Friday, June 3, 2011

Library tech: too important to leave to the librarians? (Library technology thoughts, pt. 6 of 8)

(I have a list of six predictions about what I expect to see happen in academic library technology over the next 5-10 years. This is prediction #5.)

Administrators and accreditors will drive technological change in academic libraries more than faculty will.

When I was making my list of predictions, I thought this was more distinctive than it necessarily is. It is largely a restatement of the accountability regime I talked about with user satisfaction. But it is also a statement about shared governance, and that statement is: whatever power administrators do or don't share with faculty, it will be power that they choose to share, making a system of delegated rather than shared governance. If that delegation even happens. More likely is that faculty senates and committees will continue their slow descent into advisory status.

This descent is one of the reasons I have trouble understanding the perennial libraryland debate about tenure for academic librarians. Even if tenure put us on equal footing with teaching faculty--which I'm not convinced it does or can--I am not sure why we want to be pushing for a status with diminishing rights and responsibilities. We need to stand on our own professional profile of skills and principles.

The shifting balance of governance will be especially significant when it comes to technology. Technology is expensive. It is expensive all the time. You buy it, you tweak it, you babysit it, you perform CPR on it, you replace it. Or you let it go bad and deal with the time and energy expense of really angry users. Whatever you do or don't do with technology, it is going to cost you.

Which means that administrators will pay close attention to it. There has been a lot of talk about how faculty will react if the Georgia State e-reserves case goes badly, but I am more interested in how administrators will react if they decide the library is an area of legal exposure for their institutions. In a different area, accessibility and assistive technology, what I have seen motivate policies and budgets is concern about ADA lawsuits. Very broadly speaking, from my limited experience, faculty will want their electronic reserves and won't want to divert resources for accessibility away from, say, journal subscriptions (or inflated "permission fees" to the CCC). Administrators will want the legal risk to go away. Faculty may or may not get the results they want, but if they do, it will be because administrators made a choice about how grumpy a faculty (and student body) they can afford to have. Where librarians fall on that pecking order, I don't really like to think about too much.

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