Reinventing the Academic Library: The Knowledge Agenda

[The following program proposal is part of an ongoing series on Reinventing the Academic Library. It is intended as an example of the kinds of things librarians supporting a research-intensive university can do.]


A Library with an Integrated Research and Development Agenda

A university is an institution of discovery. From physics, to religion, to mechanical engineering the university seeks to push the bounds of what we know, and how we do things. The library is no different.

University librarians and staff shall engage in an active research agenda and seek funding around the issues of scholarly publishing, information literacy, preservation, and how knowledge and information shape higher education and society.

Further Talking Points

I was once a part of a conversation on the future of scholarly publishing at a library. The assembled faculty and librarians went through a litany of new platforms for the dissemination of new knowledge: blogs, open access journals, video, digital pre-prints, apps, etc. At the end of considerable discussion a librarian said “we at the library are waiting to see what the faculty determines so we can support it.”

This is exactly the wrong order. Relying on faculty buried in their disciplines and research to imagine new forms of scholarly communications is at best optimistic. What is needed is a cross-discipline set of experts in the scholarly record and impact dedicated to the invention and implementation of new and better means of knowledge dissemination in strong partnership with scholars. What is needed is for librarians to shift from caretakers to curators, and from curators to activists.

The National Science Foundation, The Sloan Foundation, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation are investing in building the next generation platforms for scholarly discussion. University librarians shall not only engage in these conversations, but actively win grants to support their work.

The librarians will host visiting scholars and post-doctoral positions from across the globe. The library shall build a coherent agenda in a way nearly impossible in academic facilities around these issues. Concentrating, learning from, and gaining reputation through applied research the library will be the place to watch on matters of scholarly metrics, knowledge dissemination platforms, and use of digital networks for scholarly collaboration.

This will not happen overnight. It will take a funded program of retraining and new skill development for librarians. The librarians will set up an Advanced Librarianship Institute to enhance current librarian skills, and reward innovative librarians through indirect cost reimbursements and research leaves. The Institute itself will also attract funding in re-training library staff at other institutions.