Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

On Lankes on Academic Libraries

R. David Lankes may be somewhat controversial (as librarians go), but I have always found him to be inspirational.  If I ever need a boost in my morale, a reminder of why I’m here, a reason to keep going and not high-tail it for something more fulfilling, I look to Lankes – his blog, his Atlas, his videos, his presentations.  I bathe in the fresh spring of key phrases of his Atlas of New Librarianship to wash away the cynicism, the jade, the frustration, and enrich my soul with meaning, purpose, and hope.  Am I being too dramatic? Not really.  Consider these (emphasis mine):

The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.

I have long contended that a room full of books is simply a closet but that an empty room with a librarian in it is a library.

What we must develop…is a new worldview of librarianship that transcends tools, and even former missions…It is vital to do so not simply to survive the current times but to open up a world of possibilities.

…the core values that librarians bring to any community…are a dedication to learning, a commitment to openness, a provision of intellectual freedom and safety, and a dedication to intellectual honesty.

Concepts that I have attempted to bring to my work include:

  • Referring more to what librarians and not libraries do.
  • Attempting to refer to members and not patrons.
  • Accepting my biases but striving to be intellectually honest.
  • Recognizing the importance of the community in selection of the collection.

Lankes goes to great effort to ensure that his ideas of the librarians’ worldview is universal and not specific to any particular community.  But it is often too easy to think “public libraries”, especially with his repeated references to “communities”.  Well, he has recently posted some thoughts about the future of academic libraries on his blog.  Like his Atlas, these are directions he thinks academic libraries, er, librarians should be taking.  They are “mini-service proposals that talk about how we might reshape services in libraries supporting research intensive universities.”  Lankes is clear that they are not fully-developed, but rather “sketches” meant “‘to get the creative juices flowing'”.

So, here are the ideas from that series that struck me the most and how they got my “creative juices flowing”, again, emphases added by me:

Instead of advocating for open access and then creating silos of document morgues called institutional repositories, we should be building cross-institutional curated publishing platforms hand in hand with disciplinary scholars.

Well, this has always been a concern that I have had with IR’s.  And it is not a problem of which the developers and curators of IR’s have ignored.  Indeed, most repositories are built using standards in metadata and communication that enable them to be searched and harvested.  There have been attempts to enable IR’s to be more discoverable in Google Scholar, the apparent go-to site for finding articles for many academicians.

The problem she encountered is not that people (students, faculty) were dissatisfied with the library, they simply expected too little from it. In many cases, faculty and students simply discounted the library, because they didn’t see how it could get better. In fact they had never even thought of HOW it could be better.

This is a real problem with applying traditional market-research techniques to libraries, I mean, librarianship.  Most satisfaction surveys report high rates of satisfaction, along with specific complaints, which are often associated with members who had one or two bad experiences.  True, correcting the source of these problems could shield others from such pain, but it would do very little to change the opinions of those who reported the issues in the first place.  Their minds are set and changing attitudes is among the hardest things to do.  Returning to Lankes’ point, though…the “discounting” of the library by its very members.  We see the potential of librarianship to find, evaluate and access the information we believe the members need, but they don’t.  This is where I think the OCLC Linked Data initiative could play a notable role.  Taking the information directly to the person rather than relying on the person to think of going to the library in the first place.

The Knowledge Agenda

Lankes’ second post in this series addresses ways that librarians can actively participate in the generation of knowledge, not just the curation.  But to do this takes time and investment in the development of research skills.

The librarians will set up an Advanced Librarianship Institute to enhance current librarian skills, and reward innovative librarians through indirect cost reimbursements and research leaves. The Institute itself will also attract funding in re-training library staff at other institutions.

There have already been several initiatives in this direction.  The ALA Library Research Round Table (LRRT) has been sponsoring the Library Research Seminar, a conference of papers, posters, presentations & workshops.  Similarly, the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship, provides a ten days of training, followed by support for a year-long research project for those new to research.

