Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Changing Faculty Needs Report from Ithaka

Sorry it has been so long since I posted. I have had a really busy month. Crazy really because it is the summer and I am on my own in Florida, so what keeps me so busy? Selling and buying a house, the diss. of course, strategic planning, prep. for Fall, all kinds of personnel issues. I should have learnt by now, summer is never summer ...

Anyway, that is not what I want to post about. Have you seen the new report from Ithaka, "2006 Librarian and and faculty Study"? There is a good overview of it in the July/August issue of EDUCAUSE Review.

I am not going to summarize the report, you can read it yourself. But here are some things that strike me.

According to the report, faculty see themselves as decreasingly dependent on the library to meet their teaching and research needs (figure 1) and they ask the question, "how can libraries ... strategically realign the services that support [this] function?" I think part of the answer is that we cannot. This is simply a function of the disintermediation of information retrieval that we will have to live with. But part of it is a product of digital access to licensed databases that faculty don't realise is organized and paid for by the library. We can do something about that and about how integrated we are into the scholarly and educational process. We have to build relationships at a retail level, through our liaison librarians for instance, and make it clear to faculty how we add value -- assuming that we do.

E-Books -- (figure 2) Librarians seem to be responding to student rather than faculty needs here and are leading rather than following. I expect us to reach a "tipping point" in faculty attitudes at some point in the next 5-10 years when Google Book Search and services that add value to those digital objects really take hold, and our students become the next generation of faculty.

Institutional Repositories -- (figure 3) the report's findings reflect the current groupthink that institutions are going to get a huge bang for their buck from digitalizing special collections. Like some others, I worry that libraries do not make good publishers and I also think that we often over rate our special collections -- they may be rare or unique, but that does not necessarily make them interesting and worthy of wide distribution.

From print to digital journals -- I agree with the authors of the report, "the elimination of print current issues is a fast-arriving reality" for all but the most iconic or marginal periodicals. Here, I do think we have reached a tipping point. The question we face is how to manage the transition. I am pleased to be able to say that Rollins will be hosting a workshop organized by Ithaka on Transitioning to Electronic Only Journals in November 2007 (more on that in a later post.) This workshop is designed to help librarians, faculty, and administrators think through the issues associated with this transition. Not least of which is ...

Preservation (figures 5 and 6.) According to the report, "faculty members expect librarians to find a solution to the preservation needs that they view as critically important." The authors make the very important point that, "some sort of collective action may be needed here to avoid any losses." I would put it even more strongly, collective action is absolutely necessary. Colleges like Rollins have to be able to rely on international, national, or consortial archives of electronic journals if we are to move to, and to persuade our faculty to support, all electronic access. There is already evidence that we cannot rely on research universities who are already abdicating this role as ultimate repositories as they face these same user demand and budgetary pressures. Services like LOCKSS and Portico are part of the answer here.

One final thing, in a liberal arts context, the library supports the faculty members' teaching role but not always their research. We simply do not have the resources. So faculty rely on interlibrary loan and on other relationships with libraries (their graduate school library, etc.) We can help them with services and infrastructure. Still others are working on the cutting edge in such rarefied areas that no library supports their needs. A computational biologist once told me that there were only five people whose work he needed to keep track of, they did that via e-mail. Once the work was in the library it was too old.

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