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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if the last generation of librarians had spent more time plotting a realistic path to the future and less time chasing outdated trends while mindlessly spouting mantras like “There will always be books and libraries” and “People will always need librarians to show them how to use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.

References
Association Research Libraries. (2010). The ARL 2030 Scenarios: A User?s Guide for Research Libraries. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/arl-2030-scenarios-users-guide.pdf/.

Connelly, P. (2011). SXSW 2011: The Year of the Librarian. Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/03/sxsw-2011-the-year-of-the-librarian/72548.

Staley, D. J., & Malenfant, K. J. (2010). Futures Thinking For Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/issues/value/futures2025.pdf.

Sullivan, B. T. (2011). Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Academic-Library-Autopsy/125767/.

 

 

Review: 21st Century Skills (by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel)

Book: 21st Century Skills: Learning for life in our times
Author: Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel
Publisher: Jossey-Bass (2009)

Some ten years into the 21st century, I find it amazing that we are still having conversations on what skills are necessary to succeed in this new century. We’ve explored some ideas of what skills are relevant before (see this, this, this, and this, for example), and there appears to be a general consensus that there are needs for skills development in creativity, innovation, smart use of ICTs, and social leadership. This is exactly in line with what Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel, co-board members on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, identify (lifted from the book jacket):

  • Learning and Innovation Skills: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, and Communication and Collaboration
  • Digital Literacy Skills: Information Literacy, Media Literacy, and ICT Literacy
  • Career and Life Skills: Flexibility and Adaptability, initiative and Self-Direction, Social and Cross-Cultural Skills, Productivity and Accountability, Leadership and Responsibility

What makes this book valuable to practitioners, however, is that instead of building up chapters of reasoning for why we need to adopt the P21 skill set in education, they focus more on what each of these skills mean. Moreover, they tie in examples of the skills in practice with an included DVD, containing real-life classroom examples.

While the book excels at understanding each of the P21 skills and their implications, it falls short on how to build these skills in broader contexts – i.e., as a replacement set for NCLB standards. For this, the text could have benefited with an invitation –and mechanism– for its readers to join the conversation on adopting and embracing new skills for the 21st century. Instead, leading the conversation seems left to us: Where shall we begin?


Note: The publisher provided a copy of the book for review. Please read our review policy for more details on how we review products and services.

Building a Knowmad Society in Minnesota

From Consult Minnesota’s press release:

John Moravec predicts a revolution, and is calling on Minnesota technology consultants to help make it happen.

During his presentation to Consult Minnesota Thursday, Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. in the Walnut Room of Axel’s Char House at the Roseville Radisson Hotel, Moravec, a faculty member in Innovation Studies and coordinator of the Leapfrog Institutes at the University of Minnesota, will call on his Consult Minnesota audience to use their technological skills in helping bring about new approaches to infuse creativity and innovation into education.

“As changes in society pressure enormous transformations in education, we need to consider that education at all levels will change so radically that we won’t recognize it,” states Moravec. “Standardized learning – the lecture – is giving way to hands?on, individualized learning at each student’s own pace. Although change will be disruptive, it has many potential benefits.”

Among the advantages of the new educational paradigm are:

  • More effective use of scarce assets to meet a rising demand. At the same time, students can access a wider selection of high?quality course offerings and teachers.
  • Fewer time constraints. Advanced students no longer have to choose between waiting for others to catch up versus leaving them behind.
  • New combinations of tacit and explicit knowledge creation, or invisible learning. As the focus switches away from rote learning merely for higher test scores, students build capacities for continuous learning, unlearning, and relearning – not WHAT to think, but HOW to solve problems.
  • New priorities. Says Moravec, “In the age of YouTube lectures, universities need not worry about their bubbles bursting, but rather, what they should be doing in the classrooms instead of lecturing.”

Admission to the August 19th meeting is free. Dinner and beverages are optional at regular prices. All present will be eligible for a free drawing for door prizes including USB flash drives from General Nanosystems and carwashes from Downtowner Express Lube.

Consult Minnesota is a voluntary association of Minnesotans with a shared interest in facilitating Information Technology support to community and non?profit organizations. The group meets bimonthly. Further information is available at www.consult-mn.org or (612) 568-3243.

