An Aesthetic Philosophy of Librarianship
The role of the academic librarian is to create content-rich learning environments (“libraries”) that stimulate scholarship, cultivate knowledge and inspire creativity.
Prologue. Many years ago, I went for a job interview for a Technical Services / Systems Librarian position at a community college library 10 minutes from my home in a distant suburb on the far southeast side of Houston.
I have more than a few years of experience as a Technical Services Librarian, Digital Services Librarian, Head Cataloger and Automation Librarian for a large school district, Collection Development Manager and technical consultant for a commercial digital library (the first large-scale online undergraduate library, modeled after Harvard’s Lamont Library), Director of an Art Institute library, “Data Standards Manager” for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and “Client Relationship Manager” for a popular and powerful federated search / discovery application whose technology was used by EBSCO and Gale (among the largest publication content aggregators and database vendors in the world). I am a Certified Information Professional (CIP) through AIIM. In addition to all that, I have many hours of post-graduate work in English, Philosophy, History and Art History along with Computer Science and Business/MIS.
Having worked for the last 18 months as a Project Manager / Corporate Librarian for a telecommunications billing software and engineering company two hours commute from home, a company headquartered in another state, on an automation project that was coming to an end–and seeing no new projects on the horizon, as the Houston office was being converted into a Network Operations / Call Center, and the decision-makers had long since moved out–I was anxious for the chance at a position close to home with stability, but especially one where I could put my technical and library skills to use.
To my surprise, especially since I was now interviewing for a technical position in the library, I was asked to share with the search committee my “Philosophy of Librarianship”–one of only a few questions, none of which had to do with anything technical (“technical services” in libraries usually encompasses cataloging, systems, server, discovery tools and website).
Hmm. Ask me about my experiences with library systems or digital libraries or discovery tools, cataloging or web services, and I might have something to say. Ask me the difference between HTML and XHTML, or to define responsive web design, or explain what a proxy server does. Ask me what’s an authority record or MFHD (“muffhead”) or about RDA.
But my “Philosophy of Librarianship”?
I had nothing, and whatever I thought to say in that moment I feared would come across as disingenuous. After all, I could not think of a single author or authority whose philosophy of librarianship I had even heard about . . . I feared I had missed something, having worked outside of libraries for a few years. I didn’t understand the question. Embarrassed, I responded, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have a philosophy of librarianship.”
As far as I was concerned, I would be there to fill a specific role.
Why did I need to have a philosophy?
I replied, “I am sorry, I don’t have a philosophy of librarianship.”
ince that time, I’ve learned that academic librarians of all types, both in public and technical services, are being asked to provide a philosophy of library practice in job interviews or as part of their performance review process. They may even need to provide one to keep their jobs.
By Googling “philosophy of librarianship,” as I did when I got home that afternoon, you can pull up this page from the USC Library,1 for example, which states that one’s philosophy of librarianship can give one an advantage over others in terms of hiring and promotion:
In the corporate world, whenever one is asked to justify one’s value in some sort of formalized statement, it is never a good thing. Why? It means that your value is not obvious, and even worse, is in question by decision-makers. And whenever this happens, no philosophy or explanation is likely to change anyone’s mind:
This trend of self-justification in academic librarianship has become so pervasive, however, that librarians are even posting them on their personal websites.
ow that I work in an academic library again, and have for six years, I find myself thinking more about philosophies of librarianship at this uncertain time when many both outside and within the library profession are proclaiming libraries, librarians, or print books (“pbooks”) to be obsolete.2
Some college and academic libraries are getting rid of print altogether 3 4 5 6 7 while paradoxically erecting new libraries, 21st century architectural wonders consisting of collaborative and innovative work spaces, video conference rooms, meeting rooms, and high-tech classrooms–resembling more a modern open office at a tech start-up company than a traditional library. If there are physical books, they are often hidden from view in reading rooms or stored offsite. From the building’s design to its public messaging, it would seem that the architecture, furnishings, work spaces and concessions are more the attraction than the resources they provide.
Colleges and universities across the country are spending millions to create impressive, highly innovative spaces, variously called “new libraries” or “learning centers,” or “library learning centers,” for students to study, socialize, drink coffee and learn in a more collaborative, interactive and personalized fashion. In a library setting, collaborative learning, where students work together as a team to solve problems, or come together to share knowledge with each other–emulating some idealized vision of the project-driven business world8–is fostered at the expense of traditional text-based library learning resources (that is, print books) when it comes to the allocation of space and funding for these new facilities.
Around the world, a similar trend is occurring, most notably in public libraries, which are being transformed into stunning community centers “with books thrown in,” as one BBC reporter cheerfully describes.9
Campus and community leaders want to build libraries not full of books, but full of technology.10 However, in the context of new libraries, “technology” is often used euphemistically to simply mean “not books,” rather than something specific. . . libraries already offer abundant computer labs, a plethora of databases, ebooks, wired meeting rooms, conference rooms, and pretty good Wi-Fi.
In truth, the new libraries, as they are broadly conceived by administrators, place no emphasis on collections, content or reading in any format, print or digital, which is concerning to me both as a librarian and as an educator. The Pollyannas among us who say we librarians will simply shift our focus from reading books to “helping people” must surely realize (ahem!) that librarians have been helping people all of these years. And helping people to do what, exactly, if it has nothing to do with encouraging reading, research, and scholarship? In truth, even those doing library technical services have been helping people, if not through direct engagement with the public, then indirectly by carrying out their respective roles and functions in the library to make resources discoverable. Also, both historically and presently, very few people who use the library, academic or public, do so to seek assistance of any kind from a librarian! Why are more librarians needed to help people? Again, in terms of our professional ethos, we cannot help people–provide good library services–without collections or resources that stimulate and inspire independent learning. In an academic environment, the provision of quality collections is fundamental, our most important function, a prerequisite for all other library services, and a primary way we add value.
In academic libraries, it shouldn’t be an either/or (having vs. doing). The often repeated sentiment in library literature, that “We all know that today, having doesn’t matter, it’s doing that counts. . .”11 presents a dangerously false dichotomy, one that too often underscores the reality that the impact of our collections on learning cannot be meaningfully factored (what counts) into the outcomes-based assessment models commonly employed in higher education today. Traditional academic libraries were far more free-wheeling, concerned about student success as defined by the individual student, the scholar, the researcher, the intellectual, not as defined by either the university’s business objectives or supporting the predefined student learning objectives of the classroom. At doctoral and master’s degree granting institutions, a library’s function was never to simply to support remedial classroom learning (mere instructional support), but to facilitate the acquisition of disciplinary and professional knowledge and, of course, to support the creation of new knowledge.
The widespread having vs. doing meme found in library literature today, the notion that “doing” (library instruction) can simply replace “having,” belies the fact that in an institution of higher education, a librarian’s ability to provide good service to users is still largely dependent upon having, or fostering the illusion of having (a quality collection) even if it is a purchase triggered by DDA. As library professionals, we can only do so much without having, and worse, for a variety of reasons, without having, we have a hard time doing; we have a hard time maintaining the interest of faculty and commanding their respect as colleagues without maintaining collections in some way that communicates that librarians are knowledgeable and mindful of disciplinary trends.
In libraries, doing and having are inextricably linked. Having is a core function of the college and academic library, and what defines a library, as opposed to some other kind of facility. Having is also what matters most to scholars and regular library users, who do not seek help from a librarian very often, but depend on librarians to maintain a good collection in anticipation of use. In an academic library setting, having is a prerequisite for providing good library services, which cannot be simply replaced by doing more or teaching more. Having a collection, one that is current, topical, interesting and searchable, is an important service which libraries and librarians provide to their communities. It is a core function of libraries, along with–this is a very important point–stimulating demand for resources, which it cannot do well without collection visibility.
Unfortunately, the impact of library collections on student learning or research cannot be assessed according to the sort of business models and rubrics employed to ensure budgetary or operational efficiencies across the institution. We can tell you if an item was used–but not of its impact on students, if they learned something, or even if it contributed to research. In this sense, a good library collection from a business perspective is somewhat gratuitous–each of the individual items contain contained within in are not absolutely necessary in and of themselves. It is the collection as a whole which matters, not each of the individual parts. Our purpose is to encourage and support the acquisition of disciplinary and professional knowledge, and ultimately the creation of new knowledge through collections.
With the advent of new libraries, the once lively debate over formats has been overshadowed by more fundamental questions about the need for libraries, or librarians, to maintain robust collections in any format,12 13 and moreover, how this need might be persuasively demonstrated to those who fund us.
While the leadership of our two preeminent library professional associations, ACRL and ALA, have long embraced booklessness–as a profession we’ve supposedly been about information since the late 1980s, and twenty years later, the library science degree has become a Master’s in Information Science (no library in its name)–the sudden disappearance of open stacks over the last few years, and rapid conversion of many college and university libraries into predominantly bookless study environments, collaboration centers, tutoring centers, media centers, and maker-spaces, is making it harder for the remaining academic library directors to justify their acquisitions budgets and professional staffing levels.
Those who still read, or believe it is important for a librarian to know something about books and publications, beyond how to summon them from a databases, are shamed–even in a publication devoted to books, Publisher’s Weekly! What precisely is wrong with an “I would rather be reading” bumper sticker on my cubicle? 16 Liking books doesn’t make someone not tech-savvy or not interested in people. I sincerely hope that you, too, would rather be reading, or that you would appreciate that I, a librarian, would rather be reading.
Reading, learning, publishing and ideas should be celebrated in the college and academic library space. We shouldn’t be hiding books out of sight, or acting as if they are a source of embarrassment, treating them as if they are simply academic wallpaper, getting in the way of people’s ability to learn, or as if they are no longer relevant to our academic missions, you know, because we are all about technology, work spaces and collaboration now. Especially if the library is small, we should not behave as if the books are something that washed up in our libraries accidentally, and that we really don’t know anything about them except whether they are checked in or out, or where they might be found on the shelves (or online).
Even as millions are spent on online resources per institution, investment in print now comprises less than 5.8% of academic library acquisitions budgets, according to a recent study by Ithaka S+R.17 The Ithaka study uses acquisitions data harvested from library automation systems over a period of three years, 2014-7. The percent of ebooks purchased individually (title-by-title selection), less than 1% of the budget. The decline in print and title-by-title selection practices are not really news, but what this large-scale study, generously funded by the Mellon Foundation with the support of OCLC WMS and ProQuest Ex Libris, reveals is the sheer difficulty of gathering data to study library acquisition patterns in the first place, let alone assessing the impact these trends are having on user behavior.
In the annual academic library survey conducted by ACRL (ACRL Academic Library Trends and Statistics Survey), print books are lumped in with all other one-time purchases, which may include individually selected ebooks, videos, and anything else not part of a subscription package. The ACRL survey attempts to capture detailed statistics on academic library services for all sizes of library, and it has captured this same information over the course of years to allow for identification of trends over time. However, it does not ask about percent of budget spent on print, percent devoted to books in all formats, percent obtained through DDA/PDA programs, etc., or provide detailed information about acquisition patterns to allow for an investigation into how changes in acquisition patterns have impacted library usage, student behavior, perceptions of the library, learning outcomes, or the library profession as such (something ACRL’s membership would certainly care about). Through ACRL’s metrics, one cannot even make any correlation, say, between declining print purchases and reduced foot traffic in the library.
I am not attached to any particular format, but rather to the objective of maintaining stimulating, current, and highly visible collections which support browsing for ideas, current scholarship, creativity and independent learning. Regardless of format, collections, titles and reading must remain central to our academic mission and messaging.
By becoming an even bigger computer lab or study hall with more meeting and study rooms, by our focusing on connecting people with each other–rather than encouraging people to engage with books, ideas and current scholarship–we are not creating environments conducive to learning on a campus of higher education. New academic libraries should be addressing the latter, rather than treating books as irrelevant academic wallpaper–something that contributes to the atmosphere or decor, of no significance of their own–or something that should be locked away in storage bins with hi-tech robots to retrieve them. With all of the focus on technology in new libraries it seems some of that should be towards the creation of an infrastructure to support the user experience of an online collection, and all that that would entail; not only was the retrieval of books from the stack never a big problem needing that sort of hi-tech solution to solve, but it takes away from browsing. And if the books are stored offsite, it is easy to say, “why bother.”
Booklessness, and the premise of the “new librarianship,” that we are just about collaboration or technology or our services, or our “spaces,” are hurting libraries in ways that have not been fully appreciated, and I do not mean just hurting librarians. It is taking away from the educational value of the library and the university itself.
It is taking away from meaningful conversations about books and publications in the library space. That colleges and universities are building “new libraries” without investing in library resources should not be a cause for celebration by ALA and ACRL, and should not be treated as a kind of progress by its membership! Please stop saying “having” doesn’t matter in the 21st century–it matters to our users and should matter to us.
