Reflections on ACRL 2013

Last week I attended the ACRL conference in Indianapolis and have had a lot of thoughts rambling around in my mind since then.

The reception was at the Indiana State Museum. There I discovered that Indiana state history is about as interesting as the history of any other individual state–not very. However, I learned a lot about how state history museums put together exhibits from a librarian who used to work for one. It was very educational. Thanks, Josh!

At the reception, I met two different people whom I had apparently met before and didn’t remember. (Technically three, but one of them didn’t remember meeting me, either.) Saying “I’m bad with faces” might be a reason, but it’s not an excuse. Some people develop techniques for remembering the faces and names of people they meet in passing at conferences and such. I should do that. Anyway, if you’re reading this, sorry about that, and it won’t happen again. At least for you two.

I met someone who introduced herself as a “fan” of this blog. I don’t get that much, and it was rather enjoyable. All writers like to hear from people who like their work. Maybe if I posted a photo of myself on the blog more people who like the blog would see me and say hello. But then there might also be people who see me and say, “So you’re the jerk who said librarians should never learn to code!” [Note: I never said that.]

Hotel bars in Indianapolis don’t seem to stay open past 11pm. For a city hosting a conference of librarians, that just seems wrong.

I kept hearing accents in restaurants and hotels that sounded southern, but I couldn’t place them. Was I encountering southerners who lacked a distinctive regional accent, or is there an Indiana accent that sounds kind of southern? (And for non-southerners who think southerners all sound the same, we/they don’t. Not that I have many remnants of a southern accent. When people find out I’m from Louisiana and ask why I don’t have an accent, I tell them that everyone in Louisiana sounds like me.)

The most poorly represented track was probably Collections. You couldn’t do a whole day going to sessions on collections, whereas you could easily do that for Teaching and Learning. Since faculty and students routinely value the stuff libraries provides over the services they provide, it’s curious that librarians routinely reverse that emphasis. I think I know why it happens. Of course, the ACRL conference doesn’t have to emphasize everything. For librarians interested in collections, there’s always the Charleston Conference.

MOOCs came up a bit, always in a neutral tone. Some librarians are trying to find ways to integrate librarians into MOOCs. I don’t think there’s much future for that, mostly because of licensed content and the sheer scale, but good luck to them. Hopeful academic trendspotters think MOOCs are the higher education of the future. I doubt that. Instead I think MOOCs might be the last semblance of higher education in the future for those below the upper-middle and upper classes who are being steadily priced out of traditional higher education as state governments decide it’s better to slash taxes than educate their citizens. The liberal education necessary to provide free and critical citizens capable of lifelong learning is expensive, and what politician wants free and critical citizens? When we see the children of the rich relying on MOOCs and distance education degrees with no professors and no classes instead of heading to Ivy League universities, I’ll have been proven wrong.

Of the presentations I saw, only one got me thinking, “WTF? They rejected my contributed paper proposal for that?” That’s not too bad a ratio, I suppose. If people are going to get a line on their CV from presenting at ACRL, the least they could do is a little preparation so they don’t offend their audience. After looking through all the presentation descriptions, I also figure that my chances of being accepted would improve if I did something practical and related to information literacy. But everyone else does that, so what’s the point.

One of the more interesting presentations was by Brian Mathews, the Ubiquitous Librarian, who did indeed seem ubiquitous on the program. His talk on The Art of Problem Discovery (longer version here) was thought-provoking. I especially liked that he addressed technological and other disruptions to academic libraries and higher education while avoiding focus on specific trends, skills, tools, etc. Instead, he discussed broader approaches such as ways of thinking about problems, which in the longer article he terms “thinking lenses”: e.g., systems, integrative, design, lateral, agile, and computational thinking. This sort of approach seems much more productive in the long run than getting trapped into specific tools, trends, or skills. Perhaps I find the approach more compelling because I was promoting the same broadness myself when I argued that rhetoric and philosophy were more important “skills” for librarians than many others. In a discussion not about skills, I would instead have talked about rhetorical thinking or philosophical thinking. Indeed, in discussing how to make contacts with units outside the library and persuade people of the value the library can bring to them, Brian was engaging in some rhetorical thinking himself, and it sounds like the “problem literature” is mostly philosophical in nature. Now I’m thinking that if I were more focused and more ambitious, maybe they’d invite me to speak at ACRL. Probably not going to happen.

I didn’t attend the DIY panel, although I have read Brian Mathews’ comparison of DIY with Startup thinking (which was another panel I didn’t attend). Maybe it’s because I was put off by part of the In the Library with the Lead Pipe blog post announcing the topic, particularly this bit (which Brian quotes in the comparison “Survival vs. Reshaping”):

DIY activities are always creative by nature, but DIY culture in libraries is less about creativity and more about basic survival. A traditional library is a dead library. We know this: if libraries don’t change they will fade away, eclipsed by the free, the instant, and the easy. The mantra of twenty-first century librarianship is and must be: change, change, and more change.

DIY might be the latest movement for librarians to get excited about, but two parts of that statement bother me. First is the assertion, “We know this: a traditional library is a dead library” (my emphasis). Do we really know this? How do we know this? Can you prove it? It sounds more like an affirmation of faith than a reflective statement about the future of academic libraries. I gather from a tweet about the panel that someone said: “Academics critically reflect–DIYers don’t. They whack it up into shape, fix it, or move on.” I think I’ll stick with critical reflection.

The second part that bothered me was this statement: “The mantra of twenty-first century librarianship is and must be: change, change, and more change.” I’ve nothing against mantras as such; they can be very soothing. However, the repetitive insistence on “change” is both vague and ahistorical. Everyone seems to think nobody before them had to deal with change. John Cotton Dana published an essay called “Librarians Should Respond to the Changes that Time Brings.” That’s solid advice…from 1925. I realize that responding to the changes that time brings could be considered reactive. How about librarians being “change agents”? That phrase has been in the library literature since at least 1968. Here’s another great reminder that libraries need to change or die:

Any institution which does not change too, adapt itself to the times, and become part of the onward “drive of change,” will be pushed aside to be left perhaps for a time to make a harmless life of its own.

That’s from a 1934 Library Quarterly article. (There’s more of the quote and some writing about libraries and change rhetoric in my post Libraries Never Change.) Believing the claim that libraries are obsolete or dying or whatever is a matter of faith, not reason or evidence. If anything, the lesson of library history shows us that libraries do adapt and change. We can be optimistic about changes in libraries or apocalyptic about the future, but I’m not sure we can do both. I guess apocalypse sells.

