,James G. Neal, Head of the Columbia University Library (New York), has written a call to action for academic libraries.
Below I reproduce the central parts of his article as a set of thirty theses – to facilitate discussion.
In Norway we currently have a debate about the relationship between research, innovation, training and practice in the library field. I am encouraged by Neal’s strong demand for library innovation. I agree with his description of librarianship as an “information-poor” profession (thesis 22). He is not opposed to research and development – but wants it to support decision-making and progressive services.
R&D needs strong links to the practical world: a network of laboratories for experimentation that can help us move ideas much more quickly from concept to market (thesis 23).
- Understanding and acting on the critical trends affecting academic library progress is essential.
- Translating those influences into bold and systemic change is imperative.
- Primal innovation, a basic commitment to risk and experimentation, and deconstruction … are the essential instruments.
- Academic libraries are confronted by users’ rapidly shifting behaviors and expectations, a demand for customized and personalized information environments, and individual participation and control.
- The aging and ineffective service paradigms that academic libraries sustain will not work. Our users have too many viable alternatives and will not tolerate rampant information-discovery failure.
- Many academic libraries continue to maintain redundant and inefficient library operations, automating old workflows and resisting new combinations and outsourcing strategies to carry out the basic work. They are missing opportunities to take advantage of scale and network effects through aggregation and to move core functions and services to the cloud. Mobile technologies have accelerated the pace of collective innovation, a global apps revolution.
- Academic libraries tend to be built for a slower pace of change and too often fail to link structures and resource allocations to priorities. Academic libraries are seeking to squeeze into a learning and scholarly framework increasingly defined by openness: open architecture, open design, open knowledge, open data, open source, and open access. Our support for the new majority learner, often with an episodic, distant, other-directed, and career-focused relationship with the college/university, is challenged.
- Our response … must help to address the future of the scholarly journal and scholarly monograph, the often chaotic and diverse repository movement, new forms of quality review, and the presentation of the born-digital cultural, scientific, and intellectual record.
- We face heightened accountability and assessment. The institutions and governments that fund academic libraries want to understand if we are advancing college/university goals, supporting users’ objectives, and serving state and national interests. Have we created effective measures of user satisfaction, market penetration, success and impact, cost-effectiveness, and productivity? This is clearly linked to the new economic context of smaller budgets, reduced purchasing power, less political support, and intense competition for resources.
- We know how to cooperate on a significant scale in such areas as cataloging, interlibrary loan and document delivery, and licensing databases, for example. But we need a deeper integration of operations in the areas of mass production, early co-investment as we build new infrastructures and new initiatives, and commitment to a shared network of centers of excellence.
Theses 11 to 20
- We should implement a national network of “last copy” print repositories. The rapidly expanding and dependable access to electronic copies as the primary path to information for users presents a remarkable opportunity to significantly reduce the book warehouses (aka print collections) on thousands of campuses across the country.
- The mass digitization of books from research library collections and the successful electronic publishing experience enable early coordinated movement. We will need to decide how many copies, and where, and with what standards and accountability. What will be the registry, business, and service models and requirements?
- Libraries need to advance a national plan … to make sure that the intellectual, cultural, and scientific record is captured and preserved for permanent availability and use. This is a “collection development” imperative that will ensure that born-digital resources will not be lost to learning and research and that the “bibliographic rot” we are now experiencing will not undermine the integrity and productivity of the scholarly infrastructure.
- A further digital arena for which a systematic solution is required is e-research cyberinfrastructure and research information management.
- Researchers note how important data extraction, distribution, collaboration, visualization, and simulation will be to their work. The scope and rigor of data capture and curation may defy institutional solutions. Is there a role for academic libraries to partner with their data centers and their researcher communities?
- We must raise the question of why the overwhelming majority of academic libraries … continue to maintain a full suite of technical services operations.
- The acquisition, management, cataloging, preservation, and digitization of library resources—the mass-production aspects of library work—should be integrated into a network of regional service agencies.
- This would enable efficiencies and quality that may not be achievable on the local level [and] would release staff resources to be focused more aggressively and productively on working with the user and on partnering in the learning and research work of the campus.
- These initiatives prompt a reconsideration of academic library space standards and utilization. We must advance from the trompe l’oeil library facilities we currently maintain to new strategies for learning, intellectual, social, and collaborative spaces characterized by flexibility, adaptability, and usability.
- We need to focus less on statistical and operational formulas, designing for the user rather the collection.
Theses 21 to 25
- We need to bring the classroom and the academy into the library, thinking more about playground and less about sanctuary.
- Academic librarianship is an “information-poor” information profession. We need to develop—together and in partnership with our IT colleagues and appropriate faculty—a robust R&D capacity to enable data-driven decision making and progressive services.
- We need new knowledge creation through a network of laboratories for experimentation that can help us move ideas much more quickly from concept to market.
- One of the important byproducts of an expanded R&D enterprise would be the building of a national library program to create and distribute applications that support innovative and effective information discovery and use.
- In the legal and legislative wars, the higher education and library communities are generally losing the battles. The information policy agenda we care about is extensive: intellectual freedom, privacy, civil liberties, telecommunications, government information, workforce policy, funding for education and research, and copyright, …
- James G. Neal. Prospects for Systemic Change across Academic Libraries, Educause, vol. 46, no. 2, March/April 2011
Note that theses 1 and 2 are quotes from Charles J. Henry, in the January/February 2011 column for the E-Content department of Educause.
- PL 6/11: The value of libraries for research. New British report
- PL 72/10: Into the flow. Report on academic libraries
- PL 28/10: Top ten trends. Academic libraries watch out!
- PL 22/10: Conceptual challenges – mentioned by our participants in Finland
- PL 56/08. Don’t wait for leaders. Carpe diem. Act now.
- The future of librarianship – and academic libraries. 2005.