Chance To Influence Next Generation Higher Education Administrators

I was intrigued by this new initiative created by the folks at Inside Higher Ed and the Association for the Study of Higher Education. It allows anyone to submit a 1,000 word, well-researched and documented essay on any news story published by Inside Higher Ed. While some essays must be based on a set of pre-selected stories, others can be proposed by potential authors. Because the content is targeted to faculty and graduate students in higher education administration programs, as well as current higher education administrators, this seems like an excellent opportunity for academic librarians to share their perspective on library-related news stories and essays that appear in Inside Higher Ed. Doing so could help to influence and shape how future higher education administrators perceive the academic library.

All too often when these stories appear, be they informative or controversial, librarians engage in discussion among themselves on their discussion lists and twitter feeds, or they leave insightful comments to the stories, but rarely is there any organized follow up. In the end those who need to hear what we bring to the conversation most likely never have that opportunity. This new program changes that. Take for example two recent IHE articles, one a news item on “bookless libraries” and the other an essay on “Reviving the Academic Library“. Both generated considerable discussion in the library community, but who knows what message reached the academic administrators who decide on the library budget or whether or not to commit funds to a new library facility.

What do these essays look like? If you go to the detailed information page there is an example that provides a good picture of what’s expected. In addition to the essay authors should develop a set of questions that faculty could use to lead a discussion on the topic. Academic librarians should keep this new program in mind for the next time that Inside Higher Ed publishes an article or essay that could use a balanced and authoritative response from our profession. To not do so allows authors who may have an outdated interpretation or inaccurate understanding of the mission and operation of the contemporary academic library to unduly influence the thinking of academic administrators.

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.