Notes on Scenarios

I just finished reading the ARL 2030 Scenarios: A User’s Guide for Research Libraries. For lack of a better term, it’s an interesting read. It’s only 92 pages, so you might want to read it through and then come back to this post….

Okay, if you don’t have time to do that, you might read the article about it in the Chronicle of Higher Education
It would be easy to criticize the scenarios themselves, which posit very drastic changes to research universities by 2030, most of them involving the near-total corporatization of research and the demise of research universities as viable independent entities. And that’s just the good news. However, while the scenarios are provocative, the report continuously tells us that the long-term scenarios are designed only to spur short-term strategic planning, and much of the report details ways to integrate them into strategic planning workshops. Thus, I won’t be criticizing the scenarios themselves, though I do have some questions about this method. Since reading the report, I’ve done a bit more reading about scenario planning, but until this it was new to me. I’m less curious about the scenarios than what seems to be the ideology of scenario planning itself. 
A few of the passages left me with questions. For example:
The goal in using scenarios is not to pick one as more likely or more desirable but to accept that the future will  contain elements of all four scenarios. (8)
For a method designed to get people thinking about radical changes and how to deal with them, this seems remarkably passive to me. It’s not clear to me why I (or some group) can’t deliberate about which of these scenarios might be more likely. One in particularly seemed much more likely to me than the others, and I didn’t especially like any of them. I understand that the goal is to get people thinking outside their comfort zone, but why this “user guide” gets to speculate on possible futures and I don’t puzzles me. Combined with the second clause about acceptance, the sentence seems to imply that none of these scenarios are more likely than any others and yet they are all true. That the future will contain elements of all four scenarios is both vague and highly likely, because the present already contains elements of all four scenarios. Past that, I’m not sure what is really added here.
No single scenario ever captures the future with accuracy. Instead, the set of scenarios as a whole contain the  elements and conditions the organization will face in the future. (11)
This restatement of the premise of scenario planning doesn’t make things clearer for me. Obviously no single scenario accurately predicts the future. But if no single scenario captures the future with accuracy, then how can we say the set as a whole will accurately predict the future? Why this set of scenarios and not others? If one scenario is faulty, adding multiple scenarios will multiply the flaws as well as any accuracies. Even if this particular set contained all the elements and conditions organizations will face, we’re still left with the question, which elements are those? And once we choose which elements, we will be constructing a new scenario, which we also can’t trust to be accurate. This will create an infinite regression of never quite likely scenarios. We certainly can’t plan for every element in every scenario, and yet without speculating about likelihood that is what we’re challenged to do.
In order to fully engage with this material, you must a) avoid the desire to choose a scenario as a more likely or desirable future; and b) suspend disbelief concerning the possibilities that stretch beyond your level of comfort. (14)
This is too therapeutic for me. I’m not sure I have a desire to choose a scenario as more likely, but based on my own knowledge I have an inclination to do just that. I see that the authors are trying to get us to check our desires and blindnesses, but it’s possible to do that while still remaining critical about the scenarios themselves. My own scenario (perhaps the subject of another post) is rather different from most of these, and yet is far from the future I would desire for research universities and libraries. 
Scenario planning is not an analytic process. It is not about assigning probabilities to future events or choosing  a desired future. Scenario planning is based on the belief that the future is inherently uncertain and that an organization cannot choose the future environment in which it will operate. However, an organization can take a disciplined approach to understanding the critical uncertainties that it faces and develop a robust strategy that will  work across a wide range of possible futures. (41)
This partly gets at what makes me uncomfortable about the process as I understand it so far. We are told that scenario planning isn’t an analytic process, and yet without analysis of future possibilities and likelihoods I don’t see how we can do much planning. The future is inherently uncertain, I will grant, but that uncertainty rests within relatively narrow bounds. We might be colonized by aliens, but I don’t think we should consider that scenario when planning for research libraries. It’s less obvious that an organization can’t choose the future in which it will operate. Must we be so fatalistic? I’m probably overnalyzing this, but it seems to say that we can’t do anything about the future, so we have to do something about the future. 
Most of the “Common Themes Across the Scenarios” are make more sense to me than the reasoning behind the scenarios themselves. Here they are:
  • Developing Diverse and Novel Sources of Revenue and/or Funding 
  • Balancing Mission and Values with Sustaining the Enterprise 
  • Engaging Fully in Research Activities as Service Provider and Steward of Content 
  • Developing Focused, Specialized Capabilities and Scope 
  • Creating Research Library Cooperative Capacities 
I’m not sure they’re all reconcilable with some of the scenarios, though. If in the future all research is corporately funded and driven, and thus it’s also all STEM research, there really won’t be much need for research universities or research libraries. Research universities originated as places to systematically create and disseminate new knowledge about all subjects, and they have developed standards of investigation and evidence, especially in the STEM fields. If the future is one commercially driven research with no external standards, created by private enterprises and locked into proprietary corporate databases, there’s really no possibility of, for example, balancing the mission with sustaining the enterprise. There’ll be no mission or enterprise. There’ll also be no research library, and certainly no professional librarians in the sense we understand it today. Curating proprietary corporate data requires expertise, but not professionalism in the sense that one evaluates the information and maintains intellectual values as well as technological standards, not to mention the
mission of the research library to preserve knowledge as well as make it accessible.
To be clear, I’m not trying to project my desires onto the future. This might very well be the future, but it’s not a future we can plan for, unless we can somehow plan for our own obsolescence. But that’s not necessary, because if it comes to that, we won’t be doing the planning; someone else will, and we likely won’t have anything to say about it.
Because I was curious about its effectiveness, I tried to find scholarly evaluations of scenario planning, but couldn’t find much. There are lots of descriptions of when one might use it, but not much proving that it worked. That’s one problem with futuristic thinking. Only time will tell. For example, this article* (ScienceDirect, so there’s definitely a paywall there) claims that “realistic evaluations of scenario planning and correspondence measures leave us wanting,” and concludes:
Real-world evaluations lack measures of verification, are subject to biased sampling, rely on invalidated reports, do not explicitly define the reference goal or measure the reference goal inappropriately in terms of the method and are unable to distinguish between the effects of organisation, method and environment. Theoretical evaluations are constantly evolving rationales about which completeness and sufficiency are difficult to assess. 
But, you know, except for that everything’s fine! Though it’s popular, the method’s effectiveness seems to be like the claims that one must “accept” the scenarios without analysis. It’s an article of faith that is difficult to empirically verify.
Anyway, a few raw thoughts after a quick reading. Despite my quibbles about some of the rationale behind scenario planning, the scenarios themselves are worth reading, even if we refuse to suspend our judgments about likelihoods. No doubt they’ll lead to some provocative discussions during strategic planning.
*Harries, Clare. “Correspondence to what? Coherence to what? What is good scenario-based decision making?” Technological Forecasting and Social Change 70:8 (October 2003), 797-817.