To date, no large-scale study has been conducted which seeks to determine the relative value of maintaining print collections in a predominantly digital environment, although this conclusion has been alluded to in recent studies.18
Another related question, one completely independent of format, is the continued value of selection–that is, traditional collection development activity–in a predominantly online environment. When a greater percentage of titles are selected individually, do users benefit? How does the institution benefit? Aside from offering better, more focused collections of titles thought to be significant, when librarians (and faculty) are more actively involved with title selection, aren’t they more familiar with the collection and thus better equipped to encourage use of these materials?
Is there a significant difference in usage or the user experience of the library where there is more collection development activity, as opposed to the library’s functioning as a passive gateway to subscribed content?19
I believe that there are significant costs for college and university libraries to fully divest themselves of print. On a title-by-title basis, pbooks are still more cost effective for smaller libraries (see below, The real cost of ebooks ), and most books published today are not available in ebook format to be licensed by a library–at least, not for a few months or years after their print debuts. Those books available to be purchased by a library in ebook format represent a very small percent of book publications. Therefore, without print titles, our collections cannot remain current. We also have a difficult time promoting or raising awareness of ebooks in the library space.
The failure to maintain print collections also results in a decline in all library services across the board. When use of the print collections drop, so does demand for Reference and all other services; ILL does not dramatically rise, for the reason that research collections, not facilities, inspire research. Demand for books and articles are stimulated by books and articles in the first place. In an environment where administrators are actively questioning the value of libraries and librarians, lower desk stats and low circulation of remaining, dated print titles are likely to reinforce a foregone conclusion that librarians and books are not needed, rather than proving what all librarians know, that collections must be kept up-to-date and books placed in high traffic areas (physical and virtual) to remain relevant to users.
Libraries play a significant role in creating demand for their own resources. Our often misunderstood job as academic librarians and educators is not to satisfy demand for resources, but to stimulate it! Our collections should inspire wonder, investigation and research. We cannot accomplish this without high collection visibility and a strong commitment to quality content.
Whether public or academic, our regular patrons don’t necessarily know what they want when they come into the library or come to our websites. Rather than looking for something in particular, they come to the library looking for something to like, something interesting, something that jumps out at them, something meaningful to them, to see what is new, or explore their chosen career. That subjective experience is the aesthetic experience that a good library provides. Our websites should cultivate the same aesthetic, putting our content out in front to invite exploration of the invisible world of intellectual endeavor and scholarly pursuit.
A good library collection is like a living thing, the substrate of intellectual life at the university, a colorful coral reef that the whole academic community feeds upon to nurture ideas, learning, knowledge creation and intellectual development. New books are the blooms. Primarily through its collections, the library serves as a visually and intellectually stimulating place for scholars and aspiring scholars to visit to gather ideas and explore. Good collections take years to develop. Kill off the reef and the fish are going elsewhere! Choose wisely for your library and your university.
he centripetal pull of new academic libraries away from content and collection activity to “collaboration” and student support seems to beg the question: Can college libraries simply subscribe to online databases and be done with it?
No need for librarians to be title selectors, as vendors (and patron driven acquisitions programs) will manage ebooks for us. No need for catalogers either, for with Web-based discovery services replacing the catalog, the titles added to ebook platforms are in theory automatically made discoverable in our systems. The thought now seems to be that without collection management and upkeep consuming so much of our space and energy, the academic library and its librarians can be liberated, transformed into something better and more useful to students through the provision of more services.
The focus of the new academic library/learning center is no longer on quality collections, engaging content, or ideas, or fostering communities of readers, but on seating arrangements to support individualized learning and study styles, innovative and inspiring architectural spaces, and offering various support services in partnership with other entities on campus.20 Space is allocated to group work with large screens (for collective viewing), video conferencing and the latest technology for brainstorming and motion capture (capturing the body language and hand gestures of participants). In other instances, there are only chairs and tables with outlets, for all library resources are available online.
At some large universities libraries, like at the University of Chicago’s Mansueto library,
or North Carolina State University’s Hunt library,
or Temple University’s Charles Library (below is an architectural rendering; the building opens in 2019),
Unlike traditional college or university libraries, in these new 21st century libraries / learning centers there may be no inducements for students to read.
There is no emphasis on interesting content, new books to encourage casual reading, or awareness of the world of ideas and scholarship. There is nothing to stimulate meaning creation or intellectual engagement. There may be no collection development activity of any kind, except to give input on which databases get renewed. It is merely a comfortable, communal place to hang out and get assignments done, and a website, with librarians available to provide research assistance and instruction when needed.
If there are print books, they are treated as vestigial, placed out of view (away from high traffic areas), moved off to quiet study rooms, scattered around conversation areas to create atmosphere, or placed into low shelving units to not block sight lines to other people or disrupt the view of the outside world. Books may not hit one’s gaze as in traditional libraries, where the books located at eye level circulated more frequently. Placed out of site or closer to the floor, books are far less likely to circulate.
The overarching concept in so many of these vacuous spaces is to achieve a modern design aesthetic of transparency and openness, and to promote collaboration, rather than another kind of aesthetic experience on which a traditional library is based. Indeed, within the grand scale, open context and vastness of these new facilities, if there are publications, they may seem small, about as significant as magazines in a doctor’s waiting room, niceties to complement the space, not thought of as an essential part of the user experience.
The focus of the “new librarianship” reflects a shift from our being curators of collections and content to facilitators of collaboration; from “text-based learning” to participatory learning; and from significance to relevance. It has made me wonder if collections–let alone print collections–still matter to library practice as such.23 For smaller universities, does the provision of quality collections, regardless of format format, still matter, and to whom?
Is there any effective way for librarians to demonstrate that quality collections make a difference to the university’s business objectives of attracting, retaining and educating students–to student success–or are collections now deemed to be inconsequential and capable of being summarily replaced–as our library professional library associations seem to assuring us–by our “doing” more, the provision of more information literacy classes, and helping people to make connections with each other?
From Libraries to Learning Centers. There is a peculiar rhetoric surrounding new academic library architecture which seeks to justify an enormous outlay for the creation of cavernous facilities, often with high ceilings and monumental staircases, glass walls and natural light, but nothing for the collections housed inside of them, nor anything more for resources offered online (a before/after survey of new libraries is underway24). The rational seems to be that an inspirational building full of technology, not access to publications and resources, is what drives learning in the 21st century.
According to the Vice Provost and Director of NCSU Libraries, when planning the new Hunt Library, “Our goal was to make a difference in the education and research of students, and something that made them want to become lifelong learners, so we decided on an iconic building.”25 This statement, along with recent trends to create bookless libraries, raises some interesting questions:
When planning the $170 million Charles Library at Temple University, a fantastic building which would serve as a collaboration space, “a place where intersections between all of the students and faculty and other folks who chance to be on this campus can occur.”26
No doubt, aesthetics is a very important part of the user experience of an academic library. Not only does it makes the library more enjoyable to users, and encourages them to stay, but it also symbolizes the value placed on scholarship and learning by the institution. Without a comparable commitment to quality content, and effective online strategies for promoting awareness of content, a building is just an empty gesture.
The aesthetics of openness and transparency, and talk of collaboration of those who happen to walk through the door, is really the aesthetics of nothing, and in many ways represents the very opposite of what a good library should be: a content-rich learning environment where people are inspired to pursue meaning and knowledge creation in their own terms.
he emphases of the new academic library is impressive architectural space and awe-inspiring technology, specifically the creation innovative spaces for study, for interaction with technology, for the creation of digital media, for social learning and above all, collaboration27. In new libraries, collaboration is ostensibly the focus, while the stacks are drastically reduced or eliminated, pushed to the margins, and placed into less public, less visible and less accessible locations.
In a presentation given at my library, an architect explained the new academic library concept to us (librarians) in highly romanticized terms as being comprised of three learning environments: the campfire (where the older generation, the faculty, pass knowledge down to the younger generation through stories), the watering hole (where people from different disciplines come together to socialize and share knowledge, or figure out what to do with the knowledge they got from the campfire the night before), and the cave (study rooms). At the time I thought he had made this up, and was impressed with his use of metaphor. I later discovered this came from and oft quoted book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck: Creating Engaging and Powerful 21st Century Learning Environments by David Thornburg.
There is certainly a lot of rhetoric surrounding the motivations behind new library construction, but, as I mentioned above, the most common and recurring theme is the idea of collaboration. Architects and new library advocates place emphasis on collaboration deriving from group study rooms, communal seating areas and chance encounters of students and faculty with each other in a common space on campus, a space everyone likes to visit because of its beautiful architecture and amenities (tables, computers, couches, whiteboards, study rooms and large screens), not necessarily, or even essentially, because of the library’s resources.
Of course, random acts of collaboration and knowledge-sharing happened in the traditional library, too. It probably happened with even greater frequency there, when faculty and students came into the library to do research for papers, to see what new books had come in in their field, or to browse. Collaboration, and the learning which comes from it, is a chance occurrence, a random event, impossible to predict, encourage (except for introductions and mixers), or assess.
Facilitating collaboration, or connecting people on campus with each other, is now regarded by as a pre-eminent 21st century role for librarians by those in leadership of ACRL (Association for College and Research Libraries). In the conclusion of their report on the value of academic libraries in the 21st century, Brown and Malenfant emphasize our role as “campus connectors,” specifically within the outcomes assessment movement:
It is also important to note that neither of these ACRL authors, who earn their livelihood conducting seminars teaching librarians how to assess and promote themselves as part of the “ACRL Value of Academic Libraries Initiative,” are actually employed by an academic library.
Helping faculty make connections with each other and promoting academic intimacy29 between students and faculty does not, to my mind, constitute a compelling reason for a university administration to keep librarians employed after these new bookless facilities are built. You do not need a degree to be a good host or hostess. In addition, despite the authors’ insistence on libraries adopting an outcomes assessment framework, they themselves fail to explain how our new role as “connectors and integrators” can be meaningfully assessed according to the very framework they are advocating.
New libraries, and new library roles, are being conceived around the ideal of collaboration, when collaboration is not in itself a measurable outcome . . . but neither was life-long learning or scholarship or knowledge, our former goals, which were always intangible and abstract, philosophical ideals connected to aesthetic experience and judgment, in the Kantian sense.
I wouldn’t think to mention measurable outcomes, if not for the fact the traditional library focus on collections has been routinely criticized within the business objective framework of “the outcomes assessment movement” precisely because it offers no measurable outcomes (“use” doesn’t count as a measurable outcome; it is merely what is known as an “output”) that can be meaningfully aligned to the institution’s business objectives and institutional assessment plans.
Realistically, what do we librarians have to show for facilitating collaboration, in terms of measurable outcomes, other than use of the facility?
The impact of collaboration, or rather collaborative learning, which theoretically occurs in these newly renovated spaces, is no more measurable or significant than the impact of collections, and from an assessment standpoint, cannot be differentiated from other forms of socializing. Even if collaborative learning or knowledge-sharing could be captured and differentiated from other locutionary acts, the library still cannot lay claim to it any more than it can, or could, the learning or research which occurred from utilization of the print collection. After all, the library receives no credit when someone publishes an article drawing upon our resources. When students check out a book and find it meaningful, we get no stars on our websites. That guy who wrote the broadway show Hamilton was inspired by an interesting biography of Hamilton he came across in the library. His library didn’t get any credit for the broadway show. So we certainly won’t receive points for the meaningful conversations which occur in our spaces. We are back to square one with no objective measure for outcomes assessment. Compared to collection use, collaboration–especially the sort which results in new knowledge–is an even more abstract and immeasurable ideal, and worse, it cannot be directly tied to any professional activity on the part of librarians.
If collection usage (usage stats, circulation stats) is now trivialized as having no clear or demonstrable connection with student success (that is, “success” as defined by our parent institutions, not by the users themselves), and provision of quality content is thought to have no meaningful impact on student learning or the university’s business objectives–student enrollment, retention, persistence, graduation rates–surely collaboration cannot be a preferable substitute. Why value collaboration so highly?
One reason, aside from the fact that it doesn’t cost anything, is that collaborative learning is emphasized today as a form of active learning. Active learning, or learning by doing, discussing, and active engagement, is often contrasted with traditional learning approaches, “lecture format” and “text-based learning”–reading books–deemed to be passive and less engaging to 21st century and/or lower-achieving students.
Watching videos is often mistaken to be a form active learning, but it is as passive as reading. Watching videos in class and then discussing the video in discussion is probably the lowest form of active learning, requiring minimal effort from the student (and the professor). However, it should be noted that in higher education, collaborative learning techniques have not actually been demonstrated to be more effective than traditional instructional formats.30 It is largely assumed to be better, especially for those who are less academically prepared for college.
