Tag Archives: the future

Connect : Disconnect


I am back home after a week and a half in the UK and I’m full of thoughts about the ways that people talk about Digital (especially tools) when what they mean to discuss are People.  Or, Organizations.  Or, Processes.  

I was part of the group who put on #FutureHappens in London (well it’s a trio really at this point, not grand enough to be a triumvirate though) and while we do say (or, I do say) “We don’t know what’s going to happen” at these events, we really kind of do.  We start the conversation off talking about tech of some kind, and end up talking about people and processes.  In this case we talked about teaching and learning, through the lens of social media.  Not social media in isolation, but very specifically in context, and the rules were we needed to do it constructively.

The “we” there is the other folks in the room too, of course, they are the main content of these events (which I’d like to stop calling Hacks, because of the gendered nature of that language, and I’m working on convincing my partners in crime on this).  And the people in the room were encouraged to get all of their anxieties and fears and also hopes out of the way (as it were) before getting into the core of the day, where we worked through the setups (you can see them on the website).  These I found fascinating, and so while others have written about the day as a whole, I want to focus on the Burnt (that’s what we called this preliminary part) in particular.

And I want to especially focus on the discussion I saw, in post-its and in the room, around connection and social media.  During the event, while people were discussing and working, I took the things that they had written on their respective “Burnt” post-its and clustered them into themes  It seemed to me that when people had hopes for social media, it circles around connection.  This is characteristic of people who work in teaching and learning who have experienced the ways that social media (across various places and platforms) can connect students to each other, to faculty members, to their interests in their course of study, and to the wider world.

Some of these connections were positive.  Some of these connections were negative.   So, when people have fears around social media, they also circle around connection.  To whom were student being connected?  To supportive community members?  To bullies?  To places and people they did not understand?  To places and people they could see themselves as a part of?  

Likewise there was a (to me) unexpected discussion of disconnection (I know, I should have expected it).  There was a thread that worried that social media use and presence would facilitate disconnection of students, from the same list of people and places–from each other, from their teachers, from their communities.  And from themselves–a sense that engaging with social media can be inherently alienating from one’s self, that one can be lost, that the authentic self (whatever that means) can become subsumed in the surfaces of social media performance.

I think that where we can get into trouble is when we assume that one will crowd out the other.  That you are either connected, totally, or disconnected, totally.  When the fact is, as with the V and R continuum, (any continuum!!) there are many in-between points, and many places where we are both, just in different contexts.

So, a student in class on social media might be disconnected in one sense from the room, but connected in another sense to peers outside of the room, or even practitioners relevant to the discussion in the room..  Or, students can be disconnected from one group online even as they engage intensely with another.  Or, students can connect with one aspect of themselves while de-emphasizing another.  These are not monolithic states.  They are modes that shift, with priorities and practices.

So, do social media practices connect or disconnect?  



When people are connected to one group, does it come at the expense of connection to another?   Is connection a zero-sum game?

What is the utility of disconnection, of being aware of practices and places elsewhere, but leaving them alone?  

I don’t, as usual, have answers.  But I think this dyad, connect: disconnect, has something to it.  It’s not just about engagement, it encapsulates fears and hopes that people have for digital places in higher and further education.  From whom are we disconnected?  To whom are we connected?  Who is missing?  Who can help?  Who can hurt?

Social media is another place full of people.  The perils of humanity don’t disappear in digital places, and are frequently amplified.

So, what will we make of this?  What can we create with digital, rather than take as given?


These are the questions I continue to have.


Spring Tour 2017

My front yard this Spring.

It’s that time of year again, the time of year that I have been lucky enough to enjoy in a very particular way for the past 3 years.  I like Spring for a number of reasons, but these last few years I’ve been so pleased (and lucky) to be able to combine this season with chances to travel, to talk to people, to learn new things, and to think about new projects.  And also, have fun.  Because otherwise I’m not entirely sure what the point is.  Especially now that the world is on fire.

At this point in the year I’ve usually already been traveling, but I’ve been at home in Charlotte from January through now (with a hiatus in February to help my parents move), and have been getting to do productive work on how our attempts to remove barriers for students who are also parents (in the form of our Family Friendly Room) have been going, and what the implications are for future work we might do.  That (just completed!) internal report is going to form the core of a book chapter, so I’m glad I’ll get to share that with a wider audience than just my library.

