Environmental and Organizational Context

The tremendous changes in the global digital information environment and in higher education are well documented. For background to our exploration of the intersections of scholarly communication and information literacy, we selected just a few of the many external forces that have a large impact on libraries. These are:

  • the turmoil in scholarly publishing;
  • a desire among faculty for a scholarly publishing infrastructure that meets their needs for greater access and broader impact;
  • a desire among many students to publish their work online to the world;
  • the need among our users to find, manage, and cite massive amounts of digital information in different formats;
  • the demand for tools for easily finding, sharing, and reusing that information.

The turmoil in scholarly publishing is a symptom of the significant challenges to the established model of scholarly publishing. These challenges include the proliferation of digital information technologies and growing requirements for scholarly output to have a broader impact and therefore be more open for use and reuse. The current model of scholarly publishing is decidedly unsustainable. The “serials crisis,” which describes the results of declining library budgets and rising subscription costs, has given rise to a steadily growing movement on the part of librarians, faculty, and students to reinvent scholarly publishing and to retain more control over the results of faculty and student output. Some publishers are experimenting with new business models for open access publishing, including using article processing fees as a source of financial support, while others are embracing alternative methods to meet the desire for greater access to scholarship.

New venues for open access publishing for both journals and monographs are becoming available (such as PeerJ and Open Humanities Press), but no one model has emerged as the solution to the major issues in publishing. In this era of rapid change and experimentation, all stakeholders need to grapple with the difficult questions about the sustainability of traditional and new models of scholarly communication. Business models, such as subscriptions for journals, that made sense when the means of distribution were expensive and scarce may prove quite inefficient in a digital environment. The most efficient and sustainable models will certainly not emerge quickly, and so we are likely to see many different experiments for the foreseeable future.

The focus of an academic library must be highly relevant to the institutional mission, and many institutions now list extending the global reach of their research and teaching as key parts of their missions. There is a growing interest in higher education to promote the global impact of faculty and student scholarship and creative activity. Institutions are adopting open access policies, supporting publishing programs, and developing institutional repositories to further this goal. New products and services to help accomplish this are emerging from consortia that are providing open source options and fee-based services from commercial publishing and repository platform providers.

We also see this imperative represented in rapidly emerging ways of extending the reach of the academic community by teaching to a broad audience through open online courses. Many institutions are engaging in the type of academic experience offered by MIT’s OpenCourseWare and through Massively Open Online Courses. The imperative to make the work faculty produce as teachers more openly available is new, controversial, and inconsistent across higher education institutions. However, where an institution adopts such programs, the library can best support these initiatives through collaborations among teaching and scholarly communication librarians, bringing to bear skills and knowledge in teaching, copyright, access to content, and publishing. This collaboration can support faculty in their development of more open course materials, since the high cost of textbooks is a major concern of students and faculty alike.

All of these trends compel academic librarians to further develop our roles in support of the goal of broad dissemination and access to information. This includes educational programs at all levels about new ways to accomplish these charges. Transformations in the publishing and education environment provide abundant opportunities for collaboration and partnerships among scholarly communication and information literacy experts to meet the educational needs of faculty and students in the digital information age. We explore specific opportunities in the following section with Intersection 1, Economics of the Distribution of Scholarship.

The challenges teaching librarians face now go far beyond bibliographic and textual information to include data, many types of media such as video and sound, as well as social media. Developing responses to questions in these areas requires librarians to impart a deeper knowledge of the life cycle of scholarship, the environment in which it is created, the social life of information, and an understanding of the inequities in access to both the information and to the tools necessary to use that information. In Intersection 2, Digital Literacies, we acknowledge the demands of digital literacies and new concepts that affect how we teach, in particular, transliteracy.

Looking internally, we see that the roles of academic librarians are evolving. These evolutions have in some cases been aided or provoked by organizational change. They reflect new ways of coping with declining library budgets amid new demands for information resources by reallocating staffing and redistributing collections budgets. As indicated in The 2012 State of America’s Libraries: a Report from the American Library Association,

Academic librarians and their colleagues in higher education in the United Sates also continued to navigate a “new normal,” characterized by stagnating budgets, unsustainable costs, increased student enrollments and reduced staff, and the pressure on higher education to demonstrate value took on new urgency and importance in 2011-2012. (p. 3)

We explore the effects of these changes more fully in Intersection 3, New Roles for Librarians.

Academic librarians find responses to these internal and external challenges in ACRL’s strategic plan, the Plan for Excellence (2011), which describes a desired future where, “Librarians drive and enable the transformation of libraries, student learning and scholarly research.” ACRL’s report The Value of Academic Libraries (2010) urges libraries to demonstrate and develop their impact on student learning. Librarians need to intentionally integrate the challenges inherent in the changing scholarly publishing landscape with information literacy curricula to provide high impact teaching and learning experiences. There are many new “teachable moments” when the whole scholarly ecosystem is considered. For libraries to be resilient in this evolving academic environment, they must take advantage of all the opportunities provided by a period of disruptive change.


One Response to “Environmental and Organizational Context”

  1. Roberto Abril April 3, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    At times I am inclined to think that the purpose, though mediated or “justified” by technological changes and budgetary schemes, is to facilitate a marketable fee-based access to information for the publishing digital industry. I wonder about the quality of the evaluation of the content (peer reviews tend to be free of charge, so to get a free ride might not be out of the scope) as oppose to the role of the traditional editors and their expertise in overseeing the products and its place in the discipline.
    The connect with faculty and librarians might not be as connected as it should and the targetting of producing library guides with all it appeal, might reduce, if it is not properly coordinated, the role of the intersection of librarians, students and faculty for the ‘teacheable moments’ (in the content and process pedagogical design). (Reducing in some way the information fluency goal) and the role of the generalists. If scholarly communication and open access publishing is to avail: a room for the combination of the academic model must be balanced between especialization and generalization.