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University Librarian's Reflections

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  • Keeping up with the Library of the Future by Tracking Harvard Happenings
    March 03, 2012

    One institution does not our collective future make. But, I suggest that readers interested in envisioning and creating our academic libraries of the future should track what’s happening at Harvard. More on the history of the occupation can be found here http://occupyharvard.net/new-harvard-library-occupation/history-of-the-occupation/ (accessed 3 March 2012). Below I’ve pulled out those questions that demand, or should demand, our attention - - here in the “hinterlands,” a far cry from Cambridge, where we too are engaged in the process of thinking about our academic libraries of the future.

    Burt first, what is occupation? And why Lamont? (Lamont is one of over 70 libraries at Harvard that comprise the Harvard library system, with combined holdings of over 16 million items. Lamont is the general undergraduate collection, including music, multimedia. and government information from around the world. For more on Lamont, check out http://hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/lamont/ ,[accessed 3 March 2012]).  Here, readers might substitute the name of their academic library, for example, “why Randall Library?” For those of you who think, “What me? No worries.” Think again.

    Here are questions Harvard library staff are grappling with - -

    • What is a library? What does the library of the future look like?
    • What is the role of knowledge in promoting social equality and social justice?
    • What is “Occupy” and why does it matter? History, context, and ideas do indeed have relevance in terms of envisioning and designing our futures.
    • How to challenge hegemony within an institution designed to reproduce it? Here, librarians are exploring topics such as: the connection between the occupy movement and the labor movement, signs of the end of a neoliberal consensus, training in skills for activism and political organization, a glimpse into Harvard activism in the 70s, and the challenge of bringing librarians on board with the movement.
    • Where should Occupy Harvard go?
    • What is Occupy Harvard’s relationship with other Occupies both near and far?

    The conversation continues at Harvard, and indeed, directly or indirectly, at academic institutions nationwide.  Tune in. It's important.

  • Martha Lenora Jenkins Clayton, R.I.P.
    February 19, 2012


    A moment of silence is in order for Miss Martha, who passed this week. Her obituary can be found at

    http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/starnewsonline/obituary.aspx?n=martha-lenora-jenkins-clayton&pid=155938030 (accessed 19 February 2012).

    Miss Martha was not only a regular contributor to the Library, she was also a volunteer, showing up for her scheduled rotation at the Circulation Desk year in and year out.  She joined the Library staff at our annual holiday luncheon, and was, without a doubt a library worker among workers. When you consider her age - - 89, and all the challenges we face in academic libraries in the 21st century (technologies, student demographics, student expectations, etc.), the fact that she was a regular volunteer, undeterred by all that surrounded her, speaks volumes.

    Rest in peace, Miss Martha.


  • Whose Last Stand?
    February 18, 2012

    Julie Bosman’s recently article in The New York Times is aptly titled “The Bookstore’s Last Stand.”[1]It is however the subtitle that gives it away “As Barnes & Noble Fights for its Future, The Publishing Industry Holds its Breath.” It would be easy to dismiss this article. Perhaps you don’t read the Sunday Business section. Or, perhaps you really aren’t interested in bookstores or engineers, let alone eBooks or eReaders. Maybe you can’t remember the last time you went to a bookstore, so why get bogged down in thinking about whether or not Barnes & Noble can find a digital future while, well, you know, saving its “storefront past.” I mean, the question is passé, right? And, besides, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the library of the future, which is our focus, right? Wrong. Well, right, that is our focus, but wrong - - Barnes & Nobles’ last stand has repercussions for all of us - - today, and into the future.

    I challenge you to read the article, and consider the similarities -  - here is an institution with as Bosman describes a “hard-copy past,” running in place to carve out its digital future. Bosman describes the dilemma facing Barnes & Noble’s C.E.O. - - “He must carve out a digital future for Barnes & Noble without forsaking its hard-copy past, all while his company’s profit and share price are under pressure, his customers are fleeing to the Web and Amazon is circling.” The path forward for Barnes & Noble - - pushing into eBooks with the Nook. Deceptively simple, to be sure, and yes, according to C.E.O William J. Lynch, Jr., Barnes & Noble stores will endure.

    Challenge #2 - - make your way into a Barnes & Noble store. Has the look been revamped? Are there signs of the so-called digital revolution?

    But, back to challenge #1, consider this - - Barnes & Noble faces a challenge those of us in academic libraries know all too well - - the challenge of adapting to new realities. In the sphere of education, and higher education in particular,  “new”  realities are defined by emerging technologies, evolving pedagogies, and diminished resources, all of which impact teaching, learning, research or creative inquiry. These are trying times for Barnes & Noble, and for us.