Libraries Never Change

While doing some research for a project on libraries and Enlightenment, I ran across an article by Grace O. Kelley on the "The Democratic Function of Public Libraries" that presents some familiar criticism:

The library, even more than other institutions, seems not to have been altogether a true part of the social process. In some way, it has been switched out of the current of social change, occupying a niche or eddy of its own. For a long time it seems to have been but slightly affected by the forces which have been changing the rest of the world. One looks in vain in histories of culture and education for studies of the modern library as an active force which is making its impress upon the social fabric. Due to the nature of its organization and of its service it has been possible for it to continue to function largely on its original indefinite ideals and, in a sense, to let the modern world go by….

Not only our knowledge of the world, but the world itself, keeps changing from day to day. "The inescapable drive of change under the accumulation of ideas and traditions, under the relentless impacts of science and invention," make a fixed regime impossible. "An industrial civilization founded on technology, science, invention, and expanding markets must of necessity change and change rapidly." Any institution which does not change too, adapt itself to the times, and become part of the onward "drive of change," will be pushed aside to be left perhaps for a time to make a harmless life of its own. 

The most interesting thing for me about the article was when it was written. It’s from The Library Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Jan., 1934), and yet it seems as timely as today’s headlines, blog posts, or conference presentations. I left out a middle paragraph that helps fix the date of the article more.

On the whole, the public library still has its eye on a state of society which it considers to be more or less permanent in nature. It is academic in its ideals, and to it the world’s "best books" of literature and fiction are still of superimportance; it seems sometimes "unaware of the words, thoughts and things that science and invention have brought" but which in the long run must be heeded. The effect on general reading of the auto, the radio, the talkie, the news-reel, the tempo of modern life and of the machine age in general, is only confusedly sensed.  
I almost wrote that this paragraph dates the article, but I don’t think that’s true. The effect on general reading of the talkie and the news-reel is still probably "only confusedly sensed."
What has changed isn’t the criticism of libraries for not adapting rapidly enough to social and technological change, but the assumption of what changes they should be making and why. The problem, according to this article, was that public libraries had no clear concept of their clientèle, and thus offered reading that may or may not have been appropriate. However, the purpose of the library was to offer reading, especially reading designed to further the education of the masses in a democracy.
Kelley makes a lot of the distinction between public and special libraries. "The primary aims of both relate to knowledge: in the case of one, to the spread of the fruits of knowledge among the people; of the other, to the extension, through aid given to research and study, of the boundaries of knowledge." Public libraries weren’t adapting fast enough to the specialization of knowledge, and were with public funding attempting to supply reading of interest only to specialists. Instead, she argued, libraries should be supplying general reading that makes the rapidly increasing specialist knowledge accessible to the public. In fact, "librarians may well encourage writers to couch their findings in understandable and illuminating form, and, at the same time, improve their own equipment and facilities for distributing this product freely to eager readers." At first I thought this placed an unrealizable goal before librarians until I considered the enormous expansion of reference publishing in the decades after this article was written. 
This isn’t a serious issue now, if it ever was one, so that’s at least one problem we’ve solved. The practical concerns of the time are as dated as the principles and hopes. Kelley, also writing in a time of economic uncertainty, was still hopeful in a way I’m not sure we would be capable of today, even if we were prone to think in her terms. Here’s her concluding paragraph:
For we can have faith to believe that the intelligent reading of worth-while books on important matters that are of mutual interest both to the reader and to the author will result gradually in a clearer understanding of the changing concepts of society and all of its problems. This in turn will lead to a more effective and enlightened control over social conditions, increase the probability of happier and more successful living, and in this way justify the vision of democracy.
It’s an attractive vision in some ways, but one I doubt many librarians would believe these days. There are certainly plenty of worth-while books on important matters being written, and to some extent even read, but few still have any faith that more people reading good books (or even being more educated, for which "reading good books" is just a metonym) will lead to a clearer understanding of social problems or a "more effective and enlightened control over social conditions," and even less faith that public libraries are an essential part of that process. 
This snapshot of library criticism from 75 years ago shows us both that libraries have in practice and principle changed dramatically in that time and in unpredictable ways. The only thing that hasn’t seemed to change is the relentless criticism we apply to ourselves and our profession, the insistence that we are out of touch somehow with the larger world, that we’ve been "switched out of the current of social change, occupying a niche or eddy" of our own. Unless we assume that libraries suddenly began changing and adapting in response to this article in the Library Quarterly, we have to assume that such wasn’t true then, and we have no real evidence that it’s true now. What we have instead are insubstantial panics and false prophets of doom, and in this area it’s true that libraries haven’t changed at all.

Change and Resilience

By odd coincidence I was discussing resilience as a psychological trait over lunch with a friend last week and then noticed a CFP about resilience and libraries. It struck me that we librarians talk a lot about change but little about the resilience necessary to adapt. A search of Library Lit confirmed my suspicion. A keyword search for change yielded over 10,000 hits, but resilience had only 15 hits. That rigged search doesn’t actually prove much, but you have to admit it makes a nice contrast.

Out of curiosity I searched for book on resilience and stumbled across Building Resiliency: How to Thrive in Times of Change, by Mary Lynn Pulley. This book had two major things going for it: 1) it was in ebrary, so I didn’t have to leave my office to get it, and 2) it’s only 26 pages long so I could read it in one sitting. The book seems aimed at managers who are taking on new management tasks and are feeling Peter Principled, though that’s not quite how the book puts it. Having known some Peter Principled managers in my day and always anxious to avoid being Peter Principled myself, I could sympathize.

Pulley (who has a fantastic name for someone trying to lift you up) has a "Resiliency Worksheet" at the end that lays out the nine themes of the book as a 7-point Likert scale. Below are the themes with the most resilient responses.

Acceptance of Change

I am comfortable with change. I see it as an opportunity to grow as a leader.

Continuous Learning

Change provides a chance for me to learn new skills and test new ideas. I like to build on the lessons of the past – my successes and my disappointments.

Self Empowerment

I regularly assess my strengths. I keep my eye out for work assignments that will let me build new managerial skills and develop as a leader.

