Introduction: What Comes Next? Shift!
By Steven Bell
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 1 A book titled The Future of the Research Library sounds just about right for our times. Given the number of essays, articles, conference presentations, podcasts, blog posts, and interviews dedicated to the pondering of our library future, academic librarians, at times, appear obsessed about the future. This particular book was published in 1946 as part of the Windsor Lectures in Librarianship, a lectureship dedicated to Phineas L. Windsor, the Director of the Library and Library School of the University of Illinois – and also the first president of the Association of College & Research Libraries. Not unlike contemporary academic librarians, our predecessors pondered how they would adapt to a world of exploding content, the need to transition from local self-sufficiency to resource sharing, new fangled technologies such as micromaterials and photocopiers, and of course the impending word of data processing. Not unlike our own times, with so much change on the horizon, academic librarians were likely wondering what would come next for them and how their role in the academy would adapt to fit the times.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Verner Clapp, the author, defines the research library as an entity that “enables inquirers to identify library materials relevant to their inquiries and to supply them with copies of that material for their use”. (p.11). Through much of the book Clapp considers how to extend that function to a world where academies extend their gatekeeping function beyond their own walls and to a world thirsty for information access – and where a growing post-war research enterprise would need vast information support. Just as we do now Clapp and his colleagues needed to explore how their libraries would reflect the fundamental practices needed for a drastically different future, yet managing to maintain the legacy functions required for preserving and sharing rich collections. Perhaps not unlike our own times, the future of the past was largely about “shift” – migrating from existing infrastructures in which we have significant investment to discover new ways to engage and collaborate with our communities.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In this section we give our attention, as Clapp did, to considering how the role of the academic librarian will shift to meet new and somewhat ambiguous expectations. As in Clapp’s time, it is up to our profession to define and shape how we will position ourselves and our libraries as we find the balance between our legacy collections and responsibilities and the rapidly developing demands of the digital future. We will explore the implications of change to our technology infrastructure, our physical space, our role as a community center, our growing responsibility for digital curation, our growing emphasis on being a partner in the teaching and learning process, and assessing our effectiveness across the dimensions of service – all of it happening in a rapidly shifting scholarly publishing environment. One rather different challenge we face in the 21st century is meeting the demand to disinvest from a variety of infrastructures in which we are currently heavily invested and instead think about places where new engagements or collaborations are necessary to reduce the expense to each institution. It will require us to scale and make sustainable new programs, systems, and services and develop collaborative institutional frameworks across organizations to make it work. We are on the road to a massive shift in the positioning of the academic library.
Clapp mentions an even earlier attempt to write about the future of research libraries – a 1946 book from Fremont Rider, a librarian at Wesleyan University. Clapp describes Rider’s big prediction of book growth as a “bombshell thrown into the library world”. Rider predicts that by 2040 Yale’s library will have 200 million books and would need 8 acres of floor space to hold the card catalog. But wait…Rider has a solution. Yes! Microcards to the rescue.