Don’t Let It Bring You Down MJ

MJ, I rarely, if ever, regret anything I’ve written, but I read your comment and if my post causes you to doubt that I am really passionate about academic librarianship, or if it leads you to question if you are making the right choice about wanting to pursue a career in academic librarianship – that I would really truly regret.

I wrote about passion primarily to explore just what we mean when we talk about being passionate about our jobs. I pointed readers to a NYT article that got me thinking about whether we are really passionate or merely satisfied with our choice of profession. You do hear the “P-word” thrown around quite a bit when academic librarians talk about their work (well, maybe you’re not seeing signs of it at your academic library). But I ultimately decided that it is of little consequence whether what we call “passion” would meet the criteria of a passion expert such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

As an LIS student planning for a career in an academic library I can imagine that much of the news these days about higher education and academic libraries could be a downer for you. If it isn’t someone predicting the demise of the traditional university it’s someone else telling us the future academic library will be a room full of technicians controlling the content of some massive digital library. But I want to express my opinion that I continue to see a bright future for academic libraries, but that we just can’t take it for granted. We have some hard work ahead of us if we want to maintain our relevance amidst the doom-and-gloom outlooks.

I could probably write a few posts full of stories that would help you understand what it is that I love about my work. Instead, my suggestion is to go back and read my article on “passion for the profession” from that 2003 issue of portal. If you read it I think you’ll see there is a great deal to look forward to as a future academic librarian. But let me share just one story. Even though I’ve been an academic librarian for a pretty long time now, one of the things I really love about the job is that it constantly presents new challenges. At my library I’m responsible for leading our scholarly communication effort. We’re an ARL member, but we don’t have the luxury of having a dedicated position for scholarly communications and copyright. So it is part of my portfolio, but scholarly communications can’t always be at the top of my priority list. But here we are and it’s Open Access Week. So I wanted to do at least one thing to create some awareness on my campus. So I asked my colleagues in our Instructional Technology Center if I could make a presentation about author rights at their montlhy user group meeting scheduled for the week of October 19th. They said yes. The problem is that I didn’t know a heck of a lot about author rights, and I certainly had never talked to faculty about the issues. But I discovered there’s a ton of information out there, and between videos, author agreement examples, sharing my own stories about using the author addendum and getting them to tell their stories about being ripped off by publishers because they just signed the agreement without thinking about it – we had a pretty damn good conversation – and what I shared really opened up their eyes to some new possibilities. This was incredibly rewarding, and I’m sure this kind of thing is happening for other academic librarians on a pretty regular basis. How many jobs are there where you have this kind of opportunity?

I’m not sure what is going on at your library, but no matter where you work in this profession you’ll run into some negativity in your workplace. It’s unavoidable. But don’t let it get you down, and most of all don’t judge this profession based on what’s happening at your library or the people who work there. In the academic librarianship course I’ve taught for a number of years the student project involves an in depth study of a single academic library. The one thing I tell students at the start is to not make the error of assuming that all academic libraries and librarians are like the ones that will be encountered during the project. That’s why I started having regular discussion breaks where everyone shares stories from their project libraries. That way everyone starts to understand that each academic library presents a different set of challenges and opportunties – and an entirely unique set of library workers who will be incredibly different from the one library you’ve experienced. If I could suggest one thing to you it would be to make visits to other academic libraries in your region, talk to the academic librarians who work there, and start to gain different perspectives on the profession. It’s just not healthy to learn about academic librarianship by limiting yourself to a single institution. Get out there and meet other librarians and find out what they are doing and what gets them excited about their work.

So am I passionate about what I do? Well, I should be watching the Phillies play the Dodgers, but I couldn’t resist taking time to respond to your comment. It’s a small personal sacrifice of sorts but right now it seems more important than a baseball game. It seems like the right thing to do if you are trying to convince a colleague to look at the bright side.

These Predictions Throw Caution To The Wind

There’s nothing like putting yourself out there with some bold predictions for the future, especially when they pertain to higher education and libraries. For example, let’s say I predict that robots will makeup 30% of all faculty by the year 2050. You might say I have no idea whether that will ever really happen, but on the other hand you might not be 100% comfortable saying it never will happen. So my attention was captured by an article titled “25 Predictions for the University of the Future”. By future I assume the author means 10 or 20 years out there, maybe more. I’m expecting some bold ideas. Maybe even some that involve robots, flying cars or librarians as university presidents (Ok, that last one never will happen).

Instead, as I perused the list I did a whole lot of eyeball rolling. Maybe by future the author meant tomorrow. Put another way, whoever came up with this list didn’t seem to want to put him or herself too far out on a limb with these predictions. Let me share a few and you can decide for yourself.

There will be more of an emphasis on distance learning: Whoa! That one is a shocker. There’s absolutely nothing going on in higher education right now that would possibly suggest that higher education institutions, in the future, will focus on education for people who aren’t right on campus. But it’s just crazy enough of an idea to actually happen. (See also prediction #4 on students taking a mix of online and in-class courses – now there’s a wacky idea – maybe they’ll call it “blended learning” in the future).

Technology innovation will be a priority: It’s quite possible that in the future, in order to survive, higher education institutions will finally have to start finding innovative ways to use technology. Let’s hope most of us get over our luddite ways so that we can get the technology innovation started before it’s too late.

Libraries will continue to become more tech-focused: I often complain that libraries are left out of these higher education projects, but now I’m finally able to proudly say that the author of this list didn’t ignore us with this bold and futuristic vision of academic libraries becoming tech-focused. I think that means using more technology. Imagine that – a future where academic libraries leverage technology to support teaching, learning and research. I hope I’m still around when it happens because it sure sounds exciting.

Universities will have a more global perspective: Perhaps in the future we’ll see American universities opening campuses in other countries, and then encouraging their faculty and students to travel abroad to gain a global perspective. We might even see students from foreign countries add global diversity to domestic higher education. This sounds like it could really improve the quality of higher education.

Reading these 25 futuristic predictions has put me in the mood to make some predictions of my own, which is something I tend to avoid at all costs. I’ll usually prefer to say something like “we need to create our own preferred future” which gets me off the hook. But here are a few things I think we can expect in our future:

Academic librarians will communicate with their users via mobile devices. In the future many students will carry handheld devices and use them to send messages to each other. When it happens we want to be where the students are.

Academic libraries will become social centers on campus: Innovative academic libraries of the future will offer amenities like cafes and lounge areas where students can hang out and socialize. It doesn’t have to be all about books and research chores. Some may even allow students to eat food in the stacks and make a little noise.

Academic librarians will be more involved in teaching: I know I’m just dreaming here but I can’t help but believe that someday in the future forward-thinking faculty will finally believe collaboration with academic librarians is a good thing and can actually help students achieve better quality research and writing.

Students will increasingly start their research using Google and Wikipedia: Despite the high quality resources provided by academic libraries, for reasons that will not immediately be well understood, students will prefer to head for free Internet resources to begin or even complete their research tasks.

I hope my daring predictions left you stunned and amazed. It sure was a challenge to step out on a limb and do some truly visionary thinking about the future of academic librarianship. For those of you who will soon be planning your spring 2010 programs, I’m available for presentations about the future of academic librarianship. You never know what I’ll be predicting next.