Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Engaged Academics & Librarianship


I found this NYT Opinion piece from this response to the post, from which I scanned this Twitter hashtag (#EngagedAcademics ) to read other responses to that first post, which was a call for academics to be more engaged with the public.  Of course, this particular issue is somewhat paradoxical, in that the discussion is all out there in the open for the public to read (none was behind a paywall (unless you had used up your free NYT readings for the month). But then I started wondering where libraries fit in here.  Reading comments from Kristoff’s original post (which, because NYT stopped allowing comments, was found on his blog), I did see one posted by “amr_658” from Lexington, KY, who mentioned the role librarians could and have played:

Academic librarians and archivists, often excluded from the traditional core group ‘faculty,’ have long seen the benefits of using Twitter, blogs, and other publishing platforms to communicate with diverse users. As information professionals, the profession strives to help bridge the gap or facilitate understanding between academia and the public. By understanding the information needs of today’s public, librarians and information professionals can help scholars reach wider audiences and connect those audiences to the appropriate academic resources.

So, what are we doing to help bridge that moat?  Could we do more?  And how can we incorporate this into our “value statement” or “impact on our community”?

From the Twitter hashtag, I found this summary rather helpful in understanding the responses to Kristof’s piece.  Here are the key arguments and issues Jessie Daniels found, as well as my thoughts on where libraries could play a key role in affecting:

  • “This is old criticism” – based largely on cyclical periods of anti-intellectualism and academic writing, which is usually perceived as inaccessible to the general public.
    • Anti-intellectualism affects academic and public libraries, as well as academia.  Librarians have the tools and the education to stem the reach of anti-intellectualism by providing
  • “It’s the reward structure” – essentially, academics are rewarded more for publishing new research in the highly cited resources, which are usually not accessible to the public (physically or metaphorically), than for extending the reach of their published works via translations or publishing in the public media.
    • Librarians could (and often do) support the academic’s attempts to extend their reach by providing the infrastructure for blogging and Web sites, including translations of works in collection development plans, providing resources to enable the academic to “translate” their academic thoughts and ideas be understood, and providing public platforms for the academics to extend their reach.  Collaborations of academic and public librarians could enable academics to discuss their works at public libraries or other venues more accessible to people than the college campus.
    • Academic librarians could also enable those who focus on teaching to consider the roles that students could play in reaching the public.  Examples including providing resources that provide opposing viewpoints (I know there is a series that does just that, one which introduced me as an undergrad to the other sides of arguments), including resources that help the instructor learn new methods of engaging students, providing online resources that bridge the gap between what students learn in a textbook and the “real world” that they experience.
  • “We are already here…” – this is the response that pulled me into this discussion.  Essentially, this argument is more aimed at the Kristof’s who appear to not recognize the work that is already being done.  This is extended by the next theme, “Kristof thinks the category ‘public intellectual’ is only for white dudes”.   That is, Kristof doesn’t recognize the work that is being done by minority and women academics.
    • Librarians could (and, again, do) support the work of all kinds of academics by ensuring that their collections represent all voices on an issue.  These collections include both physical and online.  This would necessarily involve paying attention to these voices and getting involved in the conversations.
  • “Practical advice for how to be more engaged”, including:
    • “Work on cultivating a public presence” – Librarians could help by providing the support for our faculty create blogs, enable them to efficiently review the latest research and connect to their social media.  This may involve developing or working with vendors for them to develop apps and online tools to make it easy to share news and articles, as well as their own ideas.  Setting up Open Access journals that enable academics to publish articles that effectively translate their research for public understanding and action.
    • “Try to reach out to journalists” – Any reference librarian worth her or his own salt should be able to help with that.  Has anybody been asked this?  What about setting up a LibGuide of key journalists involved in specific areas of concerns?

The point of this exercise was to see where and how librarianship could insert themselves into this discussion of academics and public engagement.  Librarians are a natural connection for academics to turn towards for support and resources.  Measurements of our value and impact should necessarily involve this connection, such as collaborations with faculty and students on projects engaging with the public, assistance to faculty on setting up and writing blogs, and programs that extend the reach of faculty beyond the academy and into the public realm.

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This entry was posted on February 23, 2014 by in Academic Libraries, LIS Profession, Public Library, Scholarly Communication.

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