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The emerging and future roles of academic libraries

Libraries are actively reinventing themselves for the digital age.  Confronted with corrosive budgets, skyrocketing costs, and challenged by a fear of obsolesce resulting from the accelerating rate of technological change; libraries are struggling for their survival.  For the academic library — the “heart” of the modern research university — survival requires demonstrating their value in new ways, embedding themselves deeper into the university’s core functions of teaching, learning, and research.  Although daunting, these challenges are nothing new for academic li-braries.

Within a generation, the signs of change are highly visible.  Gone are the card catalogues, monastic study corrals, and physical books replaced by media labs, new expertise in strategic areas (teaching and learning, information literacy, copyright, data visualization, and media production), and professionally designed collaborative workspaces.  The resonance of these changes has extended beyond the bookends of the library.  Just this week the Atlantic Monthly blog crowned the 2011 South by Southwest Festival “The Year of the Librarian”.

Photo: library cards Creative Commons BY NC SA 2.0 dorywithserifs

Despite radical attempts to meet the changing needs of every generation of scholars critics have argued that the library — in its current form — may have outlived its purpose.  For some change at the library hasn’t come quickly enough.  A recent editorial in The Chronicle of Higher Education codifies this position, accusing practitioners of being complicit — spending the last few decades rearranging the books in the Titanic library.  Sullivan, (2011) contends:

“… it is entirely possible that the life of the academic library could have been spared if the last generation of librarians had spent more time plotting a realistic path to the future and less time chasing outdated trends while mindlessly spouting mantras like “There will always be books and libraries” and “People will always need librarians to show them how to use information.” We’ll never know now what kind of treatments might have worked. Librarians planted the seeds of their own destruction and are responsible for their own downfall”.

I disagree.  There is ample evidence that library leaders have in earnest set their sights on the future — most notably, two of the largest American academic library professional organizations (The Association of Research Libraries and the Association of College and Research Libraries), recently produced future oriented reports to catalyze support for the value of academic libraries, and to provide vision for the future.  In my mind, these reports capture the excitement of an institution in transition, and provide insights into the future of higher education as a whole.

Futures Research
The first report, from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), a nonprofit professional organization which represents 126 of the largest college and university research libraries in the United States and Canada, created the ARL 2030 Scenarios project to address their strategic focus:

“How do we transform our organization(s) to create differential value for future users (individuals, institutions, and beyond), given the external dynamics redefining the research environment over the next 20 years?

ARL members were invited to participate in individual interviews, focus groups, and a survey.  Key stakeholders from within and outside the academic library community codified the results into four distinct scenarios.  The results were intentionally distributed inside of a user’s guide to ensure that the scenarios were packaged with an accompanying template for utilizing the scenarios at academic libraries as part of their strategic planning process.

Scenario 1: Research Entrepreneurs
In this future “individual researchers are the stars of the story”.  Academic institutions and disciplinary silos are no longer relevant for entrepreneurial researchers who chase short-to-long term contract work from private and public sources.

Scenario 2: Reuse and Recycle
Scenario 2 outlines a world defined by an “ongoing scarcity of economic resources” which forces the reuse and recycling of research activities, with virtually no public support for research.  Academic institutions persist, but have little to offer scholars.

Scenario 3: Disciplines in Charge
Utilizing advances in information technology “computational approaches to data analysis dominates the research enterprise”, fostering massive research projects aligned around “data-stores”.  Two classes of researchers emerge: those who “control the disciplinary organization and their research infrastructure” and everyone else who “scramble to pick up the piecework”.

Scenario 4: Global Followers
As funding forces dry up in the West academic power shifts to the Middle East and Asia.  Scholars continue to do their research but with new cultural influences from Middle Eastern and Asian funding agencies.