In addition, doing research and writing papers is a form of active learning. Exploring a good library collection is also an outstanding form of active learning, as it raises awareness of significant titles in the field and disciplinary trends. Browsing encourages learning for the sake of learning, not merely for a graded assignment, values we academic librarians have always sought to emphasize, even if it cannot be assessed in terms of demonstrable outcomes. We contribute to the educational process by ensuring our students and faculty are up to date with the best and the latest resources in their discipline and are made aware of new titles in their area of interest.
Truly, I love the emphasis on community creation and socializing in these new spaces. Having more people in the library, even if all they want is a cup of coffee, a comfy couch and wi-fi, is not a bad thing. But whatever happened to our profession’s commitment to scholarship, research and publishing? What about ideas? Is collaboration even a worthwhile scholarly objective? If it can indeed be linked to new knowledge creation, as people say, how do we capture the impact? How do librarians facilitate meaningful collaboration and relationships from a scholarly point of view?
t was hypothesized twenty years ago, when people first began speculating about the 21st century library, that in the future, only top-tier schools would continue to afford their students with access to print collections, and that there would be a widening gap between “haves” and “have nots,” mainly due to the high cost of serials and electronic resources cannibalizing the book budget.
I cannot say for sure what is happening at newly renovated and largely paperless academic libraries across the country--I wish ACRL would tell us that in their member survey questions–but it does appear from library literature and websites that there has been a significant shift, even in the largest and most well-funded libraries, from emphasis on collections, new publications or content–including digital resources–towards marketing the library as a kind of study hall offering customized learning environments (noisy, quiet, public, private, semi-private, low tables, high tables, sitting up or reclining, bright light or dim), and coffee bars, with various student support services tacked on. Libraries have become the new student centers: safe, supportive and comfortable places to be while completing assignments, with staff there to provide assistance with papers and classwork.
Libraries even at our most elite and competitive institutions are making their collaborative and creative work spaces top-level menu items on their websites, touting their furniture on wheels, tables, couches and available study spaces on their home pages.
It seems that many of these things libraries had already. Not the exercise bikes or espresso machines or message chairs, or sleep pods or the kidney-shaped tables (shapes designed for optimal collaboration), but I believe many already had group study spaces, light, tables and couches before. I never observed students complaining about not having a place to sit and study in any library where I have worked. In contrast to Barnes and Noble, where students were often sprawled out on the floor with books, backpacks and lattes, in libraries there was always more than enough seating to meet the demand. In fact, in recent years, the high seating to student ratio has been exacerbated by the continuous addition of banks of workstations which now sit empty because most students today prefer to work on their own devices. Despite OIT’s wanting to colonize the library with computers and screens, demand has fallen off for them as students prefer to work on their own devices. Take the computers away and there will be plenty of spots for students to sit down and plug in.
Ten years ago, academic libraries would never have thought to devote prime real estate on their websites to promoting their comfortable chairs, study spaces, workstations or assortment of tables and chairs. To do so would have seemed unscholarly and unprofessional. Representing the library as a study hall or computing lab was considered to be precisely the wrong message to send to university administrators to sustain our acquisitions budgets, processional staff, technical services, and everything else. This was an absolute non-no, already confirming suspicions among administrators that we were nothing more than a gloried study hall.
Note that Research Help–“librarian” is not used (perhaps assistance is done by graduate students?)–at Harvard’s famous Lamont Library is available only between the hours of 12-5.
Some older librarians may recall that from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, the Harvard Lamont Library generated core bibliographies of what undergraduate libraries ought to have in their collections, called Books for College Libraries. Now they are featuring movable furniture, whiteboards and armchairs! This is Harvard, so what about Yale?
Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, a beautiful Gothic Revival building with 16 floors of stacks and 4 million volumes, lets students know on its home page that it offers the following amenities (under “What’s Available”):
Individual Study Rooms
Group Study Rooms
Chalk Board/White Board
Eli Express Delivery Location
One would think that one of the oldest libraries in the country with over 4 million books would have more interesting and unique things to highlight than its natural light, tables and scanner!
The focus on collaborative or group study spaces in libraries parallel broader educational trends which emphasize a greater degree of peer interaction and the benefit of group work in courses. I do not mean to discount the numerous studies which show that students who study and interact with peers in college are happier, have a more positive outlook, and earn higher grades. It is only natural that students would want to study together, and of course the library is a logical place for this. But the library should aspire to be more than this–much more–space to work should not be our most valuable commodity.
Aside from being a place for collaboration and group study, the new university library is also typically envisioned as a learning laboratory where people from different disciplines gather together to tinker in maker-spaces and solve real world problems using 3D printers, laser cutters, digital production software and whiteboards. This emphasis is supposed to emulate the project-oriented business world and R&D lab; but some of this may be sheer practicality, of course, as the library can centrally house expensive technology that many disciplines might need to use, for example, one GIS lab, rather than create one for Urban Planning, Environmental Studies and for Public Affairs. The centrality of the library makes it ideal for housing costly technology needed by several departments. Do we really need laser cutters, video conferencing technology, 3D printers and such? No one has called my library or come in asking for this technology–ever. They have come in asking for books. How do we move forward without leaving our traditional patron behind?
While collaborative and more traditional text-based and individualized approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive modes of knowledge acquisition and learning, and can certainly co-exist in a library setting along with beautiful architecture, it nonetheless strikes me that excessive focus in librarianship on dialogue, collaboration and consensus-–oral modes of knowledge acquisition and transmission–over content, text-based and more individualized forms of learning, hearken back to a time before printing, books and libraries. All there were were caves, campfires and watering holes, because they didn’t have books or writing.
If you thought libraries were unexciting places to be before, taking the books away and replacing them with more computers, more tables and chairs, seating on wheels, glass-walled study rooms, engineered surfaces and whiteboards, are surely not likely to make them more interesting places to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I love beautiful architecture. I love coffee. I like computers and technology–I am (or was) a developer and systems librarian after all. I love a good debate, and collaboration with others, especially others who know more than me. Who doesn’t like comfortable chairs? I just don’t believe that innovative architecture, cafes, computer labs, collaboration or comfortable seating can form a solid foundation for academic librarianship at a university, whose mission is to create well-rounded, educated people.
I believe our primary obligation as academic librarians is to provide our communities with stimulating, active learning environments, both in print and online, that are content-rich, authoritative, and inspiring, and which encourage students to go beyond classroom instruction to become self-sufficient independent learners, professionals and scholars.
alk is cheap? Well not anymore! When people speak about the design of innovative spaces in libraries that foster collaborative learning, spaces where people from different disciplines come together to share knowledge, it all sounds very promising. But in an almost Orwellian fashion, we must get rid of books and paper, the bulletin boards (“free speech areas”) too, in order to encourage more modern and carefully monitored forms of social engagement involving video touch screens, specialized furniture, and maker-spaces. From what I have been reading, some of it seeming to be more technology-for-technology’s sake. . . kinetic hand-gesture and brainstorming apps,31 and the like.
From a traditional librarian standpoint, much of this may make no sense at all. No one has come into my library asking for these things in recent years, but they have asked books–especially “book” books.
Let’s talk about collaboration. How are we to get people to collaborate? And once they do, how does this fulfill our educational mission as academic librarians? At the end of the day, are we not left with little more than tables, chairs and computers? And within the new “learning commons” is a librarian marooned at a tiny transparent stand-up desk amid people who are socializing, watching videos, sipping lattes from the library’s cafe, chatting on their cell phones, earbuds or laptops buzzing, some sleeping / snoring on our comfortable couches? Are we to be listening in on semi-private conversations, waiting for any opportunity to jump in the minute someone seems to have an information need?
It is a confusing time to be a librarian. Where reading, books, scholarship, browsing–and creating community through the published Word and other authorities–were once celebrated in my profession (the Latin word for book is at the root of librarians)–a passion for books, reading and publishing had a lot to do with why I became a librarian at the end of the 1980s–print books are now just as likely to be vilified among my colleagues–but not the faculty–as impediments to student success, regarded as vestiges of an outmoded, 20th century educational paradigm. Print is too costly to maintain, not sustainable, and is a format that is cumbersome, alien and inconvenient to our users. Over time, books start to look bad (gather dust, fade, decay), not to mention requiring staff to catalog them, shelve them, circulate them and eventually weed them. It is hard to truly separate out a now popular disdain for print format from an anti-intellectual disregard for publishing and scholarship in any format. It truly is a balancing act.
The print book format still has some things going for it over ebooks, visibility being chief among its virtues: they do not need to be invoked by a user to be seen. When we buy pbooks, we are not planning to hold them in perpetuity (so we don’t pay for that); we do not need to pay for hosting on a 3rd party platform not likely to be around in the next ten years, or worry about the fact that the content aggregator who sells us the ebook has a beef with the company who licenses our discovery tool so the ebooks we buy from the “other vendor” are not even going to show up without some cumbersome workarounds. Books are more cost-effective for smaller libraries than their electronic counterparts, as these libraries cannot take advantage of an economy of scale (we don’t necessarily want to pay for unlimited simultaneous access, but ebook pricing models have been supersized. . . . I don’t want unlimited access in perpetuity, of Excel for Dummies 2019). It is also easier at to browse them physically than online. Third, many titles are not available online, or exist only in print for some time before the ebook becomes available for purchase by libraries.
What users get from exploring a well-maintained library collection is a much better perspective of significant titles in a discipline, a vantage point which is not afforded by plumbing aggregators’ databases, probing various ebook packages, or scrolling through the results of our cobbled discovery tools, whose relevance-ranking scheme is unfortunately too often influenced by many factors other than the relevance of items.
Web-scale discovery tools, or discovery tools for short, do a poor job of visually representing the totality of the library’s collections to users. They were not developed for the purpose of replacing the library catalog or being the catalog, or even more ambitious, serving as the interface for our whole collection, a function they now universally serve. Indeed, most librarians and researchers dislike discovery tools, preferring to go to subject-specific databases. In fact, we librarians are sometimes blamed for why discovery tools are not more popular with patrons!32 Maybe we don’t like them for good reason, because we know what is not showing up that should be when someone performs a search or because when we are standing up in front of a class to present them to students the links very often fail, embarrassing us. With one product, at any given time 70% of the links to full-text fail [citation needed: this was from an ELUNA conference], even when there was a full-time staff person whose job it was to maintain it. We do not like them for good reason, not because of some personality disorder which afflicts librarians.
The biggest limitation of a single, Google-like search on everything in the library–all books, ebooks, articles, videos–has not to do with technology, but with our vendors not cooperating to support a single search discovery solution. Our two largest content aggregators, EBSCO and ProQuest, who also happen to market the discovery tools, refuse to work with each other. Much of an academic library’s premium content is omitted from the search results or buried past page three.33 It doesn’t provide true relevance ranking, and also doesn’t actually index the documents it searches going through APIs, but relies upon metadata supplied by the vendor. Researchers are not aware they are searching the metadata of documents and not the documents themselves, which is one reason why the search experience is so much better going directly to the subject databases than going through discovery. Again, some of the library’s better academic content is omitted or buried in search results of these convenient, Google-like tools.
Another limitation has to do with the fact that there are many moving parts, and the failure rate is high–the central index, the Open URL link resolver, the proxy server–which require continuous upkeep, not only by librarians, but by 3rd parties too far up the chain to really care about the experience of our users via a particular tool. Publishers would prefer to drive users to their own platforms for search anyway, rather than enabling search through intermediaries for content they have already sold. The whole discovery ecosystem system is fragile, dependent on publisher supplied metadata, with remote access authenticated through a proxy server application, with the link to the source though an OpenURLLink resolver–another app. It is a miracle they work as well as they do given that they are kludged together.
Discovery tools and catalogs have not evolved much in the last 10-12 years, even though their role has changed from discovery (a convenient “first dive in”), to representing the catalog (and expectation that it is comprehensive), and finally, with the disappearance of the physical collection, serving as the primary means through which users experience and interface with the library collection as such. From 2007-9, there was a period of innovation in terms of visual search interfaces, dynamic clustering and labeling, and bibliographic information visualization, but many of these developments were short lived, dependent on Adobe Flash, which was not supported by the iPhone. Some librarians may remember AquaBrowswer, EBSCO’s various visual search tools, the award-winning Groxis and a host of other tools to help users visualize and visually navigate the content in the library’s catalogs and databases. Rather than improving user interfaces, ILS vendors chose to concentrate their development efforts on back of house tools to facilitate resource workflow management, resource sharing among consortial libraries, and reporting tools. For the front-end, the song has remained the same.
For a profession that prides itself on being user-centered and tech-savvy, our user interfaces and search tools seem strikingly antiquated by modern standards, because our users are increasingly influenced by their experiences with commercial catalogs sites like Amazon.
Our websites tend to not be media rich and they do not promote engagement with content which would make them more interesting destinations for users to explore or browse. In the library world we often think about social media almost as a separate functions, but it should be integrated into the catalog, allowing users to recommend books to other readers. This creates a buzz around publications, scholarship and reading. (There is a product which crossed my path yesterday called LibraryThing which seems very promising!)
