April 19, 2018

21 Directors Weigh In on the Future of Academic Libraries

By Josh Hadro

It’s rare to find 21 directors weighing on on the future of academic libraries, so take note: In support of a forthcoming textbook from Neal-Schuman titled Academic Librarianship, Camila A. Alire and G. Edward Evans have collected 21 essays under the title “Leaders Look Toward the Future.”

Charles Harmon, Neal Schuman VP, told LJ that Alire and Evans solicted the essays in order to provide fodder for the final chapter of the book, which looks at the challenges facing academic libraries. The 21 contributors direct academic libraries large and small, including liberal arts colleges and large research institutions, as well as specialized law and health libraries.

The essays, generally ranging from three to five pages, aim to be easily digestible. At that length, they serve as distillations of the challenges identified by the directors, including the potential redundancy of many research collections, dinstermediation of the research process, and unrelenting budget concerns.

Cliche to radical collaboration
Supporting the commonly held perception of director-written materials as overly bland, a number of the essays hew close to the safety of adages; more than one offer well-worn advice like “keep pace with changing technology.”

Still, others are more forthcoming and compelling. Perhaps the most determined to make waves, an essay from James Neal, VP for Information Services and University Librarian, Columbia University, offers “thirty imperatives” for the academic library. “Renovation is grossly inadequate, he writes. “Deconstruction is totally essential.”

A number of the essayists also take note of the profession’s long history of self-reflection and future-gazing. Theresa Byrd, Director of Libraries, Ohio Wesleyan University, harkens back to Guy Lyle’s 1961 text, The Administration of the College Library. He describes the “essentials of the college library program”:

If the college library is to function effectively in support of teaching and as an instrument of teaching in itself, there are certain requirements which must be met. Five of these are especially important. They are the maintenance of a live, growing collection; a modern physical plant; a well-qualified staff; leadership in promoting library use; and adequate financial support.

As Byrd notes, with the exception of the current emphasis on technology in all facets of library administration, Lyle’s nearly half-century old summary guides many modern administrative outlooks as much as ever.

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