By Barbara Fister
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In recent years, as public support for higher education has declined and concern about its cost has risen, academic libraries have been compelled to explain their “value proposition” (something that could be safely assumed in the past: of course libraries are valuable to institutions of higher learning! How could they not be?) The urgency of developing a “culture of assessment” fifteen years ago to shift the focus from what we are teaching to what students are learning has become, particularly since the financial crisis of 2008, a pervasive culture of demonstrating through various metrics that the things we do are worth the cost. These self-justifications tend to be locally focused, tied to an institution’s stated mission and addressed to institutional budget decision-makers who then make a case to funders, including governments, donors, and prospective tuition-paying students, while also making decisions about which units within the institution will be funded. The value of libraries to their institutions is expressed through analysis of measures that matter locally, so they vary. A community college library may need to show that what they do helps student retention. A tuition-driven four-year college may need to show that by the time students graduate, the library has contributed to institutional learning outcomes. A library at a research institution may need to show how their resources and services contribute to winning grants and publishing significant research as well as student retention and undergraduate learning.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In a worst-case scenario, these exercises consume staff time but are ultimately ignored as resources are allocated according to some mysterious formula. (Does making a poor showing mean you need more resources, or that your budget should be cut? Does a good showing prove your library is a good investment and should get more funding, or indicate it could do a perfectly adequate job with less? Rarely are those questions answered in any predictable way by the authorities requiring evidence of value.) Even if demonstrating value isn’t rewarded, libraries have the potential to learn useful things about the impact of their work and to improve what they do. A culture of assessment can be interpreted as an invitation to indulge in formalized curiosity and find out we can do better.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 As we consider new roles and enduring values, these are some of the issues facing librarians who are reconceptualizing the library as an entity located within a specific institutional context dedicated to both the institution and to the greater good.
- ¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0
- How can we collectively provide access to the greatest number of people in the most cost-effective and sustainable way? To what extent do we owe allegiance to our local communities when it comes in conflict with sharing more widely? What role will librarians in institutions of all types and sizes play in designing an open access future?
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- How can we advocate for the value of privacy in a digital environment in which our largest commercial platforms for finding and sharing information are financed through the aggregation and reuse of personal information? How do we preserve confidentiality while making good use of data to improve our practice?
- ¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0
- Do academic libraries support democracy, or are we competing to provide the most value to our host institutions, which are, in turn, competing against one another for students and resources? How can we participate in reversing trends that have made higher education an incubator for debt and inequality rather than a nurturer of self-discovery, social mobility, and the greater good?
- ¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0
- What will we need to do to welcome the diversity of backgrounds, life experiences, and values of our population into our libraries and into our profession? What must we do to ensure that our collections are as diverse as our students? What voices are silenced in our libraries, and how do we give them an opportunity to be heard?
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- How can academic librarians support education for lifelong learning when so many of the tools and resources we have encouraged students to use become instantly unavailable upon graduation? What do we do to prepare students to continue formalized curiosity post-graduation? What can we do to focus on the transferrable skills and habits of mind that prepare students to engage with knowledge in all kinds of settings, not just academic environments? What would that kind of transferrable, deep learning look like?
- ¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0
- How can libraries effectively defend intellectual freedom and the preservation of our culture in an environment in which rights holders and distributors can censor, alter, and withhold information? To what extent should we collaborate with other cultural institutions to preserve non-academic and born-digital culture? How can we stay on top of and influence the legal framework for sharing and preserving cultural materials in a world in which laws are local but culture and capital are global?
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- How can we balance the public good with the structural need for our institutions to distinguish themselves from the competition and pay their bills? Can we be a voice for the common value of higher education?
- ¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0
- What will professionalism look like in five years, or in ten? How will we responsibly encourage people to enter the profession and how will librarians continue learning throughout their careers? What skills do we need to develop and how can our organizations nurture and promote those skills? What do we need to do to ensure that our profession reflects and is shaped by the diversity of our population?
- ¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0
- How can we balance the local demands for service with the wider social responsibility we value? When should we say “no” to our users in order to hold out for a sustainable and shareable future for knowledge? How can we merge our service ethic with leadership so that we can participate in creating a more just and equal society?