I’ve also run some exploratory focus groups asking students to talk about places where they like to be on campus (versus places they *have* to be), and beginning to gather information about what goes into feelings of “belonging” for students.  I get to draw on the photo diary evidence we’ve been collecting since 2011 for context, as students have always taken pictures of favorite places, places where they feel lost, and now we are going to get to do a deeper dive into what makes something a favorite, and what are the things that contribute to being “lost.”  I don’t know what the results of our belonging project are going to look like, or just how far we’re going to take it, but I want to point out that Krista Harper has been working on similar issues with her team of student researchers at UMass Amherst and I hope at some point to connect our results with hers.

This Spring, so, has already been different, but there are things about it that will also be the same.  In things different:  the first place I get to go is Canada! This month I have the great pleasure of being invited by my colleagues Margy McMillan and Leeanne Morrow to run workshops in Calgary, for teams at Mt Royal, and at the University of Calgary.  I’ve never been to that part of Canada, and while it will be a short trip, I am going to make the most of my time there.  And possibly also shop for some shoes.  Boots?  Possibly boots.

In May, I get to be on the team delivering the latest iteration of the Jisc Digital Leaders Course, and I get to go back to Manchester.  I’ll be working for the first time running a workshop with Zoe Gardiner, and get to work again with Lawrie Phipps, James Clay,  and Chris Thomson, and I expect to be exhilarated and exhausted at the end of it all.  Before that, I will be experimenting again with a FutureHappens Hack in London, this one on social media, and a part of the schemes of Peter Bryant and Dave White (which I do not entirely understand, but am happy to be along for the ride, and for the beers and gin we will drink afterwards.  And possibly beforehand).

In June, I get to be a part of the team hosting the third UXLibs, and I get to hang out with (among others) the marvelous Meredith Evans in Glasgow (I miss getting to do so in Charlotte).  I HAVE NEVER YET BEEN TO SCOTLAND Y’ALL and I am going to dash over to have a gander at Edinburgh and will also wish I had more time to drive around (or, more likely, be driven around) and see All The Things because I’ve heard the Scottish landscapes are like Irish ones on steroids and I wanna see that.  No matter how much it rains.

And also in June, I’ve been invited by David Webster to participate in University of Gloucestershire’s Festival of Learning.  I’m talking a lot about teaching and learning this Spring, and happy to be able to draw on the work I’ve been doing with our Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte, and our active learning initiatives on campus.

And then I will need to go back home, and apply for the visas I and my family need for us to spend the 2017-18 academic year in Kingston, UK.  I am excited and worried about all that we don’t know and can’t control, but am truly hoping this year will give all of us space to find new possibilities.

As I have gotten to each Spring, since 2014.  Thank you for the invitations.  I will see some of you very soon.

Fearing the worst, and hoping for the best


Myself and my parents in 1971

In 2016 I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth to the UK and Ireland.  In the Spring, in the run up to the Brexit vote, I got a lot of questions about the US elections in the Fall.  What did I think would happen?  What am I going to do “when Trump is elected President?”  I would say the same thing:  “I can’t think about him winning.  I have to trust that my next President will be Hillary Clinton.”

It wasn’t exactly denial of reality.  I know how racist and sexist my country is.  And I witnessed, in June, the shattering reality of how racist and isolationist Britain had also become, with the Brexit vote that many of my friends hoped would not happen.  They weren’t exactly in denial either.  They knew what their worst fears were, and how they were grounded in reality.  But they wanted, as we frequently do, to hope for the best.  

So, all year I hoped for the best, and feared the worst.

In my family, dementia is a thing.  It’s shot through my Cajun family tree, with generations before me dotted with people who began suddenly and without much warning (except from the experience of previous generations) to lose themselves in their early 60s, in their 70s, and if they were lucky in their 80s.  The early-onset piece of it has really flared up in the last two generations, and my father used to joke edgily about it.  Daddy would suggest that his losing his keys, forgetting what he was getting at the store, all the various things that distraction would steal from our memories, was just “early-onset” losing himself to the family tradition.

About two years ago, he and my mother joked with each other that it seemed, on the cusp of his 68th birthday, that he’d dodged the family bullet, with no symptoms to speak of.  He was thinking that his worst fear might not come to pass, that hoping for the best had paid off,

In 2016, starting in 2015 actually, my father began to lose himself, and I am losing him, too.  He cannot walk easily, he responds in monosyllables to things that used to elicit fiery paragraphs.  He went to bed early the night of the 2016 election, this man from whom I inherited so much of my passionate care about the world and what happens in it.  There are flashes of him here and there, I witnessed some over this winter break, especially when my baby nephew was nearby.  Sometimes he makes it known that he hears what is happening, and remembers what has gone before.  But he is clearly trapped, and fading away.