Sense of Purpose

I like to think that my work reflects my personal values. I try to make decisions based on what’s important to me and balance that with the organization’s mission. 

Personal Identity

I really like my job, but it doesn’t define who I am. I have other pursuits outside of work that are just as important to me as my job.

Personal and Professional Networks

I really appreciate my family, my friends, and my colleagues. There have been many times that those relationships have helped me out of a jam. I like to stay connected to those people who are close to me and take a personal interest in their lives.


I make some room each day to reflect on my decisions and actions I like to look back to see if there was another choice I could have made. 

Skill Shifting

My skills could prove useful to this organization in another role. I can translate my experiences outside of work into developmental opportunities. 

Relationship to Money

I like things. Doesn’t everybody? But I don’t want to get caught in the trap of working long hours and taking on extra assignments in order to pay for things that don’t really reflect my interests and values. I make my money work for me. I think about my purchases before I make them. 

If we leave out or revise things like "building management skills" or "developing as a leader" then I tilt heavily toward the resilient end of the spectrum. Given that one of my mottos is "there is opportunity in chaos," this isn’t surprising. The least resilient responses were the ones that accepted the least responsibility for one’s life and actions. "Change makes me uneasy." "I want to stick with what I know best." "If this organization wants me to develop, it has to give me some kind of plan." "It’s my life the way it is – I can’t just change it around to make it into something else." "There are always so many things to do." Resilient people know they are responsible for their decisions, while the least resilient people live in what existentialists call bad faith. They don’t accept their freedom of choice; they just want to be excused.

Despite our frequent demands for or obsessions with change, we don’t pay enough attention to the anxiety such demands and obsessions invoke in some librarians. We do occasionally discuss what sort of people successful librarians need to be these days, but not necessarily how we get there. In addition to focusing on technical or organizational changes, we should also draw attention to what traits people need to adapt to these changes and how those traits might be developed. What breeds resilience in some and not others, and is there anything libraries can do to create resilient librarians?

I’m just asking the question, but I don’t necessarily have an answer. Personally, I’d recommend a good course of philosophy based on my experiences overcoming adversity and depression when younger. Where some have therapy and prescription drugs, I had existentialism and beer. Existentialists believe that we are responsible for our own actions and define ourselves by our choices and that no one is essentially a winner, a loser, a hero, a coward, or a librarian. We are the projects we choose, though we try to escape from the responsibility by pretending other forces control our lives. However, though it might develop resilience, I’m not sure a regimen of existentialism and beer would work for everyone, and I’m pretty sure the beer without the existentialism would do no good at all.

There’s also the motivational and self-help literature, which often recommends the same attitude of self-control. It’s not surprising that some self-help literature contains similar ideas about personal responsibility. Of course, I exclude the so-called self-help of the 12-step variety exemplified here, which is just another manifestation of bad faith. Truly helping oneself requires personal responsibility, self- empowerment, and self-direction. According to Building Resiliency, so does being resilient during times of professional change. 

I knew at least one manager who just wanted obedient sheep, but that’s the exception in my experience. Most people probably think it a good idea to have resilient employees who take responsibility for their development. What’s not clear to me is how that can happen.  Sometimes the literature on change will include something on motivating people, but motivation only goes so far. Even if people are motivated they might still not be resilient, and the traits listed above can’t necessarily be motivated. Resilient people take responsibility for themselves and their development. Could one create an organizational culture that would provide such motivation, when resilient people are resilient even without such a culture? Can one really motivate people to be more resilient when the point is that resilient people motivate themselves?    

Ultimately, I think the resilient traits Pulley lists mark an important distinction between professional and unprofessional work. By that I’m not exactly talking about "professional" librarian versus paraprofessional/ library assistant/ library worker/ whatever so much as the way one approaches work. Professionals–whether managers or not–do most of the things in the list. They accept change, empower themselves, find their own purpose, build their own skills, learn continuously, etc. They don’t wait for others to tell them what to do. They accept responsibility and take control of their work. That was as true for my work when I was a circulation clerk as it is now. 

Sometimes lists like this pop up in library articles or blogs. It’s no great secret what’s necessary, but it’s not clear how everyone can get there, even with a resiliency checklist and some recommendations for action. Resilient people are made, not born, but the professional question might be whether one can make them when they really have t
o make themselves.

The Lesson of Library History

Some librarians seem to be obsessed with technology and its relation to  their own obsolescence, maybe because they falsely believe that librarians are slow to adapt to technological change. In the counterfactual world of luddite librarians, perhaps libraries would become obsolete. But we’re not living in that world.

Last week I was complaining about the hyperbolic and apocalyptic rhetoric emerging from so many librarians, and it was somehow interpreted as a commentary on libraries and emerging technologies or a response to Library 2.0, leading to this hyperbolic and apocalyptic comment: “If libraries are slow to adopt ‘faddish’ technologies (whether or not they fade in a few months) they will quickly become obsolete (in the view of patrons) in this on-demand age.” I have a feeling most of this rhetoric isn’t motivated by a fear that libraries will become obsolete as by a fear that librarians will, but that would have to be the topic of another blog post. Regardless, I wasn’t talking then about technology and libraries, but about hyperbole. Now I’m talking about technology and libraries.

First, I just don’t understand this fear of obsolescence. What is this fear based on? My commenter seems actually to think that if all libraries are slow to adopt whatever technology is hot at the moment, then people won’t use libraries. There’s no evidence or argument to support such a hyperbolic statement. Would anyone these days claim that a library is going to become “obsolete” because it’s not represented in Second LIfe? This view also offers an extremely reductionist account of what libraries do for people. (Note: though I know my posts sometimes get traction in the library world at large, it should be clear from the title of the blog I’m talking about academic libraries). As long as scholars are doing academic research, libraries will not become obsolete. Will libraries change? Definitely. Will things be vastly different in 20 years? Probably. But the future of academic libraries is as dependent upon the future of higher education and the commercialization of scholarship as it is on instant adoption of any given communication technology.

Just as I don’t understand why anyone would think libraries are becoming “obsolete,” I also don’t understand the assumption that libraries are slow to adapt to technology. It seems to me librarians have long been adapting to technological change and using technology to improve library services. This article by Robert M. Hayes from the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences on the history of library automation should dispel any notion of librarians as musty luddites. (The article is behind a pay wall.) MARC, DIALOG, OCLC, RLIN–all created in the late 1960s! Libraries were creating OPACs in the 1970s. How many department stores had online searchable catalogs in the 1970s? From microfilm to digitization, from punch cards to OPACs, from the telephone to IM, librarians have been adopting new information technologies for decades to provide library users with improved access to information. Far from lagging behind, they’ve been pushing the technology to its limits in their search for improved library services.

