A University Library History | Learning innovation
How is the role of your academic library changing in response to the range of competitive, cost, funding, demographic, and technological pressures that every post-secondary institution currently faces? To what extent does your university library show leadership in how your college or university evolves to meet a changing set of demands and challenges?
Reading Straumsheim’s article, I was struck by both familiar and how foreigner the story of Clash in stacks is what I observed. Familiarbecause the question of how the university library evolves in an age of abundance of information, high demands for services and limited budgets is a question that I often hear about at my institution. Foreignerbecause the history of the university library that I attend every day is one of Success, Partnershipand leadership.
There is great danger in drawing conclusions based solely on what we see. The anecdote is not proof. Personal experiences do not describe trends. I’m very curious if my observations of my university library match what you observed. It would also be great if you know of research on university library challenges. For now, I will describe what I see – and I hope you will too.
I am not a librarian and I do not work for the university library that I will describe. Therefore, I may be wrong in language and terms. And I’m sure I’ll miss a lot of what should be noted. It’s kind of scary to write about an organization you don’t work for. Hopefully any errors will be corrected, and this post will encourage further conversation and clarification:
Culture: I am an amateur student of organizational culture. Organizational culture, to me, isn’t the most important thing – it’s the only thing. It is for this reason that I am continually amazed by the health of the organizational culture that I witness in my university library. It’s a culture that values service, that values diversity, that values professionalism and, most of all, that values people. My guess is that the reason everyone who interacts with our librarians and library staff is treated so well is that the people who work for the library are treated well. There is a strong philosophy that it is the people, the library professionals, who are the real value of all the services offered by the library. Does your university library also share a strong culture of service and respect?
Leaders: It is impossible to overstate the importance of having a stable, respected, knowledgeable, collegial and accessible management team in place. The management team of my university library has not been static, as new librarians have arrived in orderly successions due to retirements. But the core university library leadership group has remained remarkably stable. Our Dean of Libraries, Associate Librarians, Library Directors and Library Department Heads form a productive and dynamic leadership group. Our Dean of Libraries is hugely revered and respected throughout the institution, and is a strong and consistent voice for the centrality of the University Library in all areas of scholarship and learning among his colleagues in the senior leadership of the Middle School. Does your institution also benefit from strong, accessible, respected and stable leadership in your university library?
The diversity: There is no doubt that respect for diversity, in all its manifestations, is a deeply rooted core value in my university library. Here, however, I am thinking of a diversity of types of academic libraries on campus. We have a main library and 6 (in my opinion) specialized libraries. A biomedical library. A business and engineering library. A physical science library. A music library. A library of specialized collections. And an art library. Each of these libraries has a different vibe and unique feel. Although each of these libraries clearly shares the broader cultural and service orientation as a primary library, they all accomplish their missions in different ways. In some libraries, the emphasis seems to be more on long-term consultations and partnerships between subject librarians and faculty. In other libraries there always seems to be a lot of action with librarians working with students, participating in lessons and actively shaping the curriculum. The physical layout and importance of collaborative spaces, digital resources, books, and journals also differ between different campus libraries. This diversity seems to work very well as natural laboratories for experimenting with new ideas, new physical arrangements and new types of services. Is this kind of diversity in university libraries something you also have on your campus?
People: Thinking about my university library, I keep coming back to the culture of respect and caring that I see in the organization. My hypothesis here is that this culture is what largely explains the recruitment and retention of such high quality librarians and library staff. I feel like my college library is a place where people with other career options choose to stay. The librarians at my institution’s library are ridiculously well qualified. If I had to make one suggestion to the Library management, it would be to be less modest about the quality of your staff. Highlight them and their professional contributions on your web pages. The caliber of librarians and library staff at my institution is truly remarkable. They are mission-driven people. Dedicated both to the mission of the institution as a whole and to the individual success of our students and faculty. They are gifted scholars and educators who are also experts in information management. The two words academic and librarian should be emphasized when talking about library professionals at my institution. Is this also the case in your establishment? Do some of the most accomplished, talented, hardworking, respected, connected, and collegial scholars in your school also work for your university library?
Location: I have this theory that as the university library goes, so will the university institution. If your institution produces a commodity, you will be in a struggle-only future. If your institution is more mission driven and people are at the center of that mission, you will be fine. Naive? May be. At my institution, the core of the academic experience is through our academic libraries. Libraries are where you find the students. They study in groups or alone. Libraries are where students go to seek librarians to help with their classes and projects. Libraries are where faculty go to consult with librarians on course readings, class assignments, and class projects. Our libraries house and house our academic IT units and instructional designers. Our Center for Teaching and Learning (what we call our Center for the Advancement of Learning) is located in the finest wing of our central library. Our library spaces have evolved to accommodate more collaborative work and more informal learning. More of our student services have migrated to our libraries. Our librarians are constantly accessible to our students and teachers. Is your university library the place for intellectual action (and increasingly social learning) on campus? Is your university library the most beautiful, accessible and inviting building (or set of buildings) on your campus?
These observations are all those of a stranger. My glasses may be a little pink. Every organization has its challenges. Pushing change in the context of a stable culture, especially one that values inclusiveness and support for people, is a challenge under any circumstances. From what I can see, however, the university library that I see every day is the healthiest and most respected organization on my campus. A Crisis in the stacks just doesn’t describe the university library I’m looking at.
What do you see at the university library on your campus?