We had all hoped for the best, fearing the worst.  And now the worst has come to pass.

This is hereditary, what is happening to my father, so I fear this worst for me, too, and for my children.  And still I hope for the best.  

Because in hoping, my father did not just deny what might happen (what is happening), he lived and fought and loved despite his fears.  He was afraid of dogs, but I had an airedale terrier as a pet from the ages of 5 until 8.  He was afraid that something would happen to me or my brother as we played outside, but I spent so much of my childhood hiking, biking, climbing trees, on beaches and up mountains, I was fully grown and a parent myself before I realized the extent of my father’s fears.  

He was afraid of the dementia that waited for him.  He did not hide waiting.  He lived his life.

There are some big changes waiting for me this year, ones that I know about, and I’m sure ones that aren’t quite visible yet.  My family and I will be moving to England for a year, starting in August.  My mother is going to be making big decisions about where she and my dad need to go, to spend the rest of their lives.  My Elder Teen is going to start her last year of high school while we are living abroad, and my Younger Teen will be doing his first year of high school at the same time.  I have hopes, and of course fears.  I am not unique in this.  

My work is shifting in interesting ways–I have always talked about more than libraries, and will continue to do so, in new environments and familiar ones.  I’ve already got some invitations to work lined up, and it includes at this point more workshops, fieldwork, and other interactions and less standing and talking.  In terms of content, I have hopes and fears in my work, that I’ve expressed over the past year, fears about the increasing prominence of technological solutions in contexts that should instead require more engaged human labor, should pay attention to processes rather than hard-stop fixes.  I worry about the diminishing value of expertise, of the continuing turn to entrepreneurs rather than to educators and professionals.  This is not unique to education, and I am not unique in these fears.

And of course there will be big and frightening changes in the political landscape that I need to figure out ways to resist, shape, and endure, as do we all.  I don’t know what that will look like, but am trying to pay attention to people who know much more than I do about what’s coming, so that I can actually be helpful.  I am not unique in these fears.

So these posts that have piled up in the end of 2016, and beginning of 2017, the people far more eloquent and knowledgeable than I am speaking of hope and action, they remind me as does my father that fear does not eliminate hope.  That hope should not allow us to forget difficult realities.  That hope is an action, and fear cannot be a reason for inaction.  We are all afraid, at some point.  We are not unique in this way.


We don’t have the luxury of inaction.




networkED: The London University

I had the great pleasure of kicking off this year’s networkED talks at the London School of Economics thanks to the generous invitations of Jane Secker and Peter Bryant.  I was asked to address the theme this year:  what will learning and teaching look like at the LSE in 2020?

A recording of the event has now been posted here.

I am somewhat allergic to future-speak, but do think that there are some useful ways of approaching the “what are we going to do next” question, and I tried to model myself after those approaches.  In particular, I wished my remarks to be grounded in current practice.  Too often, I think, futurism is a feint so that one does not have to deal with the complicated present.  The future can be shiny and seamless and therefore much more easy to discuss.  Also, it hasn’t happened yet.  Anyone can be a futurist.



I started with two stories.

The first was the story of 4 students.  I saw them walking up to the library gates at a UK University, where I was waiting to be admitted as I did not have a card to get me in.  3 of the students walked through the gates with cards, and the remaining student, as their friends waited just beyond the gates, walked up to the desk and said, “I’m sorry, I left my card inside the library, and can’t get in.  I am a student here, please can you check against my name, and let me in?”

The student was let in.

I asked the room:  what happened here?  The room answered:  One of the students was not enrolled at that university, and they did the ID card “dance” to get them into the building, so they could study together.

The moral of that story:  Institutional boundaries are more porous to students than they are to Institutions.


The second story I told was about a student at UCL, in the Institute of Archaeology, who when asked about where he did his academic work, started waxing rhapsodical about the Wellcome Library.    He loved that there were huge tables with comfortable chairs, powerpoints all around, “a quiet space that was actually quiet rather than trying to be quiet” and also minus people “waiting for your seat [especially during exam times]”   He loved all of the light in the Wellcome.  It was his “home” library, not his institutionally-affiliate space.