ARL Scenario Space
Figure 1: ARL Scenario Space, Creative Commons BY NC ND

The real strength of ARL’s scenarios is the user guide toolkitScenario planning — and futures research in general — is often criticized for being too empyreal.  ARL addresses this criticism head-on featuring six chapters dedicated to implementing of the scenarios within an academic library.  Also, as part of an ongoing process towards validating and refining each scenario articles, studies, and reports are being collected and coded as they pertain to each of the 4 possible futures.

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), another leader in the academic library world, also recently completed a future oriented study presenting 26 possible scenarios for 2025.  ACRL is the largest division of the American Library Association (ALA) with over 12,000 members worldwide.

Research for this study began with an intensive two-month review of quantitative and qualitative literature related to how academic libraries demonstrate their value.  ACRL staff then combined the results into 26 possible scenarios.  ACRL members were surveyed on the probability of each scenario occurring, the impact of each scenario, the speed at which the scenario might unfold, and whether the scenario reflects a threat or opportunity to academic libraries.  The survey results were then visually displayed on a problem space with a number corresponding to each scenario, with green numbers representing opportunities for academic libraries, and red signaling threats (Figure 2).

ACRL Scenario Space
Figure 2: ACRL Scenario Space, Creative Commons NC SA

The survey results concluded nine of the scenarios were highly probable and impactful including: “breaking the textbook monopoly”, “bridging the scholar/practitioners divide”, “everyone is a ‘non-traditional’ student”, “I see what you see” [advancements in IT make collaboration with users easier], “increasing threats of cyberwar, cybercrime, and cyberterrorism”, “meet the new freshman” [librarians help non-traditional student cross the digital divide], “right here with me” [advances in mobile technology for research and publication], “scholarship stultifies”, and “this class brought to you by…” [increased corporate sponsorships of courses and research].

The combined 30 scenarios presented by ARL and ACRL describe the potentially hostile, but promising world for academic libraries in the next 20 years.  The three most common themes throughout all of the scenarios: the impact of technology, the changing informational and infrastructural needs of their users, and the challenges to creating novel funding sources to combat acute budget shortfalls present real opportunities for leadership on the part of library administrators.

Although some have criticized these first attempts at futures research as a waste of time, I argue these reports have been successful because they have forced the debate about the future of the academic library to the forefront of the profession.  Certainly futures research cannot predict the future, however these scenarios provide academic libraries a chance to both strategize for what is most likely to happen, while advocating from an informed position for their most desirable future.

Association Research Libraries. (2010). The ARL 2030 Scenarios: A User?s Guide for Research Libraries. Washington, DC. Retrieved from

Connelly, P. (2011). SXSW 2011: The Year of the Librarian. Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from

Staley, D. J., & Malenfant, K. J. (2010). Futures Thinking For Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025. Retrieved from

Sullivan, B. T. (2011). Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from



First Globals and Education 3.0

I just finished reading The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream by John Zogby of Zobgy International, a public opinion polling company. In addition to compiling lots of interesting findings about how the American dream has / is shifting, Zogby creates a pictures of the new generation of learners called the First Globals born between 1979-1990. These traits and dispositions compliment the Education 3.0 students proposed by Moravec. First Globals are:

  • Highly materialistic and self-absorbed
  • Caring and tolerant
  • Change-oriented
  • OK with high educational debt
  • The most cosmopolitan age group in America
  • More likely to live abroad for an extended period of time
  • Does not expect job security

How is today’s educational system tapping into the rich culture and valuable assets of this generation? If our schools, curriculum, pedagogies, and structure are built on a social system, social values, and student attributes that look nothing like they do today, they are not really meeting the needs of this new generation of students. As noted in this blog “No matter how hard we try to cover up 19th century institutions, they will still be 19th century institutions.”

Technology Savvy School Leaders?

