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Librarians Supporting the Creation of New Knowledge

By Barbara Fister

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Though libraries have always supported the creation of new knowledge, librarians’ involvement in that process is shifting. Skills that helped librarians bring the world of knowledge to the local community are now being reexamined and retrofitted to support the processes of creating knowledge locally. Librarians are increasingly supporting students and faculty who are gathering original data, creating visualizations, developing digital humanities projects, and sharing their scholarship through publication. This change in perspective shifts the focus from sourcing finished products from publishers to providing the infrastructure to produce new things locally and make them available globally.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 This requires new skills and new programs. One area of growing importance is the provision of data services, both to support the use of data (including geographic information systems and other kinds of data visualization) in student and faculty research and to assist in the management and preservation of original data generated by researchers. Increasingly funders and publishers expect data related to published research to be maintained and publicly available. Libraries, in collaboration with IT and researchers, are seeking to identify their role in supporting this non-textual form of information.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In some cases, libraries are expanding their definition of information literacy to embrace quantitative literacy, visual literacy (including moving images), and archival literacy, which provide additional opportunities for collaboration and curricular synergy, as well as new ways to explore the meaning of information in multiple dimensions (Steen, 2001; Brown, Bussert, Hattwig, & Medaill, 2013; Brooklyn Historical Society, 2013; Yakel & Torres, 2003).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 3 Finally, librarians are increasingly providing various levels of publishing support, including hosting journals, publishing conference proceedings, supporting student publications, partnering or merging with university presses, establishing funds to assist researchers who want to publish in open access journals that require author-side fees, or even founding new scholarly presses, as Amherst College has done. In a more classical vein, the Colorado College library partners with academic departments and the Press at Colorado College to provide students with a thematic minor in the book. The Marriott Library at the University of Utah has a books arts program, offering credit-bearing courses, workshops, and outreach to local schools. An organization formed to support these forays into publishing, the Library Publishing Coalition, has a mission to “support an evolving, distributed range of library publishing practices and to further the interests of libraries involved in publishing activities on their campuses.” Its directory, which lists over 100 publishing programs in academic libraries, is going into its second edition.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Conceptually, the library as an organization, a physical and digital location, and a well-recognized cultural institution, is a natural setting for supporting the creation of new knowledge. Libraries are perhaps uniquely positioned as a campus crossroads where all of the disciplines come together, where students socialize, study, and snooze, where the mission and the distinguishing characteristics of the institution intersect with the wider world of knowledge, past and present. Though the library as an institution is still popularly identified with books, it can also be an art gallery, a space for traveling exhibits, a performance center, a lab, a makerspace, and a press. It’s a place where students can discover who they are as they begin to join the enduring conversations that define scholarship, a place where faculty can get support as they explore innovative and open ways to share their findings. The library, as the common ground for the campus and a local node on of a global intellectual commons, can embody and model values that connect and can make the world a place where all are encouraged to think freely, create, and share for the greater good.

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SIDEBAR – Cautionary Tales – Often, a librarian hired to take on a new role, typically involving technology and/or new services, will fall victim to new hire messianism, a mistaken belief that the new person who is bringing new skills to the organization will naturally become responsible for every new thing the library might want to embrace. This isn’t a problem in designing a position that’s impossible; it’s a failure of the organization to build the expectation of growth and change into all existing positions, and providing the necessary time and financial support so that library employees can embrace new challenges and constantly fold them into their work (Library Loon, May 24, 2011).

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Another problematic affliction of some organizations is the coordinator syndrome. This malady afflicts librarians who are given responsibility for important and complex roles without being provided the authority and resources to accomplish those responsibilities (Library Loon, December 15, 2011). Librarians succumb to coordinator syndrome when introduced into arboreal environments in which other librarians have established deep roots in their roles and resist becoming entwined with others’ roles as it is perceived as a threat. Coordinators thrive best in rhizomatic environments where root systems are far-reaching and interconnected (Painter-Moreland, 2013).

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Finally, the Bartholomew Cubbins Effect. In smaller academic libraries, there are never enough librarians to separate out roles distinctly or add new lines as new needs arise. In such libraries, librarians are used to wearing many hats. With the proliferation of needs requiring new knowledge and skillsets, the number of those hats proliferates. As librarians at smaller institutions determine priorities, they must individually and collectively decide which new hats can be accommodated and which old hats are no longer worth wearing. This requires a keen eye for sorting valuable new haberdashery from that which is merely trendy and the ability to choose hats that fit. It also means being realistic: 500 hats is too many.

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Source: http://acrl.ala.org/newroles/?page_id=263