He had a lot in common with a faculty member, also in the Institute of Archaeology, who used the Wellcome Library cafe as his space in which to work, and also to meet with his post-graduate students.  That archaeologist’s map of academic work spaces revealed the affection he has for the Wellcome, with lines of significance radiating from his sketch of it in his network of spaces.



Showing the love for the Wellcome Library and Bookshop cafe.


The moral of that story:  people’s favorite spaces to work in do not have to be the ones associated with their “home” institutions.  Particularly not in a city like London, where such alternate locations are just down the road, across the street, or next door.


What I want to do is ground our sense of what might happen in the Future of Higher Education in the practices of students and staff there right now.  This brings me to a conversation about
“experience” and “lived experience, started by my colleague Nick Seaver on Twitter.


Nick got a marvelous response from his colleague Keith Murphy (kmtam), which reads in part:

” for us today to say “lived experience,” aside from its trendiness, is actually signalling something very important regarding a truly ethnographic orientation to the world, one that cares not just about the fact that “something happened to someone,” but that the particular ways in which it happened — how it was understood, felt, and made meaningful”

I’d like us to think about, with all of this talk about “student experience” (which I already have a problem with), what happens if we shift not-so-slightly to a conversation about the lived student experience.  What would a consideration of that mean, if we think about the day-to-day experience of being at University in London, and studying for a degree.

In part, my research into learning spaces reveals that the lived experience of students and staff in Higher Education (and elsewhere)  isn’t tightly bound by institutional location at all.

These cognitive maps show how widespread, scattered, fragmented across the landscapes of London and Charlotte these student and faculty learning networks are.

This UNC Charlotte student goes all over town, to her home, the home of friends, to a 24 hour cafe with amazing pastries, and also to the University.



This UCL Student counts as learning spaces her home in outer London, the bus, the Archaeology Library, her “home” Library of SSEES, and Bloomsbury cafe.


Student and other scholars’ lived experience is a networked one–they have personal networks, they are starting to build their academic networks, and they are not neatly bounded.  They experience these networks in physical and digital places–these places are also not very neatly bounded, although institutions try to make them so.  In practice, institutions are full of people who are Not Of that Institution.


This got me thinking of the work that I do in the Visitors and Residents project, and in particular how we’ve come to refine the mapping process that allows people to visualize their practices.  And in visualizing them, they can recognize their practices in important ways, come to grips with how they might like to change things, think about how to continue doing what serves them well.  It’s the visualizing that can be the hard part.

Because it’s all well and good to want to talk about how people can do more, engage differently, but you can’t change things if you don’t know the shape of the situation to begin with.  

So.  If we start from what we know about student (and faculty) practices around learning spaces:  they treat them as a network.  They do not pay as much attention as institutions do to boundedness (although they do get possessive of spaces).  

What happens, then, when we make these networks, created by lived experience, visible?

Contrast the isolated sense of the any institution represented on a map by itself, with the sea of dots that comes up when you Google “Universities in London”:

What can institutions do to make these networks visible, and therefore accessible to more? What could they do to build those networks further, support them with their own resources, go beyond recognizing current practices to facilitating even more?  What would that mean for how we think about education, place, and belonging in London Universities?

The whole city of London is treated in many ways like a university.  What would it mean to be mindful of that, to move towards that purposefully?  

What would happen if we thought of space as a service, the provision and configuration of learning spaces as a thing that institutions can actually do way more effectively than can any individual or private corporation.  Starbucks/McDonalds/Caffe Nero/Pret don’t care if their establishments are good for studying–even if they frequently are because of free wifi, comfy chairs, and access to snacks.  

Fundamentally, this is a Common Good argument.

Because our students encounter barriers all the time.  In a context where they need more space, not less.  And in a context where universities themselves are acutely aware that they cannot provide all that their students need.   What about leveraging the network of London spaces to be a connected set of spaces, powerful in their mutual awareness, profound in their potential to connect students to other resources, other places, other people.  This is the work of education:  preparing our students for the diversity of experiences that will come their way.  It is more than our work, it is our responsibility.



What problem are we trying to address when we throttle access?  Is it people we don’t want in our spaces?  Is it discomfort of people who “belong?”  Is it limited resources that we want to conserve for “our community?”

