Academic Libraries As A Source Of Dynamic Stability

Dynamic stability was the theme of Karen Holbrook’s, OSU President, keynote address this morning at EDUCAUSE. She emphasized that as IHEs grow more sophisticated in their technology they must retain and be guided by their core values. I think academic librarians have heard that message before in our own literature and conferences. In many ways the talk was complimentary in many ways of academic libraries – without specifically mentioning them. There were many examples of ways in which the academic library can contribute to and further the realization of core values on every campus. However, at the end of her talk, Holbrook became direct about the enduring value of libraries. She finished her talk with a great tribute to the OSU libraries and OhioLink. It was great for all of the IT folks to hear librarians be described as “leaders in creating a digital future.” But Holbrook pointed out its about much more than digital assets. She mentioned that OSU is renovating their library and said, “We want our library to be a place that pays tribute to books and the pursuit of human knowledge – and we still need books. We want a library that brings people together. Libraries are the best example of dynamic stability – constantly changing but always a stable source of help within our institutions.” (note – I had to get that quote quickly so it may not be quite exact – but it’s close). What a great way to start the day!

“Every Campus Library Is At Risk To Google” Says McNealy

I attended the first keynote address at EDUCAUSE this morning. Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, had some interesting things to say. His themes illustrated how interconnected the higher education and computing industries are, and that globally these two can advance education. He said we have moved from the information age to the participation age. It’s no longer about retrieving information on the net, but about everyone and everything happening in a participative community. He said “It’s about contributing via social networks.” This resonated with me because I’ve been thinking that academic libraries need to figure out where we fit into this participation age. Sure, we’re blogging at our libraries, but how do we create communities in which our faculty and students participate. For the most part, I doubt they even read academic library blogs or contribute to them. We need to get integrated into the blogging and wiki activity that is happening in the classroom. We are already doing this to some extent within courseware, but we need to explore these frontiers further. What didn’t resonate with me was McNealy’s statement that “every library on every campus is at risk to Google. The digital natives are on Google so fast that they don’t even know there is a library.” I wish I could have handed him a copy of the Chronicle’s special report on libraries from a few weeks ago – they are giving them out at the Chronicle booth in the exhibit hall. Like many IT experts, I don’t think he has a real clue about what’s happening in academic libraries – but let’s not deceive ourselves that we have no competition. My favorite – his top ten list of excuses for not handing in homework in the digital age. It included, “My cut and paste keys on the keyboard are worn out” and “I plan on open sourcing my homework from the kid next to me” – good stuff. If you want to follow more of what is happening at EDUCAUSE (beyond my occasional posts) there is lots of conference blogging and podasting to be found on the EDUCAUSE site.

There Is A Difference Between Information And Learning

I came across this item in the Chronicle’s Wired Blog. Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, said he is worried about what he called an emerging “Home Depot approach to education,” in which there is “no distinction made between information and learning“. Gregorian said this yesterday as part of his remarks as the keynote presenter at the Higher Education Leadership Forum, a two-day event sponsored by The Chronicle and Gartner, a technology-consulting firm. This remark really resonated with me because it hits right on the head a nail that is being driven into the long tradition of user education within academic librarianship. I have seen more than one instance, in print and at conferences, of some of our colleagues suggesting that we are wasting our time with information literacy. They claim that in a Google universe our students no longer have the patience or need to learn how to conduct research, and that we do a disservice to them when we attempt to raise the quality of their research through user education. Doing so, we are told, simply alienates them and drives them farther away from libraries. Instead, we are told, we should just give them the information they need so that they can get on with their writing. I think that philosophy of academic librarianship is exactly what Gregorian would describe as the “Home Depot” approach to education. Let’s not forget why we entered this profession. We need to continue to make the distinction between learning and just supplying information.

More on Purdue University and the “Learning Library”

Earlier, we noted the announcement of the creation of an Endowed Chair in Information Literacy at Purdue University. Today, the Career section in the Chronicle notes the opening of a new administrative position in the Purdue University Libraries with the search for an Associate Dean for Learning. Here (in good “Google” fashion) is a snippet from the posting:

“The Purdue University Libraries have embarked upon a dynamic new role within the University, emphasizing a closer integration of the Libraries into the academic mission of Purdue. An administrative re-structuring of the Libraries supports this new direction through the creation of this position, Associate Dean for Learning . . . . Greater emphasis is being placed on advancing the Libraries’ reference and information literacy instruction program, using multiple approaches (in-person and virtual, one-on-one and classroom settings) to integrate active learning throughout the University curriculum along with expanding and deepening the research/discovery efforts of the Libraries’ faculty. http://www.lib.purdue.edu/

As someone with an interest in instruction who has served as an AD for Public Services, I have watched the recent appearance of learning-centered administrative positions with great interest (see also the ongoing search for an Associate University Librarian for Educational Initiatives at Berkeley). To me, the creation of such positions (if they truly are focused on articulating and enhancing the role of the academic library as an instructional center on campus) suggests a level of recognition for the teaching role that is new and (for people like me) very exciting. What do people think when they see these positions being created: new focus for the profession, or old wine in new bottles?

And, while a 2-time degree-holder from Indiana University like me is hard-pressed to say it, kudos to Purdue for pushing the envelope and getting us to ask real questions about what it means to integrate a commitment to teaching and learning (in the libraries and across campus) into the core mission of the academic library, as represented by the commitment of human resources and representation at the highest administrative levels.