Administrators often speak about the library’s going online or being online. What does it really mean for a university library to be online? What are the standards for the user experience (UX) for a quality online academic research library?
With our existing catalogs, discovery tools, and web presence, it is not possible to replicate the browsing experience of a brick-and-mortar library online. Bookshelf browsing (TLC Library Solutions offers a version of it on their smaller systems), virtual newsstands (like Browzine) and other visual navigation applications to facilitate an enjoyable, intuitive browsing experience are overdue as enhancements to the OPACS of larger web-scale academic library management systems, as is personalization, the ability to present users with new content that is of interest to them when they come to the library’s site. We need what e-commerce already has to “woo” its customers, and we also must be able to represent online an actual library collection, rather than simply ways to conveniently parse though the metadata of third-party aggregated content.
The user experience of a good collection–both in print or online–promotes creativity and independent learning, precisely the same sort of open-ended and unstructured creative exploration new library advocates are trying to facilitate though their maker-spaces and more collaborative modes of instruction.
Only in many ways it does it better, because students don’t spend time reinventing the wheel, rediscovering knowledge that has already been discovered. As a society, we seem to be returning to a kind of primitivism associated with oral cultures, assuming that people actually can’t really learn it unless they see it and experience it for themselves. Since people can’t be expected to learn anything from reading a book, we might as well get rid of them.
Investment in maker-spaces and active learning labs in the new academic library, in addition to collaboration spaces fostered by open floor plans, vaulted ceilings and light-filled atria, glass walls and technology (larger screens for shared viewing, special software apps, 3-D printers) are expensive, as it the expertise of architectural firms claiming to have special insight into getting people to collaborate and learn.
But after the facility is built and the dust has settled, what then?
In truth, no one seems to know for certain how to get people to collaborate, mentor and share knowledge once the old spaces are renovated or new facilities are built34, or how to differentiate collaborative learning from other less important forms of social interaction.
And, most importantly, it is not engagement with technology or with other people that academic librarians or academicians wish to foster, but engagement with scholarly and culturally significant books and articles, engagement with publications and the ideas found in them. We librarians and faculty want students to make connections, not so much with other people in the library space, but with the scholarly resources and authorities vital to their discipline and to important books reflecting the world around them.
Of course, if more people are coming in, for whatever reason, even just to sit on our comfy couches, they are more likely to talk to a librarian who can then clue them in to all that which great content which is not necessarily visible to the eye, or necessarily even findable through our discovery tools.
Nonetheless, I would love to see showcased in library literature and conferences new library architecture and software applications designed specifically around the concept of promoting discovery and engagement with library resources, with our content, both in print and online formats, rather with other people and computers, and open concept seating arrangements with nothing to offer to the intellect, nothing to nurture the soul, nothing to inspire research, nothing to raise awareness of new publications, nothing to encourage leisure reading or instill life-long learning, and nothing to inspire scholarship.
Without the capacity to present our users with a rich selection of materials that are of interest and relevant to them when they walk through our doors–without the ability to create content-rich learning environments–the physical library becomes an intellectually barren wasteland with furniture for studying or texting and hanging out, but nothing of substance to encourage intellectual curiosity, learning outside the classroom, or participation in a broader cultural conversation of educated people.
Despite protests by library users and faculty when initiatives to eliminate print are implemented or proposed, and even after similar projects are deemed failures and the books are brought back–for example with the Cushing Academy’s celebrated bookless library35 36–this trend of getting rid of print, placing books out of sight, into underground storage lockers, into compact shelving, into low traffic areas, or incorporating them as meaningless abstractions into a comprehensive design scheme continues to trend upward in libraries.
ooklessness—or rather, lack of commitment to collections–as well as changes in how libraries are evaluated through their institutional assessment plans, has blurred the distinction between a library and an LRC. Because college library booklessness has become acceptable, fashionable–equated with progress–LRCs and other forms of bookless learning (innovation labs, maker spaces, news rooms, learning commons, information commons, media centers and “active learning labs”) are becoming more common in libraries on college campuses, replacing a large portion of the library or cutting significantly into its budget.
I would say replacing a large portion of the traditional library, but despite the enthusiastic participation of library directors in creating these new hybrid spaces, I’m not sure others in the college and university administration regard media labs, maker-spaces, and smart classrooms as belonging to the library.
Librarians who resist these trends risk criticism on many fronts: by administrators looking for ways to save money, by those wishing to be regarded by others as forward-thinking, by an older generation fearing to appear obsolete, and most of all, by architectural firms who are eager for commissions to design unique and expensive buildings.
Library Journal, American Libraries and other library publications routinely showcase the new academic library architecture without ever mentioning the impact these vacuous facilities are having on acquisitions budgets, professional staffing and usage of resources. After new libraries are erected or renovated, and the ribbons are cut, the library appears to be reduced to promoting its spaces, their wheeled furniture, instructional and reference services (reduced to part-time or outsourced), and cafe. I am not saying this from my library, but from hearing from others and looking at other library websites.
I think it is great that libraries are striving to become more social places. To me they always were, but maybe that is just my experience working in them most of my life. Libraries were never the stultifying study halls some new library advocates make them out to be. Students have always been able to study and socialize in libraries, and relaxed food and drink policies have been the norm for years–since I was in library school, and that was a long time ago. Many traditional libraries were built with cafes in them (basement cafe) or nearby.
There is nothing “21st century” about the combination of coffee, books, and people, or comfortable seating. What is new, especially in our literature, is the implication that physical books are impeding student success, the advancement of the library profession, requiring too much staff, standing in the way of the library’s becoming popular with students and/or risking turning the library into a “book warehouse.” It is a current that runs throughout academic library literature today, along with reminders that this generation of students never grew up with “book” books, so they are not likely to start when they go off to college.
Younger university administrators also are less likely to be champions of the library, believing that books are not needed for students to be successful in their degree plans. In their minds, the success of online degree programs have largely proved the irrelevance of the physical library and print collections to the mission of the university. With the way student- or academic success is defined, according to the business objectives of the university, it is difficult for library directors to get a toe hold. Many within the administration do not understand or appreciate the extent to which a well-stocked, well-maintained library is a key marketing tool for the university, and that books contribute to the operation of the university as such. The library is the ultimate resource for demonstrating student-centeredness and care, precisely because many of the books in the library are there to support have the students’ own definition of success, not because they must be used to be successful in degree programs. A good library collection is perhaps the ultimate representation of genuine student-centeredness, maybe because it is not absolutely needed and is just a bit “gratuitous.”
Nevertheless, for the first time in academic library history, books represents a burden that we librarians need to be liberated from. Books represent an albatross around our necks and our students’ necks. The rationale is, “Get rid of print,” and we librarians will be freed up to do more important things–like helping students (as if we’ve always not done both, thank you very much). Get rid of the books, and people will want to come to the library once again. Get rid of books, and our students will be forced to embrace new technologies and be better prepared to enter the workforce.
Even though new titles are rarely available to libraries in digital format for many months after their print debut, the book is viewed as an outdated product 37 that many library directors and administrators are eager to distance themselves from for a variety of reasons–some valid and some not.
Dividing lines are drawn over the role and importance of print books and the need to maintain collections, with professional staff often reluctant to say what they really think about plans to go completely digital. Those who resist risk being typecast as resistant to change, obsolete or technophobic. An example of this can be found in Lura Sanborn’s (2013) article “Bookless library?”:
Librarians may feel pressured to reiterate exaggerated claims about “the cost to warehouse a book on the shelf” each year–about $4.20–taken from a very impressive analysis done by economist Paul N. Courant, who was on the board of several large scale book digitization ventures 39 when published that study (2010), and concluded:
His figure of $4.20 per annum per book has been repeated so often at library conferences and in power point slides, even in Newsweek,41 it has become a factoid,42, a perfect example of what happens when articles are mined for information and not read critically for bias. He was selling digitization services, after all.
The real cost of ebooks for academic libraries. It is often assumed by college administrators and non-librarians, mainly based on their own experiences with Amazon and Kindle, that academic ebooks are significantly cheaper than print books. This is a common misconception. It is absolutely intuitive that they would be, but they aren’t. While they typically are for consumers, they are not for academic libraries, unless they are titles that are no longer in demand (called “backlist” titles).
Vendors charge institutions more for an academic ebook, even for single use. The cost of purchasing a recent (published in the last 3 years) academic title through a typical library vendor like EBSCO is 1/3 to 2/3 higher than the cost of the same book in print for single simultaneous simultaneous use.
Take a look at this title, taken randomly from EBSCO’s Collection Manager tool. Natural Gas Processing: Technology and Engineering is $146 for the print book paying full list price (librarians usually get a 20% discount for print books through their book jobber). The same ebook is priced at $177.60, $222.00 (for 3 simultaneous users) and $266 for unlimited use.
One explanation for the higher costs for institutions is that the vendor is providing hosting in perpetuity for the ebook–even if we do not want access to the book in perpetuity, we often must buy it that way. When libraries buy books, unless they are extremely large research libraries (and even then), they never buy with the idea in mind of having a book forever. Suddenly the cost of maintaining a book on the shelves doesn’t seem so bad.
Another factor is scalability, that many users could potentially access the book at the same time. This a great benefit for large academic institutions, but smaller and medium-sized libraries cannot as easily take advantage of economies of scale. We spend hundreds of dollars for an (unlimited access) title that a larger library would pay the same for, because individual ebook pricing does not correspond to the size of the library. It may make sense for a larger library to pay more money for the ebook, but not for a smaller library.
Despite what lay people may think, ebooks usually do not represent a significant cost savings over print unless the library is buying into a grab bag package of oddball academic titles, UK imprints, dated titles, or things that the publisher can’t move in print any longer, in which case the book is valued at less than list price for print anyway.
What goes into a content aggregator’s ebook package is based on publisher agreements, not quality. In fact, to avoid misunderstanding and criticism that these ebook packages offered a quality “collection” (which could replace an actual library), vendors took the word “library” out of the names of ebook databases. . . NetLibrary became ebrary and then ebook Central . . . now it is what? Academic Complete? The success of the aggregator depended on negotiations with traditional print publishers to digitize, aggregate and monetize large amounts of their older content in bulk, their backstock. These aggregations were not libraries in a librarian’s sense. They began as chum-buckets of aggregated content no longer able to monetized in print format and went from there. Even today, they cannot serve as the library’s online library without additional investment to add better and newer titles to them.
However, only those already familiar with a discipline appreciate the difference between a package of academic ebook titles and an actual library collection. If the priority is providing relevant ebooks so students can complete a writing assignment, aggregates of ebooks are fine. If the priority is research, they miss the mark.
Most academic libraries already buy large ebook packages, but missing from these subscription packages are front list titles, newer titles and titles in demand, which the vendor hopes to sell to the library individually at a higher price. These hand-selected titles get added to the online platform only at a premium cost to the library.
More than cost or quality, though, there is a psychological aspect of ebooks which is troubling for those concerned about encouraging literacy.
Since no personal investment by library staff or faculty appears to have been made in selecting the titles, and no great expense appears to have been made by the university to acquire them–since everyone outside the library believes ebooks to be dirt cheap commodities anyway–why should our students place value on them? To them, ebooks appear to be items called up and used when needed to write a paper or complete an assignment, and then quickly forgotten about. There is no sense of permanence or influence, or that these titles mean anything to anyone. They are not intended to be “read” read, or remembered, they are not real, just something to be mined for quotes and citations.
No one honestly expects others to have read or heard of an ebook they come across in an academic ebook collection, but the same is not the case with print books in an authoritative, up-to-date library collection. It’s a matter of perception. Print books are more “legit” in the eyes of our users, and they are: it’s in print and it’s in the library, so someone must have thought the book to be worthwhile.
Students, like administrators, also think of print books as being more costly and believe ebooks to be cheap. It would never occur to a student that the ebook they click and scroll through, just as they do free internet resources and free books on Google Books, may have actually cost the library $250 or more, sometimes even hundreds or thousands of dollars (in the case of reference books).
I can envision a library where print books are beautifully displayed, face out, covers glossed in mylar, in placed visible locations so people can see and browse through them, but with a “download the ebook” sticker on them. Maybe even a code they can scan with their phone to download the book instantly. I hope and expect to see apps like this coming to libraries in the near future.
Tangible Outcomes from Intangible Goods. Requiring philosophies of librarianship are part of a larger trend of libraries having to more aggressively market themselves and demonstrate their value to their parent institutions, because it is now far from obvious to many administrators in higher education why libraries and librarians are still needed, or how they add value to the university.
Until a few years ago, no one ever questioned the importance of the academic library to higher education. People in administration in higher education questioned whether their library was good, and perhaps how we knew it was good, not whether a library was needed. No one was requiring personal philosophies of librarianship or annual self-justifications to keep one’s job, either (they don’t where I work, but at some university libraries they do each year).