The article is a reminder that technological change has been ongoing in libraries for decades and that there are information and technical services components of such change. It’s easy to focus on popular fads like Facebook while forgetting that some of the most exciting and useful technological change in libraries is behind the scenes. The entire technical infrastructure of libraries is still evolving, and some of the most important technological innovations that benefit library users are invisible to them. Users of academic libraries gain a much greater benefit from a link resolver than from Twitter.

Sure, there has always been resistance. The article has a great quote from a 1971 College & Research Libraries issue: “In sum, our experience with the computer in library operations has been one more replay of The Emperor’s New Clothes, and what we were led to believe were distant mountains laden with gold, available merely by boring a drift in the slope, turn out, upon close inspection, to be the hairy buttocks of the well-fed computer industry. And from such a source we have gotten exactly what we should expect.” But what should be clear is that while there are obvious dead ends (such as library catalogs based on IBM punch cards in the 1950s) to feed such resistance, the resisters in the aggregate always lose.

They always lose because they’re always in the minority and in general they’re always wrong. The early adopters are also in the minority, and they’re often wrong in the particulars, but error spurs innovation as surely as success. Technological innovation doesn’t hit every library equally, making nonsense of claims about “libraries” becoming obsolete if “they” don’t adopt some change wholesale. There aren’t universal solutions to universal problems. What we have, and what we’ve always had in librarianship, are librarians working away in various places experimenting and exploring, trying to figure out if some new technology will improve library services. When they show that it can, word gets around, the idea spreads, and other librarians give it a try regardless of the resistance. “We’ve never done things this way” loses force against “This worked at other places, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t work here.”

One relatively recent example is chat reference. By the mid-90s, IM was starting to become much more popular. The technology was starting to improve. By the late 1990s, libraries were experimenting with it. It was all the rage at conferences 10 years ago, and a dead topic 4 years later because it was the norm. Now it seems odd if an academic library doesn’t have some form of chat reference. When it comes to other social media, we’ll see the same thing. If something is proven successful elsewhere, librarians at other places will adopt it quickly, just like they’ve always been doing with technological innovations. And these days the return on investment on many projects is much clearer and more immediate than 40 years ago. It’s a lot easier to adopt virtual reference solutions or create a library Facebook page than it is to retrospectively convert your card catalog. On the other hand, it’s difficult to create major digitization projects, but libraries are creating them anyway.

Hayes also addresses those who say libraries will become obsolete. Here’s his take:

There are persons who forecast their demise, in the perception that they will be replaced by the wealth of resources becoming available through the information technologies; such voices have been heard for at least the past three to four decades….

The likely picture, though, is very different from that of those who wish to get rid of libraries. Libraries are essential and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Instead of being overwhelmed by technologies,they have absorbed them, made them economic and effective, and served as the basis for testing and proving them. It is also a fact that the effect of electronic information resources was to increase not decrease the use of the library. The various forms of publication are complementary and mutually supportive rather than being substitutes for each other. The use of any of them leads to increased use of the others, and the library serves as the agency for access to all of them.

Libraries are not going to become obsolete. That statement is more provable than its contradiction, because at least I have precedent on my side. The claim that libraries will become obsolete for whatever reason has nothing to support it, and certainly not the false belief that librarians don’t adapt well to technology. They’ve been doing it for decades and doing it successfully. If you wa
nt to see how librarians will adapt to technology in the future, just see how they adapted in the past. The lesson of library history tells us to expect adaptation, innovation, improvement, resilience, and endurance. I find that a more positive and more believable statement than any amount of panicky hyperbole.

Preaching and Persuading

My last post generated considerably more interest than usual, and I’m not entirely sure why. it’s possible there were some alleged potential reactionaries. The possibility of such is implied in Tim Spalding’s commentary on his blog::

I expect your post will get wide circulation. It says something that hasn’t been said before as well. But if it prompts librarians to dismiss technology’s impact on the future of libraries, it will do great harm. Instead, I hope people use your essay as a way to "kick it up a notch" intellectually, get past the small stuff and confront the very real changes ahead.

What puzzles me was how anything I’ve written could prompt "librarians to dismiss technology’s impact on the future of libraries." I’m not even sure how anyone could do that. My point was more that no one technology is going to be the future.

My approach and those of the librarians I’ve critiqued might be formulated as one between preaching and persuading. There’s an evangelical tone distinctly present in some of this. It’s always a stark dichotomy. Do what I tell you the future is or libraries will die! It’s so hyperbolic it’s hard to take seriously. I, for the most part, am the converted, and I still find the preaching grates on me.

One contrast would be the way other librarians approach futurizing. For example, I’m thinking of Steven Bell’s and John Shank’s "blended librarians" initiative. I’m not sure I agree with that approach, but what I like about it is that instead of going gaga over whatever trend, he presents serious criticisms and reasons to change in particular ways. He has an understanding of the ways academic librarians could lose relevance and suggestions for ways in which they can create a future where they have more relevance. There’s nothing apocalyptic or hyperbolic, but neither is there any attempt to avoid serious thinking on the problems we face if we don’t make some serious changes.

Preaching just isn’t effective in the workplace, where reasoned analysis and a feeling for workplace politics is necessary. If I started signing my emails with "The Future is X" my colleagues would think I was putting them on. If I went to a meeting and tried to implement a change based on the claim that "this is the future!", there would be some eye rolling but not much support.

A couple of posts ago I put my approach to change. Changes have to be specific and they need reasons based on a common mission. What are we supposed to be doing and how can we do that better? Will this new tool or organizational change help us accomplish our mission? How? If people are agreed on what the goal should be, and it’s clear how introducing change X will accomplish that goal more effectively without creating havoc, they’ll be more likely to accept it. Politics is about compromise and progress often consists of gradual but constant change.

If you want to lower morale and create chaos, by all means come storming into your workplace with sweeping revolutionary changes that upset everyone and try to implement them because this is the "future." To discuss contentious issues of change and try to move forward, hype doesn’t help. Hype hurts. Hype alienates as much as reaction.

And then there are the reactionaries. I doubt they’ll find much support in my writing, but I’ll say what I think about them. Andy Woodworth put in a different way one implication of my position. My opposition is to all future hyperbole and all reactionary stances. The radical and the reactionary have very similar mindsets, both uncompromising. Andy phrased the ends of the spectrum as "We are okay as we are" and "We need to change now!" None of our libraries are perfectly okay as they are, and none need to change everything immediately.

