Monday, November 1, 2010

PL 72/10: Into the flow

Filed under: 1bib, research — plinius @ 8:30 pm

The role of librarians in relation to academics needs to be remade.

John MacColl has an excellent article – Library Roles in University Research Assessment – about the future role of academic libraries in Liber Quarterly no. 2, 2010.

He emphasizes the need to turn – or rather return – from a largely administrative to a more scholarly role. The key sentence, as I see it, is the following:

The library should be knowledgeable about knowledge, and should be the main authority on the campus about the ways knowledge is generated and transmitted through all of the disciplines it contains.

MacColl writes from an academic position. In academia, scholarly means research-oriented. But the generation and transmission of knowledge includes learning and teaching as well as research. Knowledge must be reproduced as well as produced. Scholars do more than ponder the mysteries of the universe – they teach and train, test and innovate. Libraries need to participate in these activities as well.

Below I quote some of his conclusions.

  • Libraries have a number of roles to play in the processes that exist in the national regimes for assessment.
  • Most obviously, insofar as these systems (and tenure and promotion systems in the US) require correct bibliographic metadata to operate, the library is the obvious place to get it.
  • But there is a more strategic role that we librarians can and should play…
  • Over the past two or three decades …  libraries have embraced technologies that have concentrated on data processing and so allowed them to play important roles in university administration.
  • … their movement in this direction has been at the expense of their scholarly curation activities and they now need to reassert their role in respect of scholarly knowledge.

The library should be knowledgeable about knowledge, and should be the main authority on the campus about the ways knowledge is generated and transmitted through all of the disciplines it contains.

  • The library is the only neutral scholarly actor on the campus.
  • The administrative role is the main one performed by the library in relation to assessment.
  • But there are a number of expertises that are not obviously discoverable on most university campuses today, and yet which belong in this place of ‘neutral scholarship’.
  • They would include expertise
    • in bibliometrics,
    • in copyright and licensing (and thus in open access),
    • in publishing,
    • and in the tools of scholarly dissemination (the blogs that are most useful in particular fields, etc).
  • These expertises, ideally located in subject liaison librarians, collectively should be represented by the University Librarian and senior colleagues, to whom the deans and principals of our institutions of Higher Education should turn regularly for advice, and from whom they should hear regularly about the changing contours of scholarly outputs in the disciplines of their institutions.
  • There surely is no longer any doubt that institutional libraries must set out on a radically transforming path, scaling back on institutional-level cataloguing and acquisition, and on institutional library systems management.
  • These tasks will be done increasingly by machinery and third parties.
  • The institutional research library needs to focus on the unique materials it holds within its collections, and put them in the flow.
  • And it needs to focus on the scholarly activity that goes on all around it on campus — more quickly, more vigorously and in greater volume than ever — and largely without reference to the library.
  • Without the assistance of the library to curate, advise on and preserve the manifold outputs of this activity, while individual scholars may still manage to thrive and build their reputations, they will do so within an impoverished infrastructure for scholarship, using a compromised archive, and their legacy to future scholars will be insecure.
  • Our greatest challenge now is to understand this, and to shape our professional structures to deal with it.

June 2010

John MacColl
Liber Quarterly Volume 20 Issue 2 2010 167

MacColl is based at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and is European Director, RLG Partnership, OCLC Research,


MacColl’s article is published under a CC license.


1 Comment »

  1. […] Jeg oppfatter dette som et viktig “tegn i tiden”. Når litteraturen løsrives fra biblioteket på denne måten, peker det på en restrukturering av fagbibliotekets rolle i høyere utdanning. Farer truer og muligheter åpner seg – se PL 72/10: Into the flow […]

    Pingback by P 153/10 « Plinius — Thursday, November 4, 2010 @ 4:49 pm

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