The decline in the perceived relevance of college and academic libraries, and with this, librarians, can be accounted for in innumerable ways. The most obvious cause is an increased reliance by administrators and scholars alike on information resources found on the Internet. These days, neither the physical library nor the library’s website is the first place people come to begin their research. I myself usually begin with Google Scholar (mine is set to link into the library, but still. . .), and I think most of my colleagues do, too. Often the library is utilized to gain access to the full-text of an article found online through Google Scholar.
Rather than checking our catalogs and online resources first, researchers find books they might like on Amazon and Google Books, or they locate book and article citations elsewhere, and then check to see if the library has them. People come to the library and the library’s website not as a starting point for research, but as a last resort.
Why? There are many reasons, but it comes down to the fact that our websites are not intuitive and our catalogs are not fun to browse. We may place blame on Google, but some of this we have done to ourselves by neglecting our online presence (Where are professional standards for a user experience of an online library in the 21st century?), or assuming that students need to become mini-librarians to do research.
As I see it, a modern library is a content provider like Amazon and Netflix, but, for various reasons, our catalogs and user interfaces have not evolved into the kind of intuitive, content-rich environments that might allow us to compete for our users’ attention with commercial entities whose websites people actually enjoy visiting and browsing.44
The library profession has become dependent on vendors for much of our professional development, our content, our systems and our web services. We must deal with products and tools which do not integrate well with each other by design, because our vendors are in competition with each other.
EBSCO won’t provide metadata to ProQuest’s Primo Central so Primo can search everything, and ProQuest doesn’t allow EBSCO to automatically harvest catalog data to support EBSCO’s Discovery tool, EDS. My university has both, and I have looked into the abyss–I know what is not being found, all of the content that is buried, and what can and cannot be done about it. We also have trouble with all-or-nothing connectors or APIs, which result in, for example, some entry from an extraordinarily obscure reference source, the Hutchinson Atlas and Weather Guide, coming up to the top of the results list for many, many searches. The HAWG doesn’t strike me an authoritative source for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or Hamlet, but there it is, consistently ranked 2-5 in the research results. Can’t turn off the source in Primo without turning off the whole Credo Reference database.
Libraries represent a small niche market. We must accept applications which would not be acceptable in a commercial environment. For example, we permit, even promote, branding (EBSCOhost, ProQuest, Gale-Cengage, etc.) rather than white labeling, and take it for granted that patrons will be driven away from the library’s website off to various 3rd party platforms for search. We inadvertently end up with multiple (vendor-created) pseudo-home pages, as vendors–Credo Reference, SpringShare LibGuides, ProQuest and EBSCO–encourage the library to customize a landing page with their search own box on it. We are often forced to try to muster excitement for content labeled with strange acronyms (StatRef! GVRL, JSTOR, SFX. . . ) and our users suffer from platform fatigue.
Compounding the problem is the imperative to create responsive (scaled to mobile devices) websites, which has made it even more difficult to communicate with users, specifically to place content where users can see it when they land on a site. It is more difficult to design websites to promote content and services which cannot be represented graphically, with icons and images.
In the commercial world, content-heavy sites utilize specific strategies and technologies for marketing online content–for “wooing” their customers–and the 21st century library should be no exception. The library needs platforms which support greater degrees of personalization, presenting content that users might like when to they come to our websites, and support an enjoyable browsing experience.
Especially now, when Amazon and Google have raised the bar for shopping and search, our professional energies often feel misplaced teaching students how to navigate the library’s antiquated catalogs and unintuitive websites as part of Information Literacy programs. We often emphasize techniques like using “Boolean search operators” and truncation as part of the IL curriculum–techniques already made largely obsolete by modern text search engines (which perform relevance ranking and word stemming automatically) and Web scale discovery systems–rather than concentrating our efforts on developing more intuitive and innovative user interfaces.
There are things that can be done (in fact someone just sent a link to LibraryThing catalog enhancement tool) to make our websites and our facilities more appealing, engaging and relevant to users, some which I will discuss below, but all involve promoting user engagement with interesting and relevant content.
Libraries are in the process of becoming that which they hope to avoid, devolving into mere repositories, through practices and policies which pretend that collections do not matter, despite what our users say and surveys show. I firmly believe that, even in this age of Google, our content is what matters most to our users, and this should be emphasized in the design of our facilities, our websites, and our assessment models.
Legitimization, Quality (Outcomes) Assessment, and the New “Grand Narrative.”45
One of the most influential trends over the last 20 years in academic librarianship has been efforts to assess library quality and effectiveness, and not just in-and-of-itself (i.e., “Is the library good?“), but within the context of the goals, objectives, and business management methods (“Quality Assessment”) employed by their parent institutions to evaluate institutional effectiveness, sometimes referred to as the “Institutional Effectiveness Plan” or “Quality Assessment Plan.”46
One person aptly referred to this phenomenon as the “outcomes assessment movement.” 47
This approach has also become a relatively new (since 2011) best practice, or standard, for academic librarians, as defined by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL Standards in Libraries in Higher Education), the professional association for college and academic librarians. By the standard committee’s own admission, the 2011 standard 48 represents a shift in the way libraries are to think about assessment, in terms of methodology (must be “outcomes-based”) and emphasis (prioritizing the achievement of institutional and departmental instructional objectives, instead of those internal to the library):
The bottom line is that ACRL’s new Standard is not a standard at all, but an imperative that we must align ourselves with our institutions and apply their assessment model to the library.
According to ACRL, we are to adopt the goals, objectives and outcomes of our respective institutions, including other departments and even student affairs as our own to facilitate greater partnerships across institutional boundaries, and establish our relevance accordingly.50 And we are to demonstrate our effectiveness by measurable and verifiable (evidence) assessment outcomes tied to the goals of the institution.
Let’s consider regional institutional accreditation guidelines as a library standard, since ACRL SLHE asks us to use these when formulating library outcomes. If these guidelines mention anything about libraries, they are meant to be baseline or minimum standards, not something libraries can use to achieve academic excellence, or even “goodness.” For example, SACS doesn’t say all that much about libraries except we are to offer qualified staff, library instruction and access to “adequate” and “sufficient” resources and collections:
CR 2.9 The institution, through ownership or formal arrangements or agreements, provides and supports student and faculty access and user privileges to adequate library collections and services and to other learning/information resources consistent with the degrees offered. Collections, resources, and services are sufficient to support all its educational, research, and public service programs. (Learning resources and services)
“Sufficiency” and “adequacy” are not what professionals in any field strive to achieve. So why should we?
Would you go to a professional who boasts of providing adequate services? Institutional accreditation standards are not library standards for achieving excellence, goodness or quality.
Also, because accreditation standards are intended to be minimum standards, if the word “library” is dropped and replaced by “learning and information resources,” as has already happened in several places in SACS,51 it is surely with the understanding that small colleges with limited enrollments, or online colleges, or vocational schools, can still obtain institutional accreditation for their programs even if they lack full-fledged libraries.
The wording of regional accreditation guidelines is not intended to be a checkered flag for universities to divest themselves of their libraries, or to downgrade them into less costly Learning Resource Centers (LRCs), which require neither a library collection nor professional librarians to operate or maintain.52 Nor is it intended to encourage the provision of merely adequate resources by the library–whatever might be construed as the defensible minimum needed to pass an accreditation review–even though, again, such brinksmanship might be lauded by an administration in terms of cost reduction, maximizing return on investment, and the achievement of institutional objectives. In most cases, academic libraries cannot simply “adopt institutional objectives as their own” without significantly compromising quality.
Without any qualitative standards for collections for academic libraries emanating from ALA/ACRL, how can library administrators make a compelling case to their administration that their libraries are not being adequately funded, specifically, that they are not able to provide adequate resources to function as a library should?
If libraries are not encouraged to have their own goals and objectives for excellence, their own standards for goodness or quality, how can they prevent existing library budgets from being cannibalized for institutional objectives that have little or nothing to do with the academic mission of the library?
any faculty members have decried the rise of “managerialism”53 or an increasing corporate orientation in the university.54 55 56 The best definition of managerialism I have come across is “an exaggerated belief by professional managers in the value of the management concepts and methods they use, regardless of the unique values, culture and methodology of the organizations they manage”; the notion, for example, “that the same principles, values and methodology can be applied to managing a university, a hospital, a TV station, a car factory, a chain of coffee shops or an army.”57 Some have argued that corporate culture threatens to undermine or erode the humanistic and intellectual ideals of the university.
There is tension between the business orientation and academic one at any university, although people in higher education have come to recognize that both perspectives are needed for the institution to thrive. The latter values deep thinking, scholarship, and knowledge as virtues in themselves–knowledge for knowledge’s sake–even if doesn’t lead to a specific outcome, aside from a more educated human being.
This is a sometimes referred to as a humanistic model because it supports the pursuit of knowledge to allow a person to reach his or her full potential, but not necessarily because it leads to a specific, predefined student learning outcome.
It does not ask, “Why do you want to know that?” “How is that related to your degree plan?”
At a university, academic librarians support student success, not just as defined by the university, but also as defined by the student, helping him achieve his educational goals and research objectives regardless of whether or not it is needed for a particular class assignment. We support the student’s acquisition of disciplinary and professional knowledge, and therefore offer significant titles on a regular and timely basis, even if we cannot tell if this is helping students complete their degree pans. We also serve the faculty, whose research and publishing activity usually does not directly serve the business interests of university either.
We also have an obligation to maintain a quality library in anticipation of use, in a perpetual state of readiness, rather than acquiring only that which is guaranteed to be used for a class, which is another way our acquisition strategies might not conform to a strict business model.
Publishing in peer-reviewed journals typically has little impact on enrollment, retention and graduation rates, the most pressing concerns for the college or university administration. (Research adds prestige to the university, but it has virtually no impact on undergraduate enrollment.) The more humanistic and academic goals of the college and academic research library (scholarship, life-long learning, etc.) and the more pragmatic goals of the institution might not line up very well.
The library will always be a cost center, never able to justify itself financially though a measurable impact on GPAs and retention rates. In fact, operating within a strictly institutional or business framework, where the library’s goals have become one with that of their administration, the most successful and effective library manager could conceivably be one who spends as little as possible on library resources, but still manages to skate through an accreditation review. Sounds awful but I’m sure it happens.
This isn’t good for students or faculty, or for libraries or librarians–who will surely have difficulty “partnering with faculty” (one of the stated goals of the new ACRL standard) if the materials that they and their students expect to find in the library are never there, if users are routinely compelled to use other libraries to access significant or core titles in their disciplines, or forced to buy the books they want or need to support their research interests out of pocket.
Over time, if collections are not maintained and allowed to wither, demand for the library’s services will drop off, and suspicions by decision makers that the library or books or librarians are no longer needed will be confirmed by low circulation statistics and low usage. The library will be eliminated or be converted into some kind of lab/tutoring center/LRC housing instructional materials, and whose activities can be more directly linked to helping at risk students learn course content rather than helping better prepared students obtain professional and disciplinary knowledge of a subject area or creating more informed, better educated, and more interesting graduates.
This will happen not because of changing times, or because of Google, but because the library will have been diminished by not buying anything new, by not being able to promote its resources effectively, and by deploying assessment tools that measure the wrong outputs or outcomes for an academic research or college library.
The new ACRL standard was intended to promote greater collaboration and to advance our roles as partners educating students and contributing to their success.58 However, real collaboration is a two way street: partnering is more than just our teaching information literacy courses or co-piloting courses taught by others.
Librarians have traditionally been recognized as partners in the educational process through the quality content and resources we provide. Yet, we lack a standard set of outcomes through which to evaluate the impact of collections (both print and online, leisure and scholarly) on student learning. This does not mean that collections are not a worthwhile, but that the assessment tools and standards available to us cannot assess our impact.
More than ever, libraries need prescriptive standards of quality to to keep us from becoming redundant, competing with, or being absorbed by, other departments and entities on campus who are also focused on “student success,” our budgets and spaces re-appropriated for initiatives that have little or nothing to do with the library. From this perspective, rewriting our mission statements in order to adopt the goals and objectives of other departments and even “student affairs,” as ACRL recommends (as a way of promoting “greater collaboration”), seems like very poor advice.
Measuring the tangible impact of an intangible good. The business strategy of aligning ourselves with institutional goals and objectives, specifically institutional quality assessment plans, is particularly problematic for academic research libraries for the reason that the impact of their collections on users cannot be assessed through any objective measure that can be tied back to “student success,” as defined by the university’s quality assessment/enhancement plans.59
Years before the publication of the new ACRL standard, a similar approach was discussed in an often cited article by Sarah M. Pritchard, “Determining Quality in Academic Libraries.” Library Trends, 44.3 (1996):
Pritchard goes on to say, however, that despite higher education managers adopting the business methods of quality management, and the “micro-evaluation of libraries have given countless opportunities for detailed studies . . .”