I think about my library and its services. One thing I can’t help but notice is that there are some things we do exceptionally well, partly because we have the resources and support we need. There’s a lot of individual and focused research support for the students, for example. It would be difficult to improve this part of our work. As a librarian here, I would resist changes that would take time away from that, especially if the reasoning was based on "we have to change now!" That wouldn’t make me a reactionary. That would just make me sensible.

Other things could definitely be improved. I would like to see us take advantage of newer technology for search and discovery, and I think we’re moving in that direction. Just because of the size of our collections, we have a lot of great resources that are hard to find, or that aren’t findable from one place, such as an OPAC. But information technology is getting to the point where it can help make more of our collection more findable by library users. Regardless of the time, effort, and coordination it would take to implement such changes, they would be worthwhile. If we can improve this without making something else worse, then we will have implemented a useful change that would greatly benefit our users. I would be critical of any attempts to resist a positive change because we’re okay the way we are. I can point to specific problems library users including me have, and what’s more I can point to solutions.

Change isn’t made by a blog or from a conference podium. Changes are made in offices and conference rooms, in whispered hallway conversations and lunchtime banter.People are persuaded less by bold proclamations than by calm conversations and careful evidence. But the people doing the persuading need to think concretely and strategically. The moral support they might get from true believers is useful in its place, but more useful are arguments, evidence, and strategies of persuasion.

And these arguments and evidence must be particular to a given library. Nothing is the future for libraries because libraries are all different. The pressing changes needed in my library are not the same as the ones needed at the public library down the street. Futures have to be envisioned in particular places to solve particular problems and negotiated with particular audiences, but it’s hard to make a big name for yourself with that sort of thinking.

Nothing is the Future

Prognostication isn’t something librarians tend to be good at, just prone to. We often have to hear about the future of libraries from people who aren’t, it turns out, from the future. (Or at least I don’t think they are). The future of libraries is Second Life. Wait, I mean Facebook. Or maybe it’s Twitter. It’s librarians in pods. Etc.The beauty of talking about the future is that it never happens.

Because someone has chosen to bombard RUSA listservs with notices of new iPhone apps and the like, I’ve been forced to see more statements about "the future" recently. Apparently, "the future is mobile." No doubt it will also be "fast paced" and "challenging" and "constantly changing" as well. It’ll probably be an exciting place where we’ll all have to adapt quickly or else die off, but also a place where savvy librarians won’t see problems, only opportunities for solutions. And there’ll be flying cars.

The kindest interpretation of statements like "the future is mobile" or "the future of reference is SMS" or "the future is librarians in pods" or whatever is that the librarians are trying to create that future by speaking it. The incantation will somehow make it so. At the very least, perhaps everyone will believe it’s true, even if it’s not, and that’s good for speaking invitations. After all, the future never arrives, so it’s not like we can verify it.

The less kind interpretation is that the authors of such statements are reductionist promoters, reducing a complex field to whatever marginal utility they’re focused on and claiming that this is the future, while simultaneously promoting themselves as seers. They’re hedgehogs with their one big thing, but perhaps aren’t aware it’s their big thing, not the big thing. I suppose it’s all part of "branding" themselves. I should be jealous. I don’t think I have a brand.

The obvious and most likely statement is that nothing is the future, as in no thing is the future, period. Anyone who tells you different is just plain wrong. With technology, it should be clear to anyone who bothers to see past their obsessions that formats and tools die hard. Some people like to imply that if librarians don’t take up every new trend they’ll become like buggy whip makers. I should point out that there are still people who make buggy whips. Buggy whips aren’t as popular as they once were, but they’re still around. There are even buggies to accompany them.

Communications technology seems to drive speculation on the future of libraries. There’s some new tool–Facebook, IM, Second Life, the telephone, cable television, etc.–and it’s going to revolutionize libraries. Except it doesn’t. If the new technology succeeds at all in libraries, it will join most of the older technologies rather than replace them.

What older communication technologies have gone away completely? The oldest is probably the letter, but libraries still get letters. Real letters, on paper and everything. Some of them are even handwritten. They’re not as popular as they used to be, but that’s only because we now have an electronic equivalent. I don’t know if the telegraph was ever a way for patrons to communicate with libraries. I doubt it, but if so I guess that one’s dead. The telephone is probably next. People still call libraries. A century and more after it became popular, and people are still making phone calls. Amazing, but true!

They still email, too, even the young ones. Just letters in another form. I’ve heard some vague claims that these kids today are doing nothing but texting, and they don’t use email. Maybe that’s true in high school, but it’s not true in college. Students email me all the time for help. It’s a reliable medium where significant questions can be asked. A student just emailed me to set up a research consultation. She sent a 254 word email that included a two-page attachment. It’s difficult to ask serious research questions in a text message. I have no problem with SMS reference, and I think we’ll be adding it soon. But if there are students for whom a library without SMS reference is invisible, they probably aren’t very good students anyway and no amount of reference will help them succeed.

What’s next? Maybe those static query boxes on websites. Our library has several of those, and they’re used by all sorts of people, from students to scholars in foreign countries. They’re probably not going away. Then there’s chat reference, which I find a bit unwieldy for some types of questions, but ideal for others. That one’s still pretty new in the scheme of things, though, so it will probably be a long time before librarians pretend that some new technology revolution has killed it.

If librarians still interact with their users through letter, telephone, and email, there sure seems to be a lot of past in this future. There’s always a lot of past in any future. We are living in the past’s future, and we still have most of it with us. What is the chance that our future will somehow be different?

I’ve used "mobile" just as one example. The same could be said of various service or organization models. You can plug in any term you want, and know that when anyone tells you that thing is "the future," they’re wrong. And to be clear, my criticism isn’t of any particular services or trends. If there’s a new, popular way for librarians to communicate with or reach out to library users, by all means librarians should adopt it, or at least experiment with it. My criticism is the hype and the reductionism, and the implied claim that some librarians really know what the future holds, and that it just happens to be centered around whatever they happen to like at the moment. Maybe they’re convincing themselves, but they’re not convincing me.


Leading Change

Recently, I’ve been thinking about a lot about organizational change. I’m not a manager, and possibly not much of a leader, but here are some of my thoughts. 

Change is such an ambiguous term, much like moving forward, because in some sense everything is always changing. As Heraclitus might say, I never step into the same library twice. The rush and flux of working life always changes and adapts, sometimes to the point where if you analyze an organization you can only ask, "How in the heck did we ever get here?"