I co-host a podcast on Blog Talk Radio called Four Guys Talking. In episode 5, we discussed the role of higher education institutions to create technology savvy leaders. To cut to the chase, we concluded that we are not doing nearly enough to ensure school leaders are able to handle the changes, or even capture the opportunities, brought on by social networking tools, ubiquitous access to information, and the ever-changing introduction of new tools. A big question that came up is how do leadership preparation programs ensure school leaders are technology savvy? Since technology is taking a more
dominant role in formal and informal education, how are institutions of higher education ensuring they are preparing school leaders appropriately? Here are some highlights from our talk:

  • Technology is taught as an add-on and is not infused throughout programs.
  • Educational leadership courses are not measuring or ensuring that leaders who get the university’s rubber stamp of approval are technology savvy.
  • Outside of maybe a dozen folks (that we know of), the issue of technology leadership is not getting a lot of attention. Scott McLeod and I recently completed a study attesting to this fact. It should be published in a special edition of the Journal of School Leadership soon.
  • As noted over on Dangerously Irrelevant, service in higher education is usually seen as the lesser of our obligations as faculty members. How can we get our technology interested faculty members on board to directly work with more schools, leaders, and teachers on topics related to technology when the institutions that promotes them do not value this type of work (that is to say our service if judged less than our research and teaching)?

Most higher education institutions see value in technology and do want technology to be infused in their educational leadership programs. Bryan Setser of North Carolina Virtual Public Schools spoke to my class of EdD students recently. He said “if you are thinking that technology is only a tool, you are already behind. Technology is a process, it is not a tool.” Why then are school leadership programs not teaching our school leaders to change how they do the business of education versus teaching them how to use tools to make their job easier?

I find the Education 3.0 framework as proposed by John Moravec aptly applies to school leaders too. As John said:

This will all require new forms of educational professionalism, tapping well beyond traditional teachers [and school leaders], and blending together with the communities that schools serve. The future that kids and adults co-create can provide the emerging knowledge/innovation economy a boost, greatly enhancing human capital and potentials.

Introducing Maya Frost, guest blogger

I am delighted to announce that Maya Frost will join Education Futures this week as a guest blogger.

Maya Frost has taught thousands of people how to get calm, clear and creative. Her eyes-wide-open approach to everyday awareness has been featured in over a hundred print and web media outlets worldwide, ranging from Ladies’ Home Journal to In 2005, she and her husband sold everything and left the US. The unusual part: they had four teenage daughters at the time. Her book, The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education, is packed with the lessons they learned (and loopholes they discovered) that ANY US student can use to completely avoid the traditional path to that college degree and blast forward with sizzling 21st century skills, a sparkling college diploma, flaming enthusiasm–and no debt. (Random House, May 2009)

3D Simulations and Model Eliciting Activities

I am involved in an Institute of Educational Sciences project with Seward Incorporated out of Minneapolis. We are currently building a simulation to support a Model Eliciting Activity (MEA). MEAs are predominantly used in STEM areas (science, technology, engineering, and mathematic). Here is a good read on how MEAs have been used. In short, these are activities that force students to build mathematical models based on real world problems.

Check out these sample MEAs:

In short, we are building simulations to support MEAs. Currently we are building a simulation using Croquet. This is an open source technology that allows the user to create interactive 3D worlds. The current simulation is based on a paper airplane MEA. In this MEA students need to create a judging model for what makes a paper airplane a best floater, the fastest plane, most loops, the most accurate, etc, With this MEA it is impossible for teachers to replicate a data set in class. But in a simulated environment, teachers can replicate a throw over and over! Below is a screenshot of our current project:



In this environment students will be able to:

  • Launch and relaunch flights
  • Chat with other students
  • Compare and contrast flight paths
  • Change angle from judges table to top view, to sideline view.
  • Interact with the flight data using a measurement tool.

Teachers will:

  • Be able to monitor all students in the environment
  • Give feedback and probe using the chat function

We are working on the laboratory now. In that environment, students will be more interactive and will be able to play with the angle, the force, height, and plane choice to determine its impact on the flight.

If you had any experiences using / building simulations to support mathematical problem solving skills, please comment! If you know of anyone else doing this kind of work, we would love to hear about it!