Today, academic librarians are still struggling to find ways to demonstrate their library’s relevance to their respective institutions, which usually translates into contriving ways to demonstrate our value within the context of institutional Quality Assessment plans.
By making institutional outcomes our exclusive focus, it is easy for academic librarians to forget who we are, and why most of us got our degrees in Library Science–which I doubt was to “teach Information Literacy”, “support the curriculum” or to “improve institutional outcomes,” or any of the other objectives found in librarian philosophies and in newly renovated mission statements.62 Not that these are not worthwhile objectives, but they are too narrow and they miss the point of why our users like and value the library.
Many of us academic librarians had hoped to enrich the lives of others, quite likely as ours have been enriched, through the experience of a great library, a library we ourselves enjoyed going to because, well, it was interesting, and made us feel connected to a larger community of scholars who were passionate about the same things we were, or with a brighter future. It provided a kind of personal transcendence. Great libraries are great because they have great collections which afford users with a great experience of self-directed learning to help them reach their potential in life.
This experience is what I call “the aesthetic.” The aesthetic is the icing on the cake, the value-add which cannot be measured, the subjective experience of self-actualization and self-determination fostered by a great library collection. It is the thought that “this book was put here for me to find” by someone who knows or cares. There is a kind of magic to it.
Of course, “greatness” is subjective and not measurable (there are surveys, of course, and usage stats), an aesthetic judgment, which are to be avoided when it comes to all types of quality assessment planning. The aesthetic is experiential. This poses quite a philosophical dilemma for libraries. Aesthetic judgments, judgments about quality cannot be completely rationalized or measured. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant maintained, they are beyond reason. This doesn’t mean aesthetic judgments are irrational, but that rational modes of analysis can carry us only so far. In addition, libraries are compelled to maintain collections in a state of readiness, in anticipation of use; the sum of the whole–a collection–is greater than its parts, another challenge for evaluation.
Just because objective assessment of the impact of collections on our users cannot be assessed, does not mean that it should be ignored or is no longer a worthwhile goal for libraries to pursue.
he managerial art of objectifying what is inherently subjective and experiential, through inputs, outputs, outcomes, performance indicators, benchmarks, feedback, usage stats, metrics, documentary evidence and analyses, and then folding this meaningfully and compellingly to institutional goals and objectives, and last, into our own budgetary justifications in ways college and university administrators will ultimately appreciate, is the challenge now laid at our collective feet.
Libraries have always attempted to measure themselves and their services to evaluate their effectiveness, impact on users, or “goodness.” This is nothing new. Some have even criticized the discipline for its seemingly unbridled enthusiasm for measurement, for being “confounded from the outset” by false “certainties of empiricism” stemming from the fact it regards itself as a science, and takes as its domain information.63
For many reasons both theoretical and practical–whether stemming from professional orientation, need for greater accountability, or job insecurity–librarians already do tend to place great emphasis on empirical data, inputs (budgets, size of collections) and outputs (circulation, reference questions answered, usage stats), ratios (percent of budget spent to support certain programs, numbers of books per student per major) and performance measures which, regrettably, cannot ever be meaningfully tied to user outcomes, and which therefore “do not assist managers in providing a true picture of libraries to the lives of our users. . . “64
For many academic libraries, and particularly those in Southern states,65 “Quality Assessment” has presented new and interesting measurement challenges, tantamount to devising Rube Goldberg Machine that will, at the end of the day, reveal and heighten our impact on the much larger machinery of institutional outcomes assessment.
There is certainly a lot that could be written about Quality Assessment planning with regard to libraries, such as, how do we assess our assessment plans to know that they are good? Has the practice of assessing the academic library’s value through the rubric of institutional effectiveness been good for academic libraries and those who use them? Has this practice resulted in improved library services? How has it changed us, for better or for worse?
Rube Goldberg was a master of imagining complicated mechanical processes to perform the most mundane tasks, which could otherwise be performed with just a slight bit of human effort and common sense, for example, here a self-opening umbrella:
I do not mean to suggest that there is an easy and obvious solution to the problem of assessment or accountability in libraries–or that one should not rely upon all available tools and reports to make informed decisions–or that objectivity is not worth striving for.
That’s a given for any library manager. We compare ourselves, statistically-speaking, to our peers, and then try to figure out what they are doing better than us so we might improve. Strategic planning is an excellent tool for bench-marking growth. Setting and pursuing goals is vital to continuous improvement–who would not agree with that?
However, as the title of my philosophy statement suggests, I believe good libraries are about a very special kind of aesthetic user experience whose impact or value or information content cannot be measured in ways that would ever rationally justify them (libraries are intangible goods after all) from a business objective perspective. There is no cost/benefit analysis that will justify the expense of an academic research library. (It reminds me what was said by Trump before cutting the school lunch program, “We tried it but didn’t see results. . . “) Therefore, I am especially mistrustful of reliance upon overly rationalized processes and externally imposed business measures like QA when it comes to library management, but most especially when they threaten to change the priorities of the academic library to value only that which can be counted, measured or valued by “the plan.”
If the library’s budget must be tied only to measurable, institutional outcomes of “student success” (graduation rate, retention, enrollment, persistence, employment rate, transfer rate, and other business objectives of the institution) or “student learning success” (how well they students do on an information literacy test), this will change the priorities of the academic library into something that is not recognizable as an academic library.
The sort of accountability required by institutional quality assessment plans inevitably entails both measurement and outcomes, but the library profession has never been able to successfully arrive at meaningful measures linked to outcomes.66
And it isn’t for a lack of effort or focus on the problem, which are further exacerbated by a failure to recognize or accept that academic libraries are about the subjective experience of users–which I call “the aesthetic”–including browsing, familiarizing oneself with a discipline, reading for enjoyment (i.e., because users find it interesting/significant/relevant), seeing what is new, reacting to the works and ideas of others, and, perhaps most cherished by users, “serendipitous discovery.”67
We librarians deal for the most part in the realm of private experience, in intangible goods, but we are expected to deliver, or provide an accounting of, our tangible value so university administrators can see a return on investment.68 If we do have measurable user or student outcomes, they are often contrived for the sake of satisfying our QA plan, and usually involve those charged with teaching Information Literacy courses–because here learning might be demonstrated through testing or better grades. By what mechanism is the library evaluated, in terms of its impact, other than this limited intervention? We cannot lay any claim to research and publications by the faculty, even though we support them.
The quality assessment standards imposed on academic research libraries today are often missing the finer points of the academic research library, and really the purpose of higher education, which is to encourage learning and research that is not necessarily part of “the curriculum”–at least not yet.
Our users have no predefined learning outcomes.
We want them to feel as if they are standing on the shores of a vast ocean of knowledge and human experience, and that they are free to go intellectually in any direction they choose, to learn on their own without taking a class. However, one unintended consequence of the imposition of QA on libraries at some institutions has been a reallocation of the library budget away from library resources, the collection–whose impact on students or outcomes cannot be effectively assessed or measured–toward instructional services, such as information literacy programs, tutoring, writing labs, and basic computer skills classes, and a variety of student support services which lend themselves to outcomes assessment more easily, especially in the short-term.
Within the context of the institutional QA, libraries don’t get much credit for having resources, or even use of resources–only demonstrating tangible results (higher GPAs)–and these “results” must occur within the time constraints of the plan.
Another issue fundamental to our identity as academic librarians is a commitment to students and faculty, specifically to the individual’s pursuit of knowledge. By adopting as our highest aspirations institutional goals as defined by external IE/QA plans (plans shaped exclusively by goals and objectives for institutional accreditation, rather than library standards), as ACRL has now advised69, we are moving away from a holistic model of librarianship, in which the user defines his success, towards one that is narrow, passive, unambitious and not actually user-centered, but institutional: we merely “support the curriculum” with “adequate resources” rather than (more idealistically) helping our students obtain disciplinary knowledge, our faculty keep up with trends in their field.
While this latter role is perhaps more pertinent to academic libraries supporting graduate research, there are corollaries at the community or junior college level, where librarians support, or have traditionally supported, the co-curricular and extra-curricular, self-directed interests of our students: leisure reading, current events, bestsellers, graphic novels, biographies, life skills and “how to’s” for young adults transitioning into adulthood and into a professional workforce.
These may not be directly, meaningfully or demonstrably tied to the curriculum, but they make the library good for, and interesting to, students, and habituates them to independent learning. It also exposes them to other points of view and ways of thinking, and enhances their educational experience, and has an impact on their lives, even if we cannot prove with any certainty that it does.
One would assume that promoting self-directed and independent learning at all levels–from leisure reading for college students to original research for publication for upper division and graduate students–would be fundamental to the core values of lifelong learning and academic achievement, principles we are supposed to be instilling in students.70 But even the seemingly straightforward concept of lifelong learning has been co-opted by what Elmborg alludes to as a “neoliberalist” agenda, as opposed to the more idealistic values traditionally upheld by the library profession:
While I cannot speak to the “neoliberal” vs. “social justice” perspectives Elmborg raises–I see the dichotomy more as a top-down business/managerial/quality management perspective vs. more scholarly / humanistic / user-centered approach–it does seem pretty clear no matter how you express it, librarians as well as our professional associations like ACRL are embracing certain philosophies, strategies or best practices that may be detrimental to the success or survival of libraries in the long term.
Beyond the Curriculum? Academic librarians are, presumably, scholars committed to scholarship and the principle of academic freedom. We help students pursue knowledge and achieve their chosen educational and learning objectives–whether it leads to a degree or not.
Now, my own theory of library usage–which has to be at the heart of any philosophy of librarianship–is that people who value and use academic libraries, our constituents, do so because they benefit from immediate access to relevant, significant or interesting content, especially within the context of a meaningful and carefully considered collection.
To our constituents, academic libraries are not primarily “about” the services provided by librarians, or information, at least not in an obvious way. They are about collections. They are about books, regardless of format. They are about publications. They are about media. They are about content.
When people look forward to going to library they are not imagining helpful librarians.
No, they are thinking about interesting books and collections which they hope and expect to find there; things they like and find meaningful to them. Library services are always secondary to collections, to the extent that services exist to support and promote use of resources and publications. Collections do not exist to support librarians’ services. Getting information or assistance from a librarian is a very, very small reason people come to a library, public or academic.
The academic library is not primarily about inputs and outputs, users “getting answers to specific questions” or “satisfying specific information needs”–the latter are good things, of course, but despite the empirical information model which has often permeated our professional thinking about library operations–is not a correct model for any type of library, public or academic.
To scholars and regular library users, libraries are about the preservation of knowledge, sharing knowledge, facilitating the discovery of knowledge, and providing support for the creation of new knowledge through the quality of its collections.
To the extent that it does this well, it is successful as an academic research library.
Why Academic Library Collections Still Matter in the Age of Google.
I am asked this question not infrequently in graduate research methods classes. I know this can be my cue to promote myself and my services, and say, “Librarians are your greatest resource, and that is why libraries still matter!” But I do not believe that to be true. I am helpful, but I am not their greatest library resource. If I were, the library would be spending over a million dollars on me and not on EBSCO, ProQuest, Gale, Elsevier and Sage databases.
Anyway, the entire library shouldn’t revolve around “me” or my services (some days it seems like it does but I know it doesn’t). I want people to benefit from and enjoy the library itself. Thankfully, many people use the library regularly without ever needing to consult with a librarian, because if they did, that would be frustrating both to them and to me.
According to my aesthetic philosophy of librarianship, I should not benefit from the ignorance, frustrations, or disappointments of users in order to boost my own performance scorecard, desk stats, relevance or value.
Website not intuitive? Students just need to take an information literacy class from me to learn how to use it. People can’t find any books on “globalization,” “big data,” “noSQL” or C#? Students can get what they want through me, through ILL (After all, it’s what we do that counts, not what we have. . . ) Can’t access an article from home? Call me at the Reference desk, I can download it and send it to you. . . (we’ll get around to updating the proxy server eventually). Ugh!
Of course, these are examples of poor customer service–and no, they are not my library.
But in an environment where everyone is encouraged to assiduously document their own services, gathering evidence to make themselves appear more accountable, well, we just might not be as customer-service-oriented as we might appear on paper.
When I speak to students, I am merely the messenger. I try to represent good published authorities and the peer-reviewed word. I represent resources which impart disciplinary knowledge. That is what the academic library as a whole ideally does better than Google and Google Scholar–provided that the library’s collections, access services and systems are maintained.
In a university library, students, aspiring scholars, and newcomers to a field of study benefit from familiarizing themselves with what books, journals, publications and publishers others regard as influential, significant or authoritative in a field of study, as opposed to say, what rises to the top of a Google query, a content aggregator’s database, or even our library’s discovery tool.
I really don’t care if we can retrieve 10,000 titles on “Health Administration” from our databases if we don’t have–or are incapable of making students aware of–the most significant, authoritative and relevant sources in their field of study.