I’m assuming that any directed change should lead to improved performance related to the organization’s mission. This sounds like the kind of thing everyone can get behind, like freedom or justice. Many of the articles I’ve read over the years, or pleas for change I’ve heard, don’t get much more specific than that. They assume agreement on a mission, and agreement that any specific change will help accomplish that mission better, without connecting the two. Coming up with a mission is easy in academic libraries. Coming up with reorganizations and changes is also easy. The problem is linking them together in a persuasive way.

As I see it, the core mission of academic libraries is to build collections and facilitate their use to support the scholarship and teaching of the university. Collection development, cataloging, reference, outreach, digitization–it’s usually pretty clear how these things support our mission. We have the ends, the problem is figuring out the best means.

Assuming that we have a shared mission, to promote useful change, we have to ask at least four questions at the beginning.

  1. What are we not doing now that we should be doing to support the mission?
  2. What are we doing now that we can do better to support the mission?
  3. What are we doing now that we should not be doing?
  4. And how do any proposed changes answer those three questions?

If we can’t answer those questions, then there aren’t any good reasons to change, and we will be forcing change for change’s sake. There are good reasons to oppose such change. For one, change is disruptive and stressful, so before we change, we should be very clear that it is worth the disruption and stress. Also, we must analyze our situations carefully to make sure we won’t be eliminating something we don’t understand but that serves a useful purpose. Sometimes situations look poorly organized, when really they work but we don’t understand how. The biggest reason to oppose such changes is that they take time and energy away from serving the core mission of the academic library and devote it to other things.

Answering those questions can sometimes be very difficult. It takes a lot of experience, understanding, and analytical ability to answer them. Let’s assume some bright people have answered those questions. Where do we go from there? Identifying necessary and productive changes is but the first step, and not as difficult as implementing those changes.

If you want to avoid a confused and discouraged staff or a toxic work environment that will be unpleasant and unproductive, you can’t coerce change. You’ve got to persuade the relevant people that change is necessary and worthwhile. This seems to be the point where a lot of people fail, primarily through a lack of rhetorical skill. To persuade others, there are a few things you need to do:

  • Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the situation
  • Appeal to shared values or premises
  • Demonstrate how those shared values or premises lead to your conclusions
  • Address objections and counterarguments in a credible, but sensitive way
  • Show respect for your opposition and a little humility, because there’s no way you’re entirely right and they’re entirely wrong
  • Focus on your positive message and not get lost in useless criticism or defensiveness
  • Focus on results, not attitudes
  • Remember that threat hinders communication

This last one is especially important. No matter how credible your arguments or positions are, you can’t persuade people who feel threatened. The goal of rhetoric isn’t to win arguments, but to gain agreement on a set of propositions or a course of action, and that’s very different. If people feel threatened, they won’t even hear what you have to say.  It’ll just come out, "blah, blah, blah." Threat works both ways, though. Managers wield more power than lower level employees, but managers are people, too. They have worries and feelings, and they want to be respected and well treated. (I’m excepting the subset of managers who are just plain malignant and incompetent. They deserve all the disrespect they get.) To have people stand around constantly denigrating them is harmful professionally for them and the organization, but also for them personally. And when managers feel threatened, they too stop listening. Either way, discussion and deliberation stop.

Avoiding threat isn’t easy, though, because in some situations people naturally feel threatened. Knowing that change is disruptive and stressful means that calls for change can easily be considered threatening. Knowing there’s a boss who can force you to do things you don’t agree with can be threatening. Defusing that threat and leading change takes analytical and communication skills of the first order. Seeing criticism and dissent as necessary catalysts to constructive change rather than just angry resistance is difficult for us all. It seems to be  human nature that we think we’re right regardless of our reasoning and we have trouble understanding how anyone can possibly disagree with us.

But even the above list is very general, and assumes that the people involved are capable. The first suggestion requires that someone not only actually understand a situation, but is able to demonstrate that understanding to others. Remembering that threat hinders communication is abstract. The difficulty is knowing in practice when and how people are feeling threatened and having the skill to disarm that threat. That ability is the result of phronesis, or practical wisdom, and not something that can be learned from a bulleted list.

In earlier posts I’ve tried to disambiguate leader and manager. A manager can very easily call for change, and often can enforce it. But to identify worthwhile changes and persuade others to embrace them despite the stress involved, and to do this whileinspiring confidence and unity and without creating a toxic work environment, requires a leader.

Practicality and Adaptability

Since this post is inspired partially by a brief mention of my ACRL Virtual Conference presentation, I want to begin by thanking those of you who responded with advice on that presentation when I asked for it. Some I ignored, some I took to heart, but I carefully considered it all. Especially useful was perhaps Steven’s caution to remember that in a virtual presentation like this, the audience has nothing but the slides and my voice. That was a little strange for me, and helped me realize how much I depend upon immediate audience feedback both to guide my presentations and to end with a performance high. I thought the presentation went reasonably well, and people stayed until the end and asked questions, so at least they didn’t fall asleep during my talk. (The slides are here, if anyone’s curious; at some point I’m planning to write up and develop the notes.)

The Library Journal gave a short roundup of the virtual conference, and had this to say about my efforts: "’Cultivate Your Bottom,’ had a clever title but, as even the speaker himself acknowledged, focused on what many people would consider obvious: it’s important to focus not on leaders but librarians and staffers at the bottom of the hierarchy, empowering them to act, and ensuring that they share their knowledge. Only near the end of the session were concrete examples—e.g, seminars, wikis —offered."

Though I’m not sure how much I said was really that obvious, my caveat with the description, which for the most part seems accurate, is the word only." "Only at the end of the session were concrete examples…offered." The assumption here seems completely unwarranted. Are conference presentations supposed to be only lists of practical and specific things to do in your library? Is abstraction bad? If so, then there were certainly worse "offenders" than me. Jim Neal’s portion of the "Subject Liaison 2.0" presentation, for example, was very theoretical, his assumption I’m sure being that if we consider certain generalities about what to look for in a subject liaison, then the particulars of any given librarian will obviously fit or not fit the theory.

The "only" bothers me not because it implies a judgment on my presentation (it does, but it’s not a severe judgment, and not one that would have changed it). Instead, it bothers me because it bespeaks an undercurrent I sense in the entire profession. We’re all supposed to work within the dominant pragmatic ideology and make little effort to theorize or philosophize about our practice. Theorizing is supposed to be left to someone else, though I’m not sure who that is. LIS professors, i guess. This anti-theoretical stance that seems so practical is, however, highly impractical. It assumes that we can act responsibly without having reasons for why we act, or that we can act coherently without understanding the theoretical coherence behind our actions. I’m just not satisfied plunging ahead with every gimmick and trend without knowing how they fit into the larger scheme of goals to be achieved and problems to be solved.

