Purdue University announced that it will create the first endowed chair in information literacy in the nation, as a result of a generous $2.5 million gift. While I applaud this pioneering development, as it will certainly promote information literacy at Purdue and perhaps raise the profile of information literacy beyond their campus, I have to question it as well. In part, the holder of the chair will lead research projects into information literacy. Nice, but in the last 20 years perhaps 5,000 articles or more have been written about information literacy, not to mention loads of presentations, so why create a research position of this sort. Iâ€™d be far more impressed if Purdue announced that it was funding programs to allow faculty members to commit to collaborating with their librarians to take full responsibility for teaching students to become information literate. Thatâ€™s what we need in higher education â€“ real action to establish faculty-led and librarian supported information literacy â€“ not more research by and for librarians. Perhaps they’ll use some of the funds for programs directed at faculty, which I would encourage and welcome. Who knows, it might result in some resources and techniques that could be replicated elsewhere.
Library Journal has a piece on blogging in libraries. One interesting comment: “unlike a transaction at the reference desk, blogs needn’t be neutral. In fact, many librarian-authored blogs are personal, opinionated, humorous, and scathing.”
The notion of neutrality came up in one of the Chronicle pieces on tenure that we’ve been talking about here. In arguing that tenure hampers our work, Deborah A. Carver says “librarians are also expected to maintain neutrality with respect to political, moral, or aesthetic views.” So where does that leave our bloggers?
Actually, I think what librarians must do is welcome a wide range of perspectives onto their shelves and through their doors. We shouldn’t provide services or instruction that push a singular perspective. We should be disinterestedly avid in the pursuit of knowledge, but that doesn’t mean we should have nothing to say for ourselves (and therefore no need for academic freedom or tenure).
Nevertheless, this issue is a rich one when it comes to blogging because this truly is a new genre and the authorial voice, whatever its source, is rarely neutral.
Since we have a few posts about the Chronicle’s special report on academic libraries, I’ll just add that I’d encourage readers to go to the Chronicle site to take a look at the comments being added to the online discussions for the tenure debate articles and the one on left-wing echo chamber. I added my comments to both of the discussions if you want to see what I had to say about these issues. But I will say that Barbara and I don’t exactly disagree on the tenure for librarians issue, but she certainly feels more strongly that it is necessary than do I.
Scott Carlson has a good article (subscription required) in the Chronicleâ€™s special section on libraries in which he touches on the major issues and trends in the design and building of new academic libraries. Here at TCNJ, our library followed the alluded to formula of natural light + cherry wood + comfy chairs + internet connections = 200% gate increase. Why not just build a big study hall? Why not just build a big computer lab? It turns out the library is a complex place that cannot be reduced to any one of its amenties or services. When we first moved into our new building, some of our materials, archives in particular, took a little longer to get out of the moving boxes. What are the chances someone would ask for an item from archives in the first weeks? But ask they did. And they asked for books. And bound periodicals. And microfilm even. (Microfilm!) As well as for computers with word, for printers, and for librarians they knew by name. Could it be that the romantic notion of the library as the heart of campus is not all sentiment and symbolism, and that there really is something to this idea of library as place?
Another interesting piece in the Chronicle’s special supplement on libraries – this one from a professor of English who worries open stacks are a thing of the past. In “Libraries Lost” Fred D. White expresses dismay that automated retrieval, remote storage, and dependence on online browsing will discourage serendipity and diminish the possibility that students will experience the tactile pleasures of books.
Contrary to any number of “next gen” or “millenial” predictions, the students I know are fond of physical books and mostly averse to online versions. Once they get the hang of the unfamiliar LC system, they use browsing effectively as a necessary supplement to online searching. Cataloging and classification truly do belong together as the yin and yang of discovery.
There is an issue that faces libraries, though–where do you put all the stuff? Apart from adding space or converting the social areas into stacks, there’s the problem that good books will be lost in the clutter – and in that way be just as inaccessible as if they were in remote storage. College libraries do a much better job of choosing new books carefully than getting rid of books that frankly aren’t useful anymore. Yes, one can debate “useful to whom?” but for libraries concentrating on building a solid collection for undergraduates, we need to pay as much attention to what shouldn’t be on the shelves anymore as to what’s missing when we think about collection development.