Awareness of authorities and trends in a discipline defines a person as a professional. Libraries have a vital role to play in this aspect of a student’s professional education.
Through a well maintained collection, catalog and web presence, students and scholars benefit by seeing what is new and interesting in their field of study, because doing so inspires their own creativity, research, teaching, and the acquisition of disciplinary knowledge. The kind of disciplinary knowledge obtained through a good academic library collection is a very important part of an aspiring professional or scholar’s education; it should never be limited just to what is taught in classes, or prescribed by a curriculum.
The library is a vital part of the education of our students. Apart from providing the student with disciplinary knowledge, including that which may fall outside of scope the courses taught at that particular college or university, the library allows students the opportunity to apply their newly obtained curricular knowledge in ways that are personally meaningful to them.
However, librarians are increasingly asked by QA plans to define themselves, their roles and their collections narrowly, in terms of measurable targets of student impact––in terms of what they do (services), not in terms of what they have (collections)–even though what many of us do, or believe we should be doing–in addition to helping students of course–is creating and sustaining an exceptionally good college and academic research library collection.
Most surprisingly, we are even prompted by our own professional standards to redefine ourselves in terms of “institutional, departmental and student affairs outcomes. . . . student recruitment, retention, time to degree and academic success” (ACRL, SLHE, 2011, 1.1-1.6)–the university’s business objectives, as opposed to something more idealistic and perhaps less demonstrable within the plan’s reporting period: support for independent learning, knowledge, scholarship and the intellectual life of the university campus.
So then, after rewriting our library mission statements to express alignment with institutional objectives, as ACRL SLHE suggests we do, it is still not clear how we are to develop the recommended metrics and performance indicators to demonstrate contributions to “student recruitment, retention, time to degree and academic success,” without fundamentally altering the library to become something which is not an academic library, but something more along the lines of a tutoring center.
Many libraries have established (or been turned into) “student success centers” and ramped up their instructional programs in an effort to be able to demonstrate their relevance and value to their parent institutions through mentoring students and increased direct engagement with them. These are worthwhile, but it would have been preferable to me had ACRL also succeeded in making the “library” part of the library less expendable through its various publications and roadshows teaching librarians how to make a case for themselves.
I mentioned earlier a trend in the literature of library assessment of marginalizing the role and value of collections, or proclaiming them to be irrelevant to the success or quality of the library. Although we try to carve out new roles, in most instances, computer labs, tutoring, student affairs and Blackboard (online learning) are handled by other entities on campus. The only thing that makes the library unique, relevant and effective to our users are our collections, our scholarly content, and the provision of support services related to these. At a university, we cannot teach Information Literacy without collections that support research. The two are inseparable.
A number of articles in library literature discussing service-oriented assessment techniques for measuring quality also justify the services-only approach by arguing that libraries can’t continue to grow their collections, and therefore must focus on expanding services to justify their value.
Many of these articles quote, or use an epigram, a line from Danuta A. Nitecki (“Changing the Concept and Measure of Service Quality in Academic Libraries.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 22.3, 1996), “The measure of quality based solely on collections has become obsolete.” Danuta sets up a straw man to exaggerate service-orientation, for if you go back and read the article no librarian ever equated library quality with “size of holdings”–we all know better than to do that.
But the very idea that services can be completely disassociated from the collection and evaluated as autonomous business units presents us with a false dichotomy (collections v. services). For one thing, there is interconnection between “library collections” and “library services” which cannot be glossed over.
Historically, library services have always existed to augment and promote use of library collections, not vice versa.
Another motive for minimizing collections in favor of services within library quality assessment plans is the difficulty evaluating the impact of collections on students (in terms of measurable results which contribute to their “success”), whereas with library instruction, a some kind of test is possible to show that students 1. have attended, and 2. learned something. There is evidence of student impact. The emphasis now is to move away from passive support through resources to direct engagement with students to be able to better document how the library is directly contributing to student success.
However, student success is more often than not a euphemism describing the extent to which a student is progressing in his degree plan, not a measure of a student’s learning, extra- or co-curricular goals and activities, or his academic or professional growth outside of graded classwork. It is not a holistic view of the student, his success, or his education.
In reality, the library profession–and historically, our professional commitment to “access”–has always supported a more holistic view of students and their education than the college or university administration: Libraries and librarians help students achieve their educational, intellectual and personal goals. We help them achieve success on their terms. If they want to read a book, we try to get it for them. We do not judge and refuse service if we think it is not part of a class assignment. And this is a good thing for a university.
We can’t pretend to know what the future holds in terms of career opportunities for our students. Nurturing the passions and interests of our students may ultimately be what leads to their success in life–not necessarily their practical Nursing, Health Administration or Respiratory Therapy degrees. Perhaps they will prepare themselves in a career or a field of study not yet established. I recall a time when there were no degrees in Computer Science, and all programmers were self-taught through whatever books and resources were available.
We talk about promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. There is no better place to cultivate that spirit than the library, where there is real freedom to pursue individualized learning, knowledge and ideas.
Now, many believe that the application of similar sorts of “quality assessment/quality management” techniques to K-12 education, with performance indicators, outcomes, standards, testing, tracking and recording for the sake of reporting back into a system, has not resulted in improved educational outcomes in the classroom, because the curriculum and methods of instruction have been changed in order to meet the needs of the assessment tools.
Assessing the impact of the library through some kind of matrix or rubric, where the only thing of value is what can be measured (what many university assessment plans require), is an impossible task for a library, but external pressures for greater accountability will ultimately transform it to become a remedial support or learning center, rather than a place people enjoy visiting, where they see themselves and their interests affirmed, nurtured and supported though a library’s investment in books.
We say that “Libraries transform lives,” but proving that is another story. Libraries offer intangible goods, very much like knowledge, and education–well, before education was redefined as a collection of discrete and measurable tasks tied to standardized test learning objectives so it could be properly “assessed.“
Yes we have usage stats, but one never really knows the full impact of the library, its programs and its collections on users, especially on students. This is obviously a big and troubling problem for a library when it comes to evidence-based assessment methods.
We can’t assess the impact of a library without assessing the impact of the collection on users, a task on par with measuring the subtle gravitational waves from the Big Bang or something out of Chaos theory. Collecting data demonstrating the impact of the library’s collection on students, especially according to “measurable targets,” is difficult, or even impossible.
In fact, academic libraries have never been able to arrive at standardized measures and metrics to determine if a library is “good”. We simply benchmark ourselves against peer libraries, comparing their usage stats to ours, and try to figure out their secret sauce.
We must now demonstrate through evidence that we contribute to the business goals of the university through its “Rube Goldberg Machine” of Quality Assessment planning. When we hit upon just the right metrics and measures, it will be bound to attract enormous crowds at ALA conferences curious to see how it all works.
Let’s resist the temptation to teach to the test, to so eagerly re-establish the roles and priorities of the academic library and its librarians based only on what is achievable through evidence, performance indicators and outputs, and what can and cannot be measured within the context of what is, essentially, a business model–whose relevance to education, teaching, research and scholarship has never been proven and has already been placed into question by many (citations coming).
Let’s not adopt as our goals and objectives those of other departments and other entities within the university to create redundancy, in an effort to more closely “align ourselves with them,” as ACRL SLHE advises, without at least considering the impact this may have on the our own customers and constituents, considering whether we are meeting the needs of the scholarly community we serve.
And let’s not be fearful of mission statements that are bold and visionary, making reference to things that cannot be quantified, such as “knowledge” and “creativity.”
Let us begin with the premise that libraries are intangible goods, offering intangible benefits to our community of users, rather than starting out with a management principle that if it can’t be measured, counted or assessed, then it is not a worth pursuing or has little value.
Consider that many goals in life are worth striving for, even if we can never know if they are achieved: objectivity, knowledge, wisdom, insight, truth and beauty, just to name a few.
Without consideration for the aesthetic and subjective element, libraries become boring, prosaic and perfunctory, a collection of what will be sure to be utilized in the course of a semester (or whatever time period is determined by “the plan”)–a collection of Norton anthologies, textbooks, courseware, test prep study guides, and a standard set of online databases required for accreditation.
The pleasure of coming upon something new and unexpected but deeply meaningful to the user, the subjective human element to collections which defy a vendor’s institutional profile, or just sharing with a fellow reader, are what makes a good library good to present and future scholars.
Good library collections are (just a bit) gratuitous. The problem with managing the academic library strictly according to the numbers–similar to the problem of “teaching to the test” in education–is that the library will fail to be a good library if ALL it does is pursue and measure tangible goals.
We can and should gather stats on usage and solicit input from our users, and yes, we should compare ourselves to peers to try to continuously improve, but we (and the professional organizations who represent us) should recognize and proclaim the fact that the library’s impact on students and scholars cannot be ever accurately measured, reduced to data points or KPIs, or translated to a dollar value that would ever justify our cost. It is an intangible, but because it is intangible does not make it inconsequential.
A university library that is well-managed, stimulating and up-to-date facilitates learning and helps students grow independently, as self-directed scholars. It inspires research, which brings prestige to the university. It is what makes the university a university. It also attracts students, especially graduate students. But try as we might, libraries cannot be concretely or tangibly mapped to higher enrollments, student achievement, increased retention, improved graduation rates, the focus of most university strategic or quality assessment plans.
