One of our own

Sep 14 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Today there was a major report released today by ACRL ( Association of College and Research Libraries) on Value in Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report. The entire report is at: http://www.acrl.ala.org/value/.  It discusses ways libraries can better show value to the academy (or industry, local community, school system, etc.)

Disclaimer: I haven't read the whole thing. Unlike some of my colleagues I rarely get reports prior to the release date and it usually takes me time to read them. Since this is the start of the semester and it's over 150 pages this one will take me some time to digest.

I have read the introductory material, though, and will say this: it's a good report for anyone who wants to better understand the scope, mission and challenges of today's library.  One interesting observation: since it's not in a toll-access journal, it's free to all. Incidentally, this tradition of libraries publishing many of their most topical and case-based industry reports freely on the web has kept our own literature from moving as quickly into new publishing models (like Open Access) or understanding the plight of our academic colleagues. Many of our most important and timely stuff is not in journals (with a few exceptions) while other academic faculty are facing more journal titles in which to publish, more places to monitor research, and also being saddled with longer review times.  Unreliable social networks or tools that shut down or change access models are a problem for monitoring research with social tools. Bloglines and Scribd for two very recent examples. Bloglines will be shutting down Oct 1 and Scribd will require a userid to download content. Coupled with this is the pressure to conform to established criteria for promotion and tenure - who has time to innovate? 

Other recently reported news was the announcement of Frank Turner as University Librarian at Yale University. There's more information here, and while I can't comment on whether I think he has the skills to run a major academic research library, there has been discussion within the library community on whether an academic and non-MLS should be in this or similar positions of leadership in academic libraries. Should we hire and promote our own to run the library? I will say Yale felt justified in promoting one of their own - Prof. Turner has been at Yale for some time and the news release hints that the search committee identified Turner early in the selection process. Is it so bad to pick one of your own? Personally I think this can be both good and bad - good in that you know the candidate well and can be assured of their opinions, management style, etc. It's also bad in that you might also know the candidate well and assume the direction, opinions, or other aspects of their performance.  Do you value tradition to the exclusion of innovation? Can these two qualities peacefully coexist? I don't think there are simple answers here. The other argument in the library community is that this trend cheapens the library or MLS degree. I do have some concerns about this but leadership can be surprsingly democratic and not necessarily based on recent or traditionally relevant experience. In the bas eof Prof. Turner, I think his experience as Provost more than makes up for an MLS degree.    

This second announcement brings up another question: how much can you truly innovate in an established, traditional environment like an ivy league academic campus or a top-tier academic research library? Is it even possible? I think the challenge for Turner is not so much running the library (although it will be substantial considering the size and scope of Yale's collections and library locations) or even adminstrative expectations such as raising funds, raising the library's profile on campus, and garnering support for library services and programs.

I think Turner's real challenge will be addressing the questions raised in the ACRL  report: reconciling the academic library's tradition of having both a collegial and manegerial culture, addressing the requirements of outside accrediting organizations and professions, and demonstrating  library resources as relevant to the overall campus mission.  To me, this is the real challenge of our profession. Is it better to have "one of them" talking to the department faculty, or "one of our own" in the local academic community explaining our culture to others?

Since I have a stake in this, I'll share my opinion: my first priority is that the place I work gets the support it needs to function and thrive. If the best advocate for me as a librarian is a non-MLS administrator, or a faculty colleague, or a student-turned prominent alumnus, or even a library vendor who can tell their peers, then I'm fine with that. Would I rather have it be "one of myown" doing this promoting? Sure, I think everyone is happier when their own peers influence decision-making. But you can't always communicate to everyone on your own terms, or even to some higher level audiences. I think we all need to know when it's better for someone else to toot our horns for us, whether they're one of our own or someone else.

2 responses so far

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    I understand the point about needing help making a clear value proposition on what you bring to an organization. I've actually been thinking about that a good bit and hopefully will have something that will help to show later this year.

    • ebrown says:

      Thanks for responding - in the latest behind the scenes move I didn't get my usual notifications from the comments. I'm interested in what you are planning. Let us know when it's public.