Simple + Streamlined + Slick = Chrome

I thought I would start my week of ‘guest blogging’ by introducing a new tech tool. Have you heard of Chrome? It is the new search engine by Google. Wired magazine had a great article titled “Inside Chrome: The Secret Project to Crush IE and Remake the Web“. I thought I would chime in and give my top reasons why I am digging this tool:

  1. Tabbed browsing is old news…but pullng out tabs as an independent browser is cool. It works much like a real file cabinet. Old skool meets new skool.
  2. Since tabs are independent, if one site crashes, you do not loose the other tabs.
  3. Who needs a search bar AND and address bar? With Chrome, they are one in the same.
  4. Going to a site where you don’t really want to leave tracks…go incognito.
  5. Your most visited sites are saved in a new tab and displayed a mini-pages.

We all started out on Netscape, fell for the wow of Internet Explorer, and really dug Mozilla’s Firefox. Maybe Chrome will finally squash the way we think a web browser should be. It is changing my mind!

So, why is the introduction of Chrome a big deal and what is its implication on education? This tool is a sign that tech tool developers are breaking away from the way we ‘think’ things work and are listening to the experiences of the users. If teachers and school leaders shift their thoughts away from ‘business as usual’, maybe they will listen to the users (i.e, students) and radically change the way the schooling experience works. What if we break down these preconceived walls and build a new type of educational system? Perhaps a user-driven, user-friendly system?

Jayson Richardson returns as guest blogger

For the week of October 12, Dr. Jayson Richardson will return to Education Futures as a guest blogger. (I will be away in China.)

Jayson is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership in the Watson School of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His research interests include international / intercultural education and global school leadership. He is particularly interested in how nations and societies can find innovative ways to build a 21st Century knowledge-based workforce.

Jayson has served as a project manager / consultant on various educational technology grants with Seward Incorporated out of Minneapolis, MN. He has also worked as a mathematics teacher on the Navajo Indian Reservation, in inner-city Indianapolis, and in East London, UK. At various levels, he has been involved in international teaching, international service learning, and intercultural education for over 14 years. Jayson earned is PhD in comparative and international development education from the University of Minnesota, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction / English as a Second Language from Indiana University, and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics education / Spanish from Purdue University.  (You can view his UNCW faculty profile here.)

Welcome back, Jayson!

University-Industry Collaboration

In Japan, promotion of university-industry collaboration has been a key topic at many levels since the early 90’s, and especially since 2004 when all the former national universities became semi-privatized.

With this drastic reform in Japanese higher education in 2004, Japanese former national universities need to be transformed into a new mode of knowledge creation. With the increased autonomy in each university, now it is much easier for individual universities to seek cooperation with industry. Indeed, it is said that this reform was first proposed to make this collaboration easy (Prior to the privatization, professors at national university were civil servants and thus were not allowed to work elsewhere).

In the industrialized countries, technical innovation has become the main force for competitiveness. This results in a much stronger participation of industry in research and development (R & D). In industrialized countries, the participation of universities in R & D projects for industry has become key activity. Though in Japan, this trend is also apparent with 67% of research being financed by big companies, traditionally most of these universities have been the private ones.

Now under new regulations, newly privatized former national universities have a freedom to participate in this university-industry cooperation. Not only does university-industry cooperation will lead to a creation of knowledge-based society, this strategy could result in a win-win situation for both stakeholders, university and industry.

First, Japanese national universities can now target research and education to actual needs of the society which will strengthens the position of the university in the society and bring financial benefits. Also, they can mitigate their newly added financial constraint from not receiving subsidy from the Ministry of Education. Through university-industry collaboration, universities can use companies’ resources and expertise which may be up-to-date than those found in their universities.

And last but not least, universities can finally develop skills and resources for transferring research results to end users. Traditionally, knowledge generated in universities tended to just sit in an ivory tower without being utilized in a real world. Through university-industry collaboration, universities can learn the strategy to convey their newly generated knowledge to the society.

There are many benefits for industry as well.  First and foremost, they can obtain top-notch information on recent developments in science and technology.  Having direct access to research results will enable industry to develop more competitive products and services.