    If you still think the book business is, well, peripheral to ours, that those of us in academic libraries will never have to slug it out the way Barnes & Noble may have to, listen to the words of John Sargent, the C.E.O. of Macmillan, words which conclude the Bosman article. Sargent states “Anybody who is an author, a publisher, or makes their living from distributing intellectual property in book form is badly hurt if Barnes & Noble does not prosper.”



  • Into the Future @ Harvard
    February 14, 2012

    Back to the Harvard Library System with a question - - are they occupying their way into the future or restructuring their way into the future . . . or both?

    http://occupyharvard.net/2012/02/12/occupy-harvard-occupies-lamont-library/(accessed 14 February 2012) 

  • An Impressive Library
    February 11, 2012

     07/30/2010We have Omaha World Herald Editorial cartoonist Jeff Koterba[1] to thank for the cartoon above, published July 30, 2010. Yes, that’s right - - July 30, 2010 - - slightly more than 1 ½ years ago. The cartoon is one of Koterba’s favorite toons[2], understandably so.

    So, leaving the living room or reading room setting depicted by Koterba, how important are eReaders, eBooks and eContent to the academic library future? In a word, hugely.

    Do your ideas on the future of our library include “e”? Haven’t thought about it? Well, let me suggest a few questions to help you get started - -

    • Why do you use Randall Library?
    • Why don’t you use the Library?
    • What would you change about today’s Library?
    • What should UNCW’s “Library of the future” look like?

    I’ll check in with you later.


    [1]http://jeffreykoterba.com/about/ (accessed 11 February 2012)

    [2]http://jeffreykoterba.com/toons/ (accessed 11 February 2012) 


  • Fast Prototyping at Harvard
    February 05, 2012

    Harvard’s Graduate School of Design has kicked off the Library Test Kitchen[1]. Say what? In their words “It’s something new, even unprecedented: a fast prototyping laboratory dedicated to designing, building and user-testing the components of future libraries — carrels, work stations, shelving systems, signage, policies, user interfaces … you name it.”   Interested in their thoughts, updates on events, projects and just plain interesting things? Check it out! This week, for example, they are spending time in libraries - - imagine that! Two goals are noted - - “work in them for a couple hours, and observe them for elements of note — anything that jumps out at you.” And as for a project plan - - work is to be done in three libraries across campus, not including the Loeb Library (where the class is taking place). Loeb Library is the hosting institution, and reflections on Loeb (uploaded on 4 February 2012) provide insight into the Library Test Kitchen in action.

    Reviewing a list of Harvard Libraries (A to Z[2]) provides context for the Library Test Kitchen project. Thinking about the library of the future is one thing at UNCW, and quite another at Harvard. Then again, it’s all about understanding the mission of our institutions side by side with first, understanding - - and anticipating, our stakeholders’ needs, and second, leveraging and optimizing resources. Into the kitchen, anyone?

    [1]http://librarytestkitchen.org/ (accessed 5 February 2012)


  • Lions, Tigers, and Bears - - and eEverything, Oh My!
    January 31, 2012

    Academic libraries in Richmond, Virginia or those serving students, faculty and staff in Richmond, Indiana are grappling with the reality of “e” everything - - eBooks, eContent, eReaders, and more. Whether the issue is the challenges of the digital millennium, patron driven acquisitions, or mortgaging the future of universities the eBook package way, or, when the rubber meets the road, how to assess the differences between eReaders, the issues surrounding this technology are complex - - far more so than meets the eye.

    Sure, you say, but . . . eBooks have been around for more than 10 years. Why do they seem like they are still a relatively new phenomenon to many librarians and publishers? With the introduction of eBook readers, haven’t e-Books become mainstream? Don’t the recent annual increases in sales mean anything? Haven’t you library guys (and gals, please!) resolved what place these devices and resources have in academic libraries? Forget about “those” libraries, what about our library - - Randall Library at UNCW?

    Randall Library faculty and staff are committed to providing forward-thinking ideas while remaining grounded in both evidence and experience, i.e. in other words, practical information matters. This commitment has fueled our eReader pilot, launching, without significant fanfare, this week. The pilot is designed to help us better understand the general features of interfaces and eBook readers, best practices for acquisition, data standards, and how to track usage. We believe that eBooks are good for learning, and we believe Library staff has a role in making them available and marketing them to a wide range of users.

    We invite the UNCW community to participate in our eReader pilot, to check out devices and respond to our brief surveys. We invite you to help us better understand our environment. Our goal - - delivering, introducing, and hosting relevant eBook resources to you, our users. Of course we’ll contribute to discussion of the future of academic book publishing - - a topic which is near and dear, given our interest in the future of academic libraries and the future of the book. But, for now, we’re thinking about eBooks in academic libraries - - in Randall Library specifically. Come on down and join us!

    Learn more about eReaders in Randall Library.

