Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fitting In or Being Tied? (A Rant)

Below are some member comments excerpted from the excellent ACRL report, Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025.

I agree with almost everything that is said in this quote except for it's underlying argument that we need to ensure our place in academia; that we need to make sure librarians "fit" into the learning process:
Libraries will need to reconsider what their relevance is in the research process. We need to start considering what our ‘deeper meaning’ is to researchers to ensure that we fit into this new model. I feel strongly that we will have a role - it will look different from our role now, and we need to be careful not to cling to past practice for nostalgic reasons. (in response to the prospect of open peer-review becoming a norm, p. 10)
If we are at the point where we need to justify our existence, is it already too late? Isn't there a danger, when our focus is on justifying our existence and changing primarily for the sake of ensuring our existence, of losing touch with our core values and mission, in the process?  I certainly don't have the answers, but I would argue academic librarians for the most part already fit and will continue to evolve their role, along with the rest of academia, as we've been doing for more than a century. Instead, we need to do a better job of collaborating with and promoting our skills and value within academia (note: there are other quotes scattered within this report that argue this same point).

Another quote in response to an increase in non-traditional students:
This scenario gives libraries an opportunity to play a larger role in the teaching function of the academy. We have a lot to offer the changing face of the university. (p. 12)
By the way, the description of a non-traditional learning model in this section is almost exactly the same as the current model/mission at MPOW (SUNY Empire State College Mission Statement).

Again, I agree with the message here. However, working at an institution at the cutting edge of this non-traditional learning model, I can state there is a danger that the crucial role of the librarian in the learning process will be forgotten or tossed aside. I hope this is only a function of MPOW, as there has never been a traditional bricks and mortar library here. But the low perception of our value here (we are mostly considered IT staff with no faculty status and can't even have the word "librarian" in our official title) does make me a bit nervous for the profession in the distance learning arena. Librarians here have always lived inside the often isolating cocoon of IT, and the fact that we have no building and no books, perhaps prejudices our faculty and administration to assume the online library and the teaching of information literacy skills somehow just run themselves.

Recently, in meeting with my nursing faculty (they are the best!), one noted that some faculty in other disciplines seemed to have no idea that there were only three of us serving the entire college. To put that in perspective, we are three FT librarians serving approximately 20,000 non-traditional students and more than a thousand faculty!

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