The Library as a Place for Inspiration and Exploratory Discovery:
- “Defining Excellence in Academic Librarianship at USC (DEAL at USC) / Your Philosophy of Librarianship.” University of Southern California Library. http://libguides.usc.edu/c.php?g=235091&p=1560270 ↩
- Kolowich, Steve. “Bookless Libraries? Technology leaders and librarians consider how the digital age changes the physical space and role of one of higher education’s oldest institutions.” Inside Higher Ed. Nov. 6, 2009. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/11/06/library. ↩
- “Nation’s First Bookless Library on College Campus is Thriving at UTSA.” UTSA Today, http://www.utsa.edu/today/2013/03/aetlibrary.html. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017. ↩
- Dwyer, Liz. “Are college libraries about to become bookless?” Web log post. The Daily Good. N.p., 13 July 2011. Web. <https://www.good.is/articles/are-college-libraries-about-to-become-bookless>. ↩
- Riley, Sharon. “Academic: New Florida University Unveils Bookless Library.” Library Journal 139, no. 15 (Sep 15, 2014): 13-n/a, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/08/academic-libraries/new-florida-polytechnic-unveils-bookless-library/#_. ↩
- Hack, Husna. “‘Bookless libraries’ – has it really come to this?” Christian Science Monitor. N.p., 17 July 2012. Web. <http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2012/0717/Bookless-libraries-has-it-really-come-to-this>. ↩
- Abadi, Mark. “A Major US College Is Moving Almost All of Its Library Books off Campus, and It Represents a Major Change in How Young People Learn.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 18 Jan. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/georgia-tech-library-books-2019-1. ↩
- See for example, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/10/managing-libraries/collaboration-for-hard-times/#_ ↩
- Dowdy, Clare. “Culture – Nine Stunning Contemporary Libraries.” BBC, BBC, 20 Mar. 2019, www.bbc.com/culture/story/20190305-nine-stunning-contemporary-libraries. ↩
- Magee, Jake. “Without a library bond, League City staff assessing Helen Hall Library’s needs.” Community Impact Bay Area, Feb. 6, 2019. https://communityimpact.com/houston/clear-lake-league-city-nassau-bay/city-county/2019/02/06/without-a-library-bond-league-city-staff-assessing-helen-hall-librarys-needs/ ↩
- For example, in October 2015, the President of the American Library Association said as the opening statement of her editorial in American Libraries, “At ALA, we know that the future relevance of libraries and library professionals will depend on what we do for people rather than what we have for people.” Feldman, Sari. “The Future of the MLIS.” American Libraries, Nov.-Dec. 2015, p. 5 ↩
- Anderson, R. (2011). Collections 2021: the future of the library collection is not a collection. Serials: The Journal of the Serials Community, 24(3), 211–215. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/24211 ↩
- A good library collection in this context does not necessarily entail ownership, persistence, or format, but rather that items are deliberately selected based on their value according to criteria which would allow for transparency, predictability and consistency. What this means is that users should have a pretty good feel for what books are included in the collection based on the other books that are there, and librarians should be knowledgeable about many of the items in the collection, not just how to summon them from a database. The smaller the library, the more familiar they should be with their collections. Good library collections have an intentional quality to them: they are not ad hoc accumulations of materials or passive aggregations of academic content. ↩
- Anderson, R., 2011. Collections 2021: the future of the library collection is not a collection. Serials, 24(3), pp. 211–215. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/24211 ↩
- Sanborn, Lura. “Bookless library? I raise you the building.” eContent Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 2, 2013, p. 6+ Retrieved from http://tsuhhelweb.tsu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1490685978?accountid=7093 ↩
- Kenny, Brian. “So You Think You Want to Be a Librarian?” Publisher’s Weekly. May 3, 2013. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/57090-so-you-think-you-want-to-be-a-librarian.html ↩
- Daniel, Katherine, et al. “Library Acquisition Patterns.” Ithaka S+R. Ithaka S+R. 29 January 2019. Web. 8 April 2019. https://doi.org/10.18665/sr.310937 ↩
- Wilders, Coen. “Predicting the Role of Library Bookshelves in 2025.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, vol. 43, Sept. 2017, pp. 384–391. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2017.06.019. ↩
- There are several studies comparing usage of DDA with library selected materials, but I am not really referring to that so much. This is a very impressive study, though: Walker, Kevin W. and Michael A. Arthur. “Judging the Need for and Value of DDA in an Academic Research Library Setting.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, JAI, 31 July 2018, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0099133318301745. In there, effort is made to evaluate DDA vs. traditionally selected titles based on a number of criteria, and the conclusion is that DDA titles provide greater ROI than traditionally selected titles; however, one question I have is whether the faculty and graduate students who once collaborated with librarians on acquisitions are utilizing DDA instead. ↩
- Rebecca M. Sullivan (2010) Common Knowledge: Learning Spaces in Academic Libraries, College & Undergraduate Libraries, 17:2-3, 130-148, DOI: 10.1080/10691316.2010.481608, p. 135 “. . . innovative partnerships” such as “writing and academic support centers, teaching and learning centers, disability coordinators, diversity centers, service learning initiatives, undergraduate advising programs, and digital centers.” ↩
- Ellis, Lindsay. “Texas University Libraries Renovate to Keep Student Interest.” HoustonChronicle.com, Houston Chronicle, 13 Jan. 2018, www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Texas-university-libraries-renovate-to-keep-12462643.php ↩
- Watanabe, Teresa. “Universities Redesign Libraries for the 21st Century: Fewer Books, More Space.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 19 Apr. 2017, www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-college-libraries-20170419-story.html. ↩
- Both ACRL and ALA are perpetuating a pablum that, in the 21st century, librarians can simply replace “having” (resources, collections) with “doing” (teaching information literacy), that collections have no bearing on the business objectives of a university, and are inconsequential in terms of how librarians add value to their parent organizations. This essay, which is really a series of blog postings from 2017-present, was written largely to refute the idea that academic library collections no longer matter. ↩
- citation ↩
- The Hunt Library Story, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okr78MUrImI ↩
- Temple University. “Temple’s New Library Is on the Rise.” YouTube, YouTube, 14 Mar. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNYo3pE4LjU. ↩
- See for example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okr78MUrImI ↩
- Association of College and Research Libraries. “Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summits.” Prepared by Karen Brown and Kara J. Malenfant. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2012, p. 16. http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/issues/value/val_summit.pdf ↩
- Association of College and Research Libraries. “Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summits.” Prepared by Karen Brown and Kara J. Malenfant. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2012, p. 6. http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/issues/value/val_summit.pdf ↩
- Gubera, Chip, and Mara S. Aruguete. “A Comparison of Collaborative and Traditional Instruction in Higher Education.” Social Psychology of Education, vol. 16, no. 4, Dec. 2013, pp. 651–659. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11218-013-9225-7. ↩
- “Library Design Showcase 2012: Collaborative Learning.” American Libraries Magazine, 28 Feb. 2012, americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2012/02/28/library-design-showcase-2012-collaborative-learning. ↩
- Foster, Anita K. “Determining Librarian Research Preferences: A Comparison Survey of Web-Scale Discovery Systems and Subject Databases.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship. Volume 44, Issue 3, May 2018, pp. 330-336. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S009913331730438X ↩
- A great comparison of the leading discovery tools can be found here: Council of Chief Librarians, California Community Colleges. “Discovery Comparison Review,” Spring 2016 https://cclibrarians.org/sites/default/files/reviews/Documents/DiscoveryComparisonCCLEAR16.pdf ↩
- See Rebecca M. Sullivan (2010) Common Knowledge: Learning Spaces in Academic Libraries, College & Undergraduate Libraries, 17:2-3, 130-148, DOI: 10.1080/10691316.2010.481608 ↩
- Digital School Library Leaves Bookstacks Behind” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120097876 ↩
- http://www.maschoolibraries.org/newsletter/reintroducing-printed-books-to-the-cushing-academy-library ↩
- “How Hunt Library Redefined the Library for the Digital Age,” https://www.slideshare.net/duvalunionconsulting/how-hunt-library-redefined-the-library-for-the-digital-age, slide 5 ↩
- Sanborn, Lura. “Bookless library? I raise you the building.” eContent Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 2, 2013, p. 6+ Retrieved from http://tsuhhelweb.tsu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1490685978?accountid=7093 ↩
- “On the Cost of Keeping a Book,” http://www.leverpress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/CourantandNielsen.pdf ↩
- I quoted from the pdf, but it originally appeared here in print: Paul N. Courant and Matthew “Buzzy” Nielsen, “On the Cost of Keeping a Book”, The Idea of Order: Transforming Research Collections for 21st Century Scholarship. CLIR Pub#147. June 2010, p. 102 ↩
- http://www.newsweek.com/even-university-libraries-arent-keeping-hard-copy-books-364853 ↩
- an assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact. ↩
- Barr, Catherine, and Karen Adams. Bowker annual library and book trade almanac. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2016. 360. Print. ↩
- Lately, vendors of Library Management Systems have been concentrating on improving back-end functionality, workflows and analytics more so than enhancing the front-end user search experience, which has been hampered by inconsistent metadata and API restrictions by publishers. Publishers have more financial incentive to work with Amazon than they do with library vendors. ↩
- The term “Grand Narrative” was introduced by Jean-François Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, in which he critiqued all forms of institutional and ideological forms of knowledge. Social scientists have used this concept to refer to an underlying ideological belief which provides societal legitimization to certain forms of knowledge over others.
Historically, the value of libraries was tied into other, larger legitimizing values—democracy (the need for an informed citizenry), cultivating the habit of life-long learning; a European model of higher education where students are expected to function as independent scholars and investigators, taking greater responsibility for their own education (therefore needing access to a research library) as they moved up the ladder of higher education, rather than remaining passive consumers of instruction. ↩
- According to Welsh and Metcalf, “The term ‘institutional effectiveness,’ promulgated by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is interchangeable with a number of monikers for continuous improvement processes, such as ‘quality assurance’ and ‘quality enhancement.’ The specific initiatives included under these rubrics typically encompass activities such as student outcomes assessment, academic program review, strategic planning, performance scorecards, performance bench-marking, and quality measurement, each of which has numerous manifestations in academia. Despite variations in terminology, colleges and universities accredited by any one of the six regional accrediting agencies must demonstrate that they have designed and implemented acceptable processes of institutional effectiveness.” Welsh, John F., and Jeff Metcalf. “Faculty and Administrative Support for Institutional Effectiveness Activities: A Bridge across the Chasm?” The Journal of Higher Education 74.4 (2003): 445-68. Web. ↩
- Lindauer, B. G. (1998, November). Defining and Measuring the Library’s Impact on Campuswide Outcomes. College & Research Libraries, 59(6), 546-570. ↩
- The 2011 standard was revised in 2018, which was not available when this blog post was first written. ↩
- ACRL SLHE, Introduction, http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/standardslibraries ↩
- ACRL SLHE, Section 1.1 says: The library defines and measures outcomes in the context of institutional mission. 1.2 The library develops outcomes that are aligned with institutional, departmental, and student affairs outcomes. 1.3 The library develops outcomes that are aligned with accreditation guidelines for the institution. 1.4 The library develops and maintains a body of evidence that demonstrates its impact in convincing ways. 1.5 The library articulates how it contributes to student learning, collects evidence, documents successes, shares results, and makes improvements. 1.6 The library contributes to student recruitment, retention, time to degree, and academic success. 1.7 The library communicates with the campus community to highlight its value in the educational mission and in institutional effectiveness. ↩
- Hernon, Peter, and Robert E. Dugan. Outcomes Assessment in Your Library. Chicago: American Library Association, 2002, p. 11 ↩
- LRCs provide remedial tutoring, curriculum resources (textbooks, study guides, and sufficient resources for student research papers), instructional media, collaborative study spaces, and computers. Their purpose is to assist students with the completion of course assignments and the mastery of specific concepts and skills–the achievement of “student learning objectives” tied to the curriculum. They are often associated with remedial, vocational and technical training, or the first year experience. See for example, Notre Dame’s LRC: http://firstyear.nd.edu/fys-resources/the-learning-resource-center/. Compared to libraries, it is much easier for LRCs to demonstrate student “impact” with a lot less overhead. Although both libraries and LRCs provide resources to students, they have very different missions. Cost effectiveness and close alignment with institutional objectives are reasons why LRCs are encroaching upon, or altogether replacing, the academic research library at schools which serve large populations of academically unprepared students. ↩
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Managerialism ↩
- Berg, Maggie, and Barbara K. Seeber. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. Toronto: U of Toronto, 2016. Print. ↩
- Ginsberg, Benjamin. The Fall of the Faculty: the Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2011. Print. ↩
- Gerber, Larry G. The Rise and Decline of Faculty Governance: Professionalization and the Modern American University. Baltimore: John Hopkins U Press, 2014. Print. ↩
- From https://notnumber.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/a-definition-of-managerialism/ ↩
- The ACRL standards committee was guided by the idea that if we adopted the roles and missions of the institution and other business units, it would serve to “advancing and sustaining their role as partners in educating students.” ↩
- For three years, my university experimented with incorporating formal information literacy instruction into the freshman experience, including the administration of pre- and post SAILs tests; but the impact of these efforts could not be correlated to improved completion rates or higher GPAs. It was my observation that showing students how to use the library’s catalog and electronic databases–“library instruction”–was more impactful than the prescribed information literacy curriculum, which exposed students to the concept of Boolean searching, broadening and narrowing topics, using concept maps, avoiding plagiarism, and evaluating information sources found on the Internet. Demonstrating how to use the library to conduct research using our electronic databases was the primary thing students and faculty wanted. ↩
- Sarah M. Pritchard, “Determining Quality in Academic Libraries.” Library Trends, 44.3 (1996), 573 ↩
- Pritchard, 573 ↩
- Libraries are advised to rewrite their mission statements to reflect and conform with the mission statements of their parent institutions, and set goals accordingly. ↩
- Rowena Cullen, “Measure for measure: a post-modern critique of performance measurement in libraries and information services.” Proceedings of the IATUL Conferences. Paper 10. http://doc s.lib.purdue.edu/iatul/1998/papers/10 ↩
- Crawford, Gregory A. Developing a Measure of Library Goodness. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 11:3 (2016): 117, https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/EBLIP/article/view/23875 ↩
- SACS, the accrediting agency for many southern colleges and schools, pioneered these techniques, and also developed more rigorous assessment and rule-based approaches than other institutional accrediting bodies. See Welsh and Metcalf. ↩
- Dugan, Robert E., and Peter Hernon. “Outcomes Assessment: Not Synonymous with Inputs and Outputs.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 28.6 (2002): 376-380. ↩
- Carr, Patrick L. “Serendipity in the Stacks: Libraries, Information Architecture, and the Problems of Accidental Discovery.” College & Research Libraries 76.6 (2015): 831-842. ↩
- Larry, N. W. (2007). Unseen measures: The need to account for intangibles. The Bottom Line, 20(2), 77-84. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/08880450710773011 ↩
- ACRL, SLHE, Introduction, “Accreditation language, trends, and contexts also inform the Standards. Academic library directors surveyed by the standards task force in spring 2010 stressed the importance of relating library standards to accreditation criteria. Accreditation agency library reviewers were asked by the task force to identify characteristics of library strength and weakness within the context of institutional accreditation. The task force also reviewed guidelines from each regional accrediting agency and extracted concepts and specific language (i.e., outcomes-based language, and terminology such as “sufficient” and “effective”). Trends in the accreditation process affecting libraries include an emphasis on using assessment results for continuous improvement; full library integration into the academic endeavor; a move away from a separate library standard within the overall accreditation standard; a focus on outcomes and bench-marking; recognition of information literacy as the catalyst for the library’s educational role; the library’s support of all student learning outcomes, not just those overtly library-related; an alignment of library and institutional missions; and a need for multiple forms of assessment and documentation.” ↩
- Elmborg, James. “Tending The Garden of Learning: Lifelong Learning as Core Library Value.” Library Trends 64.3 (2016): 533-555 ↩
- Elmborg 553-4 ↩
- Bangert, Stephanie Rogers. “Thinking Boldly! College and University Library Mission Statements as Roadsigns to the Future.” American Library Association, September 29, 2006. http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/whitepapers/nashville/bangert Document ID: 1497510b-f35b-3224-5d15-5453a6cea87d ↩
- Blog post. Retrieved May 3, 2014. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2012/editorial-our-philosophies-of-librarianship/ ↩