Reinventing the Academic Library: Conclusion

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There is no one way to run or structure a library. The days when there was a single model for an academic library, if they ever existed, are gone. The idea that the academic library is a store house of books and materials is gone. The notion that a library can serve off to the side of the mission of the university is gone. What is needed today is a commitment by university administration and librarians to reinvent the whole concept of academic libraries. Not simply to effect rankings, or for the benefit of librarians. No, we must recreate the library to propel forward the mission and reputation of the university at large.

Leveraging the whole of the University and increasing the scholarly reputation of it is going to be difficult. Doing it school by school, department by department, and faculty member by faculty member is a long process. 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.

To be sure, this will not happen overnight. To be sure this corp is not always ready…yet. They need motivation, support, and a vision to drive them forward. They need continuous training, and they need a culture of innovation and exploration, not policy and passivity. The corp may not have the culture and tools they need, but they can in short order. The corp may even lack the self-confidence and rewards to press forward, but it can gain these in action. With leadership, and with a renewed understanding that they are not competing with other academic libraries, this corp of librarians can mobilize, and forward a noble field that has helped universities, and societies, thrive for over 3 millennia.

One response on “Reinventing the Academic Library: Conclusion

  1. Scott Walter

    Evan Farber used to write about the “university-library syndrome,” i.e., the sense that there was one model for excellence in academic libraries and that it was defined by what was typical (at the time) of large research libraries. Farber advocated for a greater appreciation of the ways in which excellence in libraries and librarianship might naturally look different if academic libraries were attuned to the distinctive elements of their institution’s mission, research and teaching focus, demographics, etc. We are now in a very interesting period in which: 1) there is no single model for excellence even within those large research libraries; and 2) there is greater appreciation for the fact that excellence in librarianship is not defined outside the context of those distinctive aspects and strategic concerns of the institution. It makes the stewarding of the future direction of the library much more complicated, much more integrated with the parent institution, much more reliant on an understanding of collaborative relations (not just the “collective collection,” but also “shared services”), and much more interesting.

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