Once the theoretical framework is in place, the practical implications seem easy enough to work out. If, for example, one believes an organizational problem is to figure out how to maximize and exploit the knowledge dispersed throughout an organization, then specific practices are rather easily judged in light of this theory. Administrative decisions that don’t take into account the knowledge on the ground: bad. Training sessions that share knowledge among colleagues: good. Organizational structures that depend upon one person or a small group of persons to have the relevant knowledge and power to act: bad. Empowering knowledgeable and well trained frontline staff to act: good. The list could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the point.

What seems to be common throughout the profession is an overvaluation of practical tips and a resistance to abstraction. I’m not criticizing practical tips, but a bullet point approach to library  education isn’t the best way to develop thoughtful and adaptable librarians. Specific daily practices or technical solutions become outdated. Adaptability requires us to evaluate the usefulness of practice within a broader theoretical framework, to focus less on the concrete details of library practice and more on the reasons why we do what we do. If we keep in mind the reasons we act in certain ways, then it’s easier to change those actions when they’re no longer relevant or appropriate. If we act without reasons, we’ll never be able to adapt easily to new circumstances, nor justify our existence to ourselves or to anyone else.

Humanities and the Research Library

I’ve been reading some of the reports that were released last month, especially Ithaka’s 2006 Studies of Key Stakeholders in the Digital Transformation in Higher Education and CLIR’s No Brief Candle: Reconceiving Research Libraries for the 21st Century. Naturally I’ve been thinking about them in the context of the humanities and the research library. I’m not sure I have a thesis yet, but I do have some reflections. For the most part I suspect that research libraries will continue to be hybrids for perhaps decades to come, especially in the humanities. Just as we collect the past for future study, we’ll live with the past during the long transition to a different future.

As I’ve argued before, though perhaps not convincingly, some things about the humanities don’t change. We continue to ask the same basic questions and continue to study texts in a way that fundamentally has remained the same since the Renaissance. Some new trends are nevertheless emerging, though, the “digital humanities.” Some of the digital humanities seem to be just digital versions of previous physical items, like digitizing archives, which makes these items much more available, but doesn’t change the fundamental nature of our interaction with them. Nevertheless, new techniques are open to us.

But still a lot is the same. Studying texts, interpreting culture, making arguments about human things. Some of this will involve experimental methods and text mining and statistical analysis and specifically data driven techniques: from brain experiments to confirm epistemological hypotheses to using text mining to finally prove that Bacon or Oxford or Rutland or whomever really wrote the works of Shakespeare. But most of it will involve traditional analysis and arguments applied to digital entities. Central questions will remain: What does this cultural text or artifact mean? What does it tell us about ourselves and our world? What happened at such and such a time and what does it mean? And, it seems, for a long time to come traditional methods will also apply. Some people criticize libraries as slow to change, but the traditions of humanities scholarship might be even slower. There have been humanist scholars around a long time. Humanists think libraries, even traditional libraries, will still be important for their future.

The Ithaka report seems to confirm this, at least for the short run. It considers three roles the library plays: Gateway to, Archive of, and Buyer of information resources. The Ithaka folks surveyed scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, as well as librarians. The people who think the library is the most important are the librarians, naturally. But humanists were much more likely than their scientific or social scientific colleagues to continue to rate the library highly is all three functions, though the key function for all is Buyer.

Humanists are much less likely than anyone, including librarians, to want to do away with print journal collections even if electronic versions were available. Humanists are more likely to feel comfortable in the library, and less likely to think they’ll be more reliant upon electronic resources.

It’s possible that humanists are just going to have to be disappointed in the short run, especially with print journals, but the transition might take a very long time, and is unlikely to be complete in the foreseeable future. By then they will have adapted, or gone extinct, as will the libraries they love now.

Despite the heated change rhetoric from some quarters, libraries seem to be adapting to the future already. The CLIR report addressed all sorts of issues, and I liked it because it lacked heated rhetoric. My idiosyncratic take on it can be summarized by considering roles and techniques used by research libraries. What seems clear to me is not how much has or will change, but how much will stay the same even after huge changes.

Same Roles, Same Techniques: Collection, Organization, Preservation, Authority

Things we’ll continue to do and in more or less the same ways:

  • Buying books, organizing them, making them accessible in many of the same ways we do now, maybe using digital vendor slips instead of paper, but still more or less the same.
  • For scholarly works, we’ll continue to combine with scholarly presses to put our collective imprimatur on such works.
  • Building special collections and archives. If nothing else, they have to be built before they can be digitized.

Same Roles, Different Techniques: Collection, Organization, Preservation, Accessibility, Discovery

We’ll continue to collect, but with new techniques we can even make our traditional collections more discoverable and accessible.

  • Collection will increasingly be digital. Hardly a surprise. But even providing access to print collections should improve. Even with ebooks, will copyright and DRM allow us to treat ebooks as we now treat print books?
  • Organizing it, providing metadata, better web portals, better OPACs
  • Preserving the digital collection
  • Ensuring quality. this is something we can strive to do.
  • Making it accessible
  • Making it discoverable! Not just a sealed off archive, but easily findable (study on use of non easily accessible resources not being used as much). We know that not everything is online and easily accessible, even with the Google books project, but if we define everything as “everything anyone will actually use” then everything is increasingly online. Research libraries need to make their collections more discoverable and accessible. Digitization of copyrighted books at least lets them be found, and digitization of special collections and out of copyright books allows access for everyone.

Different Roles, New Techniques: Creation, Collaboration

These are a couple of roles some people are predicting for research libraries in the future, obviously based on activities at least of the fringe of a lot of library operations now.


  • Creators of Digital Content–digital libraries, institutional repositories, open access journals, academic publishers. Obviously we’re already doing some of this, but doing more of this will make the library more central to scholarship.
  • Creators of information tools: Zotero, Omeka, LibX toolbar
  • Helping scholars create digital content, like at the Center for History and New Media


  • Between libraries: Print repositories, keeping ready access to our own copies, but sharing in an organized fashion.
  • Between libraries and other campus units: Working with information technologists, for example.
  • Between librarians and faculty: collaborating with faculty or enabling faculty to collaborate

Some libraries are doing these things now, and more will probably have to to adapt, but nevertheless many of the traditional roles are likely to remain, especially in the humanities. Still not much of thesis, I’m afraid.