Innovation in instruction

Just as a mission of accelerating the scholarly conversation creates a natural research agenda for librarians, so too does it make the library into an ideal incubator of instructional experimentation. By understanding new methods of instruction online and in person (and most often in a hybrid setting) librarians can advance their own curriculum of information literacy. They can also serve as valuable partners with faculty and IT services in areas such as distance education.

Librarians have indeed taken the mantel of instructional innovation – look at the proliferation of examples of MOOC’s, flipped classrooms, and hybrid learning.  However, so much is done within the silo of LIS instruction and not enough collaboration with faculty or directly in full view of the faculty.  Developing a more formal “incubator” with dedicated staff and appropriate marketing/advertising of the service could bring about greater change.

Clinical Teaching Environment

Students in different disciplines can gain invaluable real world experience applying their classroom learning to real problems in a functioning library. Students will work shoulder by shoulder with library professionals in exploring how information changes industries and disciplines.

Rather than checking out a book; faculty, students, and staff can check out engineers, coders, illustrators, and the range of university expertise.

Far too many of our student workers’ talents and skills are not applied to the best use.  While I don’t want to put people out of work, we really don’t need students to check out materials or retrieve items from the holds shelf.  Better to find more efficient methods for these tasks and put the students to work developing advertising campaigns, preparing and testing surveys, developing flowcharts to improve the methods of staffing, writing new programs to make things more findable.  Because of the greater complexity of these jobs, these students would require oversight from their faculty mentors and advisors.

Concierge Librarians

Upon acceptance each freshmen is assigned their own concierge librarian. Within their first weeks on campus, a student meets with his or her librarian to review how students can use the university’s resources and systems (in and beyond the library) to succeed. They review course syllabi and development approaches to excel.

The librarian walks students through the often arcane mix of bursars and registrars and course management; cutting through the complexity of the university.

Hmmm, not too sure about this one.  Far be it for me to retain strict barriers of responsibility, but this suggestion seems to stray a bit far from the goal of information literacy.  Just keeping up with that “arcane mix” seems like it would be a full-time job in and of itself.  Perhaps better linkage with those who do have this knowledge may be more appropriate.  However, he does go on…

Librarians and library staff can help retain students, and bridge academic gaps in students moving from high school to college. Where most freshmen retention initiatives are school or departmental based, the library can reach across the entire university.

This idea does return a bit more into our sphere of influence.  I think it is imperative for there to be librarians who specialize in the first year experience, and for them to gain a clear understanding of how limited those new college are in their information literacy skills.  Perhaps linking with local K-12 districts to develop skills in training teachers & school librarians in such methods – like this.

By building an early relationship with students outside of classes, librarians can become trusted sources of information. Librarians can also work to help diagnose learning issues and coordinate with tutoring services in the learning commons.

Again, I feel uncomfortable putting librarians into the roles that far outside of their expertise.  Being learning disabilities diagnostician and coordinating resources requires far too much, well, resources for any librarian.  Rather, librarians should make their case for being part of the team that brings possible learning issues to the attention of such a coordinator, assists in developing a plan, and provides tutoring services in information literacy or facilities and resources for tutoring in other subjects.

Am I too concerned about these “realms”?  Am I not thinking “outside the box”?  Am I too limited in my worldview?  Maybe I’m just being practical – or is that an excuse?


…we must recreate the library to propel forward the mission and reputation of the university at large.

But imagine creating a corp of knowledge professionals dedicated to that mission. A corp of radical positive change agents already embedded in the lives of faculty, students, and staff. That corp should be the librarians of the university.

I think I see David’s point – be the change that you imagine.  But I would hope that the change that we imagine would be more inclusive and more collaborative with the university as a whole.  No one group of individuals by themselves can turn a ship back on-course.  However, librarians do have the advantage of being interdisciplinary in and of themselves, which provides us with the skills to reach out to all of the actors and stakeholders with our mission.

Aahh – I feel refreshed and ready to take on the world again…or at least, my little part.


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This entry was posted on December 8, 2014 by in Academic Libraries, Intriguing Ideas, LIS Profession and tagged , .

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