Moravec: Focus on HOW to learn, not WHAT to learn

Victor Yu (Udemy) interviewed John Moravec, editor of Education Futures. He argues that technologies need to be used to help students learn how to think … not tell them what to think:

“I believe we need to engineer new technologies to help them HOW to learn, not WHAT to learn. Our school systems have focused on WHAT for centuries. Likewise, we see too many educational technologies focus on the WHAT as well (i.e., pushing content rather than new idea generation). WHAT technologies are great for producing factory workers, but for creatives and innovators, we need to focus more on HOW to learn. The rapidly changing world demands no less. Students need to build capacities for continuous learning, unlearning, and relearning to be competitive globally. So, I believe that the technologies that address the HOW question will become the key for educational success in the remainder of the 21st century.”

Read the full interview at Udemy.

November agenda: Boundless conversations

The month of November promises to be a remarkable series of boundless conversations on the intersections of creativity, technology and innovation in education.

First and foremost, I owe many thanks to Fons van der Berg for organizing Education Futures NL at the Creative Learning Lab in Amsterdam, November 2. The event will feature talks by me and Cristóbal Cobo, with additional activities facilitated by Fons. The Knowmads will also pay us a visit. Central to our conversations is the question: How shall we create new educational contexts that are relevant to Society 3.0?

I will then travel to the i+i Conference in Lunteren (Netherlands) on November 4. This technology-oriented group is interested in the technological, social and philosophical opportunities afforded by computing “in the clouds.” The focus of my keynote: ICT professionals are among the first to notice how accelerating technological change is driving dramatic transformations in society and how we work -but, what about the classroom? Are schools lagging behind in providing meaningful teaching and learning for the 21st century? Unfortunately, in most places, the answer is “yes.” This talk focuses on the evolving needs of society and the economy, and the failure of education to address them. I will present a roadmap to the changes required of education, and open a discussion on “what’s required next” as technology-enabled innovators reinvent Education 3.0.

Later that evening, I will join up with Fons for TeachMeet NL 09, where they say, “the best technologies for learning are conversations and beer.” I can’t wait!

Tom Elko will report from the premiere meeting of the WISE Forum to be held in Doha on November 16 – 18, 2009. The Forum will draw leaders and decision-makers from governments, businesses, civil society, schools & universities, international institutions, NGOs, grassroots movements, top-tier media, multimedia, art and other creative communities around the globe. The event is bringing in an impressive list of speakers, including Gerhard Schröder and Biz Stone (Twitter). Of particular note to educational innovators, Curriki will accept one of the first WISE Awards for innovation in education.

Finally, I head to Helsinki on November 20 for a visit with a seminar at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Science on Boundless Learning. With both virtual and in-person components, the seminar is developing into a real treat to participate in. For a sample of the ideas we will explore, view the videos posted on the Boundless Learning blog.

More soon… stay tuned!

Friedman: U.S. education system endangering global competitiveness

New York times columnist Tom Friedman speaks out:

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

That is the key to understanding our full education challenge today. Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education.

Citing Dan Pink, Friedman continues to conclude that, to be competitive in a global marketplace, the U.S. needs to infuse its schools with “entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.” As we stated before, there are many obstacles for schools that wish to produce creatives. Most importantly:

  1. No Child Left Behind. NCLB is producing exactly the wrong products for the 21st Century, but is right on for the 1850’s through 1950. NCLB’s fractured memorization model opposes the creative, synthetic thinking required for new work and effective citizenship.
  2. Schools are merging with prisons. As soon as students enter schools, they lose many of their fundamental rights, including the right to free speech. Students who do not wish to conform to prison-like, automaton production must develop individual creativity to survive… often at a price.
  3. Inadequate teacher preparation, recruitment and retention. The U.S. public schools have always been lemmings, but are now failing to produce teachers who are savvy to the contemporary trends their students must learn and respond to in times of accelerating change. The other half of the picture is teacher-modeled creativity, something the public schools have never seriously attempted.
  4. Insufficient adoption of technology. The squeeze is on from both ends: Student-purchased technology is usually derided, suppressed, and sometimes confiscated. These tools are part of the technology spectrum kids know they will have to master. On the other end, technology in the schools is dated, the Internet is firewalled, and there isn’t enough equipment to go around.
  5. Focusing on information retention as opposed to new knowledge production. Disk-drive learning is for computers. Knowledge production and innovation are for humans. The first requires fast recall and low error rates from dumb systems; the second, driven by intelligent people, builds the economy and keeps America competitive.
  6. Innovation is eschewed. Most U.S. teachers think innovation is something that requires them to suffer the discomforts and pains of adaptation. They don’t accept change as a necessary function of expanding national competitiveness. Many U.S. teachers might be more comfortable in industrial world economies and societies represented by China and South Korea, or 1950’s America.
  7. Continuous reorganization of school leadership and priorities, particularly in urban schools. Serious questions can be raised whether schools are the organizations required to cope with semi-permanent underclasses, violent youth, incompetent, irresponsible parenting and negative adult role models. What institutional substitutions would you make for the schools?
  8. National education priorities are built on an idealized past, not on emergent and designed futures. Blends of applied imagination, creativity, and innovation are required to visualize preferred futures, to render them proximal and grounded, and to forge them into empirical realities. On the other hand, it is quite possible that Secretary Spellings and other highly placed education “leaders” have never had an original thought in their entire lives.
  9. Social class and cultural problems in schools and communities suggest that the schools live in a Norman Rockwell past. Bright kids capable of novel thought and new culture creation have never fit into the industrially modeled American schools, and lower-middle class teachers have little respect for working- and poverty-class art, music, and culture. It appears that the schools are populated by timid, unimaginative, lower-middle class professional placeholders who crave convention (spelling bees, car washes, exceptional sports performances) over invention.
  10. Failing to invest resources in education, both financially and socially. Education is formal, informal, and non-formal in structure and function. It is possible that formal education will be recognized as the least powerful of this trio, in part because it is so dated, and in part because it occurs in such a small percentage of life compared with the other two types. Perhaps new funding algorithms and decisions must follow this ratio.

Where do we begin?

Creating and dismantling the library of the future

mplslib
Inside Higher Ed writes that, Daniel Greenstein, vice provost for academic planning and programs at the University of California System predicts:

The university library of the future will be sparsely staffed, highly decentralized, and have a physical plant consisting of little more than special collections and study areas.

Particularly over the past decade, librarians have shown considerable futures thinking into what their institutions might become. One visible example is the Minneapolis Central Library, designed by Cesar Pelli. The building is designed not only to be more green and sustainable, but also to be converted into a structure that can serve a different purpose. The floors, for example, are removable and reconfigurable, allowing the library to adapt to needs and purposes that do not yet exist.

So, it comes as no surprise that Ithaka hosted a talk on sustainability and the future of university libraries –likely creating some unease among librarians. Inside Higher Ed elaborates more on Greenstein’s vision:

“We’re already starting to see a move on the part of university libraries… to outsource virtually all the services [they have] developed and maintained over the years,” Greenstein said. Now, with universities everywhere still ailing from last year’s economic meltdown, administrators are more likely than ever to explore the dramatic restructuring of library operations.

Within the decade, he said, groups of universities will have shared print and digital repositories where they store books they no longer care to manage. “There are national discussions about how and to what extent we can begin to collaborate institutionally to share the cost of storing and managing books,” he said. “That trend should keeping continuing as capital funding is scarce, as space constraints are severe, especially on urban campuses — and, frankly, as funding needs to flow into other aspects of the academic program.”

Read the full Inside Higher Ed article…

Siftables: A promising future for toys

Wow-oh-wow, oh wow!!!! From TED earlier this month:

MIT grad student David Merrill demos Siftables — cookie-sized, computerized tiles you can stack and shuffle in your hands. These future-toys can do math, play music, and talk to their friends, too. Is this the next thing in hands-on learning?

More elsewhere:

The networked student

Forwarded by Cristóbal Cobo: The Networked Student was inspired by CCK08, a Connectivism course offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes during fall 2008. It depicts an actual project completed by Wendy Drexler’s high school students…

The IT trend numbers are in!

This year’s EDUCAUSE report on IT trends (officially called the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service Fiscal Year 2007 Summary Report) is out! Some highlights from the report, which covers higher education activities and trends in FY 2007:

  • IT funding per full-time equivalent student varies greatly among institutions, with a mean funding amount at $1,551 –although the median amount is only $959.
  • The use of open source software is on the rise. 51% of institutions reported that they use some form of open source software –up from 47% in 2006 and 32% in 2005.
  • Firewalling of Internet technologies (including VoIP) is on the rise at campuses.
  • IT administrators are more likely to sit on the presidential cabinets of community colleges (37%) than all colleges as a whole (31%).