Friday, December 12, 2014

Libraries and The Academy

The discussion about the future of libraries seems to be never-ending. When I entered library school (somewhere in the late Jurassic period, as I recall), the conversations were either starting or in full bloom, depending on who you talked to. As this new thing now best known as the Interwebz became an official "thing", it became clear to most people who worked in the library field that a major event was upon us. The very nature of the resources that libraries have spent decades - even centuries - collecting, organizing, and managing - was evolving in front of us, and we needed to react and adapt.

As should be no surprise, the popular media has basically treated this an extinction event, and the view of library as "storehouse / warehouse" became all too common in all sorts of discussions. And as the subject appeared in more and more articles, it crept into the academic world as well. And although academe has a slower knee-jerk reaction time than elsewhere, it does not not mean that we are immune to the issue - far from it. The pressure has been slower to build up, in some ways - but is has built up. In some situations, it has led to some truly remarkable transformations in traditional library and librarian roles, as well as in academic library spaces and resources. And even in situations where the changes have come more slowly, the imperative to change and adapt is still there.

As in every situation of this sort, the reactions of both librarians and their constituencies have varied. An article that appeared in the December 10th edition of Inside Higher Education reflects some of the conflicts that have arisen, especially in the traditional liberal arts institutional setting. The article is thoughtful, makes some excellent points about the sources of conflicts between libraries, the people who run and operate them, and the primary stakeholders (faculty and administrators, even trustees and alumni), and even points out that a significant source of the conflicts are internal to the library, between directors and their librarians. This is most definitely not a "one size fits all/most" kind of situation, and the problems can be as unique as the institution. The sturm und drang of print versus electronic is one constant; and and area where the traditional view of the importance of the library's ownership of information has come into the sharpest conflict with the new view that the library's access to information is of greater importance have resulted in some of the more spectacular disagreements.

Thankfully, here at Lake Land College, we have not had an overabundance of drama on the subject. The renovation of  the Virgil H. Judge Learning Resource Center building that houses the Library was a step in the right direction, creating more usable study space, as well as more accessible collections. And as we have shifted our resources from exclusively print to mostly print to our present state of more electronic resources than print, we have been assisted by the fact that the physical size of our collection has never really been a significant benchmark in trying to determine quality. The physical restrictions on the size our our print collection are imposed by the size of our building - we will never had a large print collection. And we continue to work to make the collection more relevant by adding new materials (in print AND online) while removing items that are outdated, in poor condition, or are simply no longer relevant to our curriculum. But most of all, both the librarians and the administration took a very early interest in developing online resources, and the College has worked to keep the funding source for virtual collections update periodically. Given that we serve many online students, and students who may never step foot on our campus, this was a crucial decision that has paid dividends for our students.

So our present resource allocations? [Updated 9/4/2015] Approximately:
26,600 physical items (including print, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, etc.) and about 95 periodical subscriptions;
55,000 electronic books and audiobooks online in several collections (ebrary, Gale Virtual Reference Library, 3M Cloud Library, My Media Mall / Overdrive) and over 95,000 full-text periodicals online

While the format of information has changed, and the online availability of information has dramatically and fundamentally changed the kind of materials that we work with, it is also fundamentally true that while some of the roles of libraries and librarians have and will change, the mission of connecting users to information and helping them choose and use information resources effectively is just as current as it ever has been.

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