Friday, September 23, 2011

Ithaka Directors' Report, 5 months later

When I saw that this year's Johannah Sherrer Memorial Lecture would be Ithaka's Roger Schonfeld discussing implications of their 2010 "Insights From U.S. Academic Library Directors" report, I knew I needed to go. I had been part of the lively online discussion of the report when it came out, especially cheering to Jenica Rogers' able dissection of it; I wanted to hear what Schonfeld and the responding panel of Lewis & Clark and Reed faculty would have to say.

I did in fact go today, and I am very happy that I did. (Not only for the tasty reception food and meeting new-to-me librarians and library staff after, either.) You know the annoying person at talks who, during the Q&A at the end, uses their time to editorialize instead of actually ask a question? Well, I was all set to be that guy, but I didn't have to, because the panelists beat me to it in their responses.

Susan Glosser pointed out that a shift towards digital resources does not necessarily imply a change in research methodology. (She also observed that "databases are like mushrooms, they are always popping up" and recommended that librarians figure out effective ways of communicating with faculty about new resources.)

Karen Gross pointed out that just because a library function is a lower priority for faculty, it doesn't mean that it isn't important to them. She used the example of going to a discipline-specific online resource first before entering the library physically or virtually: yes, she goes there first, but the very next place she always goes is the library itself. Gross also argued that electronic journals are still print resources, because how do most people read the articles? After printing out a hardcopy. In other words, access is not the same thing as consumption, an especially important consideration when it comes to looking at longer-form texts like electronic books.

Ann Delehanty pointed out that faculty research is not the same thing as student research: not only do faculty not use the library in the same way as students, they don't want their undergraduate students in particular to use the library the same way they do. She gave the example of how she uses her online syllabi as gateways (of the "gateway, buyer, archive" classification of library functions that the Ithaka report used) for student research and how she needs and wants the assistance of librarians in creating these gateways.

Brian Detweiler-Bedell spoke along similar lines, arguing that the library doesn't exist to serve faculty research needs but rather serves "the life of the mind" in all its forms. He talked about how he uses a discipline-specific online resource as a "spigot" to get his research program's information needs from, and how an important part of the library's function is to teach students how to identify which spigots they need to "turn on" for their own research. He recommended using library research case studies as an instructional tool.

Schonfeld's talk itself was interesting, balanced, and highlighted some aspects of the report's findings that I hadn't fully grasped before. I was especially glad that he explicitly noted that while directors' stated priorities were not aligned with faculty's stated priorities, their budget priorities expressed as spending choices certainly were. I had wondered if this pattern is simply a reflection of the political reality that grumpy faculty can make the lives of Deans and Provosts far more unpleasant than grumpy librarians can, and since most academic library directors report to some sort of Dean or Provost type of person, they know what their organizational constraints are.

Which gives a new poignancy to the Ithaka report's finding that only 35% of academic library directors consider themselves to have a "well-developed plan" to deal with changing user attitudes and expectations. Having observed both the theatrical tendencies of library strategic planning and the futility of expecting any kind of unified faculty opinion on anything, I can understand why some directors figure, consciously or not, that it's a poor use of time and resources to develop initiatives that will inevitably run afoul of some constituency that will end up killing them or modifying them down into triviality. I don't approve of that kind of fatalism, but I have a new sympathy for a position that previously only baffled me.

No comments:

Post a Comment