Sounds wonderful, right?  Yep, this university-industry collaboration seems as though it could be a panacea for everyone and everything.  It is actually a pretty good deal.

But! (and there is always “but”)  there are a few things that we might want to be careful and keep in our mind when promoting this strategy. 

I will talk about those points tomorrow… 

What happens to PhDs?

I have been reading this book titled “Highly-Educated Working Poor – Graduate School as a Manufacturer of Part-timers ” (written in Japanese).  Sounds pessimistic?  Yep, this is a very pessimistic book, indeed.

Pessimistic it may be, the book conveys the critical truth about post PhD lives in my country.  In Japan, a lot of new graduate schools were established around the time all the national university became semi-privatized in 2004.  It was a part of the government policy along with the privatization to increase the number of graduate schools.  Consequently, there have been more and more graduates with higher degrees.  However, the author of the book claims that the society is not ready to utilize so many MAs, MSs, and especially PhDs. 

This book also reminded me of a website called “A Village of One-hundred Doctors” that I recently came across (also in Japanese).  According to this website:

Of 100 new Doctors,

16 are MDs (medical doctors)

14 become professors

20 become post doctoral fellows (postdocs)

8 become company workers

11 become civil service employees

7 completely changes their areas of specialization

16 are unemployed

And the rest 8 go MISSING!!!

Is this depressing or what?!  Oh this is not a world average – this is a Japanese case, if that makes you non-Japanese people feel better. 

OK, enough of this bleak story.  I will write something more positive tomorrow, I promise. 

World Competitiveness Ranking – Where is Japan?

World Competitiveness. For the first entry of my guest-blogging, this topic would not be too bad, I suppose.

Thus, World Competitiveness.

According to World Competitive Yearbook 2007 by IMD (International Institute for Management Development), Japan is now ranked in the 24th place, sliding out of the top twenty. Allowing China to pass (China rose from 18 to 15), Japan has moved down eight spots, from the 16th in 2006. In fact, Japan is now surpassed by many of it’s neighboring countries, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and even Malaysia (See the below ranking for details). Though there is a debate over if China truly deserves to be ranked so high, let’s put away that debate for the moment and I would like to think why Japan has fallen dramatically.

One IMD research fellow points out why Japan is slipping, noting some of the factors that I have also pondered many times in the past when thinking about my own country’s higher education system. As she puts it:

[…] Entrepreneurship is not widespread (ranking 57th out of 61 countries), business managers are not characterized as having much international experience (52nd) and there is a low participation of women in business (47th). […] Other obstacles to global integration include a national culture that is closed to foreign ideas (54th) and strict immigration laws (55th), despite the fact that Japan ranks higher for its “attitude towards globalization” (14th).

It has also been pointed out that this low ranking is caused by the serious descrepancies between the skills companies need and the skills Japanese university provides to students.

What does this mean?

To me, it means that the higher education system needs to focus on producing a new type of college graduate: someone who is ready for the globalized economy of the 21st century, someone who can think independently and able to function in the international market, and someone who has great creative mind as well as entrepreneurship.

Yes yes, these points have been discussed for many years by now, but nothing has changed so far, as Japan’s competitiveness ranking keeps dropping down.

I am unwilling to admit, but it looks as though it will take some time before Japan starts climbing back up the rankings… *sigh*

IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2007 (top 30)

1. U.S.A, 2. Singapore, 3. Hong Kong, 4.Luxembourg, 5. Denmark, 6. Switzeland, 7. Iceland, 8. Netherlands, 9. Sweden, 10. Canada, 11. Austria, 12. Australia, 13. Norway, 14. Ireland, 15. Mainland China, 16. Germany, 17. Finland, 18. Taiwan, 19. New Zealand, 20. United Kingdom, 21. Israel, 22. Estonia, 23. Malaysia, 24. Japan, 25. Belgium, 26. Chile, 27. India, 28. France, 29. Korea, 30. Spain.