  • Mid-Year Reflections: Continuing the Conversation about the Future
    January 25, 2012

    In his mid-year reflections emailed yesterday to the campus community, Chancellor Gary L. Miller returns to themes articulated in his Campus assembly speech[1]. In his reflections, however, he does more than reiterate themes. In effect, he throws down the gauntlet, challenging the UNCW community to participate in an ongoing conversation about the future, to “test new and established ideas” and to “fully embrace our imagination.” In his January 24, 2012 memo Chancellor Miller paints in broad brush strokes the transitional time in which we find ourselves. He then outlines what he believes are the essential components of an acceptable response to these times - - an institutional response that will distinguish UNCW as never before.  These components include a vision based on values; a culture of innovation; and an entrepreneurial spirit.

    Today, the Library’s senior administrative group discussed what this means, exactly, for us, for Randall Library. Where are we in this equation?

    Fueled by a profession with a powerful code of ethics[2], as well as recently revised Standards for Libraries in Higher Education, [3]Randall Library is well positioned to support a vision based on values. Our services - - face-to-face and virtual, as well as our resources, facilitate and enable innovation. Informed decision making guides the design and delivery of services, resources and facilities, and is, we feel, essential to the development of an entrepreneurial spirit.

    Randall Library staff has a demonstrated track record testing new and established ideas whether these concern institutional effectiveness, professional values, our educational role, discovery, collections, space, management/administration, personnel, or external relations.  Staff is mindful of innovations, but also best practices, be they at our UNC system library peers or at other peers’ (aspirational, benchmark, or academic library writ large) libraries.

    I believe that Chancellor Miller is “on point” when he states “To emerge successfully from this transformational time, [he] believe[s] we have to operate with exceptional courage, self-reflection and creativity. We must also move ahead with a sense of urgency.”  I suggest that in addition to courage, self-reflection and creativity, we also have to operate with careful attention to issues and trends in higher education and accrediting practices.

    To Chancellor Miller, and on behalf of Randall Library, I say “Randall Library is ready” - - ready to advance and sustain our role as partners in educating students, achieving UNCW’s mission, and positioning ourselves as leaders in both assessment and continuous improvement on our campus.


  • What Would Your Library Look Like
    January 24, 2012

    Attention UNCW students, faculty and staff! What if you saw an ad inviting you to help Randall Library staff and Academic Affairs’ colleagues create a conceptual plan for Randall Library 5, 10, or 15 years out? You know, what if you saw an ad that began Campus Meetings Announced to Create New Vision for Randall Library!

    Specifically, would you be ready to provide input to determine how your library of the future will look and what services it will offer?

    Are you interested in hearing about innovations at other academic libraries? About innovations at our sister UNC libraries? Or even about innovations at our benchmark peers’ academic libraries? Not so much! Darn!

    Back to the question then - - What would your library look like? Something to think about the next time you visit us, on-site, or virtually.  

  • Defining our Future
    January 15, 2012

    I’m grateful to the Library as Incubator project[1] for drawing my attention to Chrystie Hill’s talk from the TedxRanier event[2] which took place on November 12, 2011 at the University of Washington, Kane Hall in Seattle. Hill is Community Services Director for OCLC’s  WebJunction, a Web-based community helping libraries meet their technology and training needs.[3]She also works as a consultant for the Gates Foundation. In her talk[4] Hill asks her audience to contemplate what a library of the future would look like, given the incredible shift in services and information to digital content, by asking the question: ”When everything is online, why come to the library at all?” If the library of the future is not about storing books, what is it? And, who gets to decide?

    What do you think the library of the future should include? That’s right - - what should define our University Library in the future? What should our physical facility look like? How do you think our facility - - Randall Library, might change to meet that future? And, what about our virtual presence? How do you think our Web site might change to meet that future? What should our collections’ focus be? How do you think traditional collections might evolve to meet that future? What should the focus be in terms of service? How do you think traditional services might change to meet that future? 

    This week a suggestion was made that the Library purchase or be given 200 Kindles. Is this what the library of the future - - UNCW’s library of the future, our library, should include? If the library of the future is not about storing books, is it about loaning devices? If it is not, as I suggest, about either storing books or loaning devices, what is it? Who gets to decide? Who gets to do what s/he or they want? And, what is allowed? Everything?  


    [1]http://www.libraryasincubatorproject.org/(accessed 15 January 2012)

    [2]TEDxRainier is “an independently organized TED event, a gathering of thinkers, entrepreneurs, academics, artists, environmentalists and engaged citizens working to design better futures.”   http://tedxrainier.com/2/ (accessed 15 January 2012)

    [3]http://www.oclc.org/webjunction/default.htm(accessed 15 January 2012)

    [4]http://tedxrainier.com/2/speaker_hill.asp(accessed 15 January 2012)