Association of College & Research Libraries

CONFERENCE CIRCUIT: University Libraries Section in San Francisco: Highlights from the ALA Annual Conference

Editor’s note: The ULS report from the ALA Annual Conference in Jane was inadvertently omitted from the September issue. We are pleased to bring it to you here in its entirety.

The program “Outside/In: Seeing Ourselves As Others See Us,” sponsored by ACRL’s University Libraries Section (ULS) and Blackwell’s Book Services, was attended by more than 200 people. The program focused on ways in which professionals outside librarianship view information services today, and how understanding that perspective can help academic libraries plan for success.

The first panelist, Carol Hughes (Questia Media), started the discussion by sharing her experiences at Questia Media. Questia Media did a lot of market research, investigating both librarians’ views and student needs, in order to create a product that will have lasting value. By asking similar questions and understanding the role of the product/service offered by the library in a larger marketplace, academic librarians can help their institutions achieve greater success.

Questia Media determined that in order to meet the informational needs of their intended market, their collection needed to be searchable for free, have text markup tools easily accessible, allow unlimited simultaneous access 24 hours a day/7 days a week, offer automated citation and bibliography generation, and the service needed to be personalized. The lesson that can be learned for libraries from this research is that “one size does not fit all.” Students are more nontraditional than ever, and academic libraries need to investigate the role of personal preferences and characteristics, not just rely on institutional characteristics for success.

The second panelist, Stephanie Bangert (Western Association of Schools and Colleges), also stressed the need for libraries to look outside themselves to see how they are perceived and use that perspective to improve and enhance their function within their larger institutions. Principles of accreditation can provide a basis for the types of questions libraries and librarians need to be able to address and articulate, particularly their role within the institution of turning students into learners.

Bangert discussed several trends in accreditation that help demonstrate the changing academic environment. First, there is a shift from the idea of “student” to that of “lifelong learner.” Second, institutions (and libraries within larger institutions) need to show continuous improvement, not just compliance with articulated goals.

Bangert described the heart of accreditation as the ability to create a system that contributes to sustainability and program quality. The key researchable question for libraries is “How does the library in its management of academic information contribute to student learning, education effectiveness, and continuous improvement for the university?”

The final panelist, John Seely Brown (Xerox), discussed the changing nature of academic information through the perspective of a social context of information. There has been an epistemological shift in the way we perceive information. The old Cartesian view, “I think therefore I am,” stressed the separation of mind and body, and identified knowledge as a substance that could be transferred. The new shift to “We participate, therefore we are,” has led to an understanding that information is socially constructed.

One thing to be learned from this is that students offered a chance for social understanding will achieve more than students following the inactive knowledge absorption pattern will. Digital delivery of information can have a downside, as “efficiency is not the same as effectiveness.” Documents are no longer defined solely as carriers of information, but rather as support for social interaction and community formation and maintenance. Libraries can therefore bring multiple communities together. “While the book supports one particular inteipretive community, the library can serve to bring different disciplines together.” This can be done through simple peripheral clues such as the display of new book jackets and a new book shelf.

Discussion following the panelists presentations revolved around ways in which libraries and librarians can open these types of discussions in their institutions and help create a learning environment that takes advantage of changing technologies without losing a sense of place.— Mary Laskowski, University of Illinois, mkschnei® ■

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