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Monday Musings: The Library and the University

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hi! I’m Sarah Clark, immediate past chair of COIL, and I am so thrilled that Emily has revived the COIL Blog! I’ll be posting on Mondays, sharing my thoughts about the role of library instruction in student success, and the library’s wider role in higher education. I recently started a doctoral program in Higher Ed Administration at OSU. While our class discussions are confidential, many of my posts will reflect on the topics covered in my coursework.

I’ve been asked by a couple of my classmates why I’m doing a Ph.D in higher ed, rather than LIS. Geography and personal interest aside, it comes down to my core theory about the current state of the academic library, one which is backed up as much by my gut as by my research. Academic libraries operate within the context of the university. For many years libraries (I suspect, but am still looking for research on this) have had more autonomy than your average department, mostly because nobody knows and few people care how libraries work as long as materials are bought and students are trained, but also because the size and budget of a college’s library has long been a major contributor to institutional ego and prestige. That’s coming to an end, at least temporarily, and possibly permanently.

While we should honor our unique knowledge and skills, it is past time to get out of the stacks and listen to what scholars, faculty, and administration need from us. Outreach, while important, is only half the story.  Ultimately, I suspect many librarians are afraid that if they listen, they will hear that they are no longer needed. However, these two surveys by Ithaka suggest that while libraries are still important,  librarians and faculty may have two different ideas about their role in the university. (and those two groups are symbiotic compared to librarians and administration…) I’m not sure whether “adhocracy” is the solution, as Barbara Fister suggests, but flexibility in service to user needs is a good place to start. But before librarians start launching programs and initiatives and marketing campaigns, let’s ensure we’re pointed in the right direction. I’m not suggesting a blind obedience to institutional whims in the way some of the worst excesses of library 2.0 chased “bleeding edge” technologies without stopping to think about whether they would be useful. I am suggesting an openness to change in service of genuine institutional needs.

In order to pick the right direction, we need to assess the effectiveness of our education in a rigorous manner that transcends the standard pre/post tests that swamp the literature. We also need to understand whether or not information literacy has an effect on student success over the long haul, and if so, what that impact looks like in the lives of those we touch. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with all of you, and welcome pushback when and if I get a tad controversial. I’m excited that we’re reviving the COIL blog, and can’t wait to see what new conversations begin in this forum.

An earlier version of this post appeared at The Infoliterate University.

Sarah Clark is Access Services and Distance Learning Librarian at Rogers State University, a doctoral student at OSU, and lives in the Tulsa area with her husband and 2 cats. Sarah blogs about issues that impact the Academic Library, Higher Ed, or both at The Infoliterate University. Her thoughts do not neccessarily represent those of her employer, her school, or Major League Baseball.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Jones permalink
    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 11:49 am

    I’m will be starting a PhD in August as well, but mine will be interdisciplinary. It struck me as odd that your class discussions are private. What is the reasoning behind that?

    • rsulibrary permalink
      Wednesday, May 11, 2011 8:06 am

      Well, in the case of our program, all of us work in higher ed, and proprietary or otherwise sensitive information comes up from time to time. Rather than figuring out what is and isn’t suitable for publication, I just don’t write about anything other than general thoughts about our readings or topics we discuss. Besides, my classmates signed up for a doctorate, not for some classmate publishing their in-class discussions for the world to see. All in all, I’d rather err on the side of discretion 🙂

      • Elizabeth Jones permalink
        Wednesday, May 11, 2011 10:38 am

        Good point! I had never even thought of that.

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