What would an online university library look like?

Steven Bell wrote a great article titled What university librarians can learn from the retail collapse.

It’s always fun when ideas and trends also spark a colleague’s interest, and you both independently try to make sense of what the two of you are seeing. This was the case with Steven’s article, as I only caught his thought after writing something similar in Classroom use, e-learning and store closures.

Steven asks a provocative question in his article:

“What would a first online operation look like for a university library?

I’m sure my colleagues in the academic library world talk about Steven’s question all the time. Not being in the academic library world, I’m not sure how the academic library community responds to Steven’s question.

Having the benefits of ignorance, I thought I would try to answer Steven’s question: What would an online first operation look like for a college library?

1 – Resolutely prioritize university librarians:

The university library’s most valuable resource are university librarians. As information has become more and more ubiquitous, the value of skilled and experienced information specialists has only increased. The role of the university librarian has become even more critical in the core work of higher education teaching and research.

This collaboration of university librarians is relational in nature – a collaboration that requires the development of mutual understanding and trust. Could building an online university library be an opportunity to make the relationship between university librarians and their stakeholders the number one goal? The goal that the organization will articulate, measure and seek to continuously progress?

The advantage of an online university library is that it could be designed around the relationship between the university librarian and the stakeholders of the university library at all times. It may be that where the online university library ends up designing and occupying incredible physical spaces – spaces to complement the online platforms and tools used. These physical spaces, however, would be designed specifically to support visibility, accessibility and the potential for collaboration with university librarians.

Is it weird to say that university libraries should be designed around university librarians? Could this already be the case? Or would university librarians say their institutions should be designed around students, academics, and scholarships?

My argument would be that the best way to advance the goals of students, academics, and academics would be to eliminate anything that interferes with relationships with university librarians. Could an online university library be an opportunity to engage in a disciplined experiment around this model?

I know university libraries have many priorities, many goals, and many objectives. I’m just saying that a new online college library might put the relationship goal above all others.

2 – Start with online education:

A second area to start with with an online university library is to expand what is already being done in many places. It is about building on the role university librarians play in online educational programs.

At my institution, university librarians are key members of our traditional open, low-residency online programs. Our university librarians work with faculty, instructional designers and media educators to develop and teach our traditional and open online courses. University librarians are particularly critical in the development of resources used in courses, as e-learning involves a range of curriculum assets (from text to media).

I understand that university librarians work closely with e-learning teams at many institutions. I have often wondered what it would be like to set up a SWAT team of online-only learning university librarians. Create a separate university library group – one that could have its own culture, identity, and standards – that would only work on mixed, low-residency and online education projects.

We have libraries for the disciplines (business and engineering, health sciences, music, physical sciences, special collections, art) – why not for e-learning?

Ok… Steven’s question gave me some thoughts.

Could it be possible that colleagues with more in-depth knowledge, expertise and experience also provide some thoughts?

How would you design an online college library first?


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