experience of our profession in the past 30+ years has been one of near-constant “new realities”. Perhaps it’s due in part to the time I came into academic librarianship (OCLC’s ILL module had just been introduced, then computers began to appear on a desk top or two, then the card catalog disappeared, then….), but I rather suspect that it’s more to do with the nature of our profession, which has always been dynamic, despite the popular notions to the contrary. Perhaps the pace of change has increased, but the fact of change (yes, at some fundamental levels) is nothing new.

    I’d like to have you write more, Steven, about this point: “And most of all individual expectations have to be set to a new and lower standard.” Are you thinking personal finances, institutional resources, professional performance? All, or none, of the above? It’s quite a sweeping statement! (And I freely admit that I may be prompted in part by my “allergy” to absolutes!)

  2. I’d like to let everyone know that we have created a community on strategic thinking in the new ALA Connect space. Go to:
    http://ala.connect.org and login with your ALA web user id and password.
    We have created a space within ACRL on Connect for people to discuss the actions they are taking to manage service delivery and innovation within economic constraints.
    See you over in Connect!

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