Tuesday, October 11, 2011

CLIR Symposium: the Future of the Liberal Arts College Library (Victor Ferrall.)

I am in Milwaukee at this symposium with about fifty other college librarians worrying about whether we have a future or not. Victor Ferrall, author of Liberal Arts at the Brink is giving the keynote.
  • We fail to recognize that there has never been much demand for liberal education.
  • Single biggest change in US higher ed. was post war opening up to first generation students who were looking for a practical degree.
  • Are we selling education, or buying students?
  • Competition for students raises costs and cuts revenue. It is the tragedy of the commons.
  • Vocational education focuses the student on the utility of the knowledge they acquire. Liberal education focuses them on the utility of acquiring knowledge.
What does the move away form liberal arts education mean for libraries (specifically collection use)?
  • Vocational majors  are likely to read more manuals, with more focus, and read less widely.
  • Since they read for answers, this will emphasize online information.
  • More pressure to support the curriculum, and less to support scholarship in general.
Move from liberal arts to vocation is a trend not a cycle, we need to cooperate not compete.So here is my question:

Librarians are good at cooperating, yet we still have a library at each liberal arts college. What if we had one library for all liberal arts colleges, with librarians available to each campus and all students? Would we save money and improve services? 
It turns out Victor Ferrall is specifically thinking about cooperation in marketing liberal arts education, but he is not getting much traction form other presidents.

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