The business of university press monograph publishing has always been madness, and changing conditions have made it even less sensible than it was. Yet any suggestion that there should be fewer university presses or that they should refocus their missions is greeted with shouts of dismay that are usually reserved for heretics and anarchists. Maybe we should remember that oft-quoted definition of madness—doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.
We look to our leaders to enable us to get things done. We look to them for vision and inspiration, but we also want leaders who make progress and get our organization to the place where the vision becomes reality. What sometimes gets overlooked is the need to create a workplace where people want to be while all the work is getting done.
The Common Core is set to change the way that K-12 education is administered across the United States. Or at least it was, until a backlash from educators and politicians put the new set of education standards on hold in some states and rolled them back entirely in others. Now higher education officials, who had previously been largely absent from the debate, are speaking up in favor of the standards and working to remind educators and parents why these stricter standards were agreed to by 45 states in the first place.
Summer lets me teach my favorite course, the run-down of what’s going on with several publishing industries and how libraries are riding the rapids. (It’s actually a course in environmental awareness and handling change, but such skills are much easier to teach given a concrete context in which to exercise them.) As I tore through syllabus and lecture revisions earlier this month to clear time for other necessary work, I found a few spare milliseconds to wonder whether the serials crisis, which hasn’t felt like an immediate all-hands-on-deck crisis in some time, might finally be heating up into one. Into many, really; the localized nature of serials pricing means that crises hit consortia and individual libraries at varying times, not all of academic librarianship at once.
On June 6, the City University of New York (CUNY) held its first library assessment conference. Called Reinventing Libraries: Reinventing Assessment, the event grew from its initial target of 100 attendees to almost twice that many, and positive feedback from many attendees included calls for the conference to be repeated, or even turn into an annual event. Several recurring themes became leit motifs running throughout the day: turning from an emphasis on exclusively quantitative to qualitative assessment, libraries partnering with faculty on instruction, and the intersection of outcomes measurement and predictive analytics in a new granular portrait of individual students’ library use.
I’ve written before about what I called the two cultures that sometimes clash, the commercial culture of a lot of scientific publishing and the gift culture of academia. In addition to clashes of culture, there are clashes of values. Thanks to the recent brouhaha surrounding the Taylor & Francis journal Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation, another clash of values has emerged, that of academics editing a journal to encourage debate and that of commercial publishers trying to stifle debate about their methods.
Is there any applause line in our profession more tried and true than the assertion that “libraries are essential?” The problem with such statements is not that they’re wrong. It is that they pose a danger: they all threaten to leave us complacent about our future. What will determine our future is not whether we and our services are essential in fact, but whether we are seen by our stakeholders as more essential than the other essential programs and projects that are competing for the same resources.
Last week I enjoyed one of my favorite times of the year: Commencement Week at Harvard. I love it then because so many students bring their parents and families into the libraries to see the glorious resources to which they’ve had access during their studies here. There’s a definite feeling of excitement in the air, and both the parents and students are absolutely sparkling with energy and lively interest. Serving at the Information Desk I get to meet lots of these folks, and I enjoy answering the myriad questions they pose.