People who work in libraries are used to thinking about who gets to be in and out of the space.  Public libraries in particular struggle with access: who is in the building? who uses services? how can the library serve them?  I think here about about homeless people in public libraries in the US, and policies such as limiting the size of bags people can bring into libraries, which target these populations of people who often have nowhere else to go. Why are the homeless a problem in the library?  The problem of homeless people in the library is about so many other things.  They are matter out of place.  It’s about discomfort, housekeeping, mental health, access.  These problems are not solved by banning people.  Savvy libraries such as the San Francisco public library, and also the public libraries in DC, have moved to hire social workers, have job seeking centers as part of their library services.  They are taking the broader view of what their responsibility is to the people in their spaces.

Likewise London universities concerned about resources for their own community won’t garner the resources they need by banning certain categories of people from their locations.  I would argue rather that they decrease the access of their community members to the value of London.  Let’s remind ourselves again that chopping London into silos goes against the very thing that can make big cities so marvelous.

If Institutions have a reason for being in London, then why would they protect their students from the London experience?

The point was made in the room, quite rightly, that of course many London students are in London because they are from that city, not because they have “Come for the London experience.”  And it’s also very true that not all students experience diversity and difference as something positive to explore, but as members of communities who are victimized and marginalized by perceptions of difference.   In those cases, many students choose to go to university to be with people among whom they do not have to explain themselves, to experience being with others who are “just like them.”  And who might not thank totalizing agendas that valorize “diversity” as something that people should go out and find for personal growth.

I think there is still an argument to be made for networked universities to connect because it provides spaces for students to encounter each other (and all of their similarities as well as differences).  And in being networked with each other, universities can continue to provide places for students to come back to, institutional homes where they gain comfort, and can eventually contemplate ways of feeling safe even as they confront discomforting situations.

Learning places are not monolithic, not in physical space, nor should they be in digital places.  But digital tools can be used to connect physical spaces, to link them and thereby create something even better.

Academic libraries, for example, are starting to think about themselves not as The Learning Place on campus but as a part of a network of learning places, and this is informed by work like mine that shows the lived experience of university students.  Cambridge University is working to build digital tools to make the network of spaces visible, in particular with their SpaceFinder app, which makes it possible to visualize (and so, consider accessing) a wide range of spaces in and around Cambridge University, not just institutional ones.

I ended my talk with a question, What would this look like for all of London?

There are already digital things that network universities in the UK–Eduroam was brought up by the room, and I think it’s a great example.

I did surprise myself rather far along in the discussion with the realization that I am in fact making an open-access argument about the physical resources of universities in London.  I stand by that.  I think it’s worth exploring.

I was also surprised by the lack of discussion in the room around security issues (perhaps that is my bias coming from the US, home of Security Theater).  I was pleased at that lack, it left time for talk about curriculum and education, and class differences that affect how various HE and FE institutions have (or don’t have) resources.


The discussion in the room was wide-ranging,And people paused really thoughtfully before digging into a conversation that was shot through with practical and ideological concerns.  I was so pleased to witness and participate.






Guest Blog: Two Paths Forward, by Stanley Wilder

Big transitions happening at J. Murrey Atkins Library this summer, with the departure of my current boss Stanley Wilder for his new position as Dean of Libraries at LSU (both of my parents went to LSU, so Geaux Tigers!).  When he shared the content of the talk he gave when interviewing at LSU, I encouraged him to let me host it here.  And he agreed!  So, here is the (slightly edited) talk Stanley gave, laying out his vision for libraries.

What I appreciate about Stanley’s take on the Future of Libraries is that it’s not about specific solutions, but about relationships and processes.

Two paths forward
an edited version of Stanley Wilder’s candidate speech for the
Dean of Libraries position at Louisiana State University
March 30, 2014
 Images by Maggie Ngo, UNCC
Here are some things I hear: Everything I need to know is on Google. I’m a faculty member and I don’t use the library. I’m a senior in college and I’ve never been in the library. I’m a senior in college and still use my hometown public library. Hasn’t the Internet made libraries obsolete? I don’t need a library. I don’t read books. Information wants to be free. Librarians are scary people and I don’t trust book stacks!
Every one of these comments is easily and demonstrably wrong, and at the same time, each one is a gift of the first order.  Each one is the gift of attention, an invitation for us to explain who we are and why we’re here. We librarians ask for nothing more.
Oh, we get where these questions come from: In an age of dizzying change in the nature of academic work, and the shifting shape of the discourse that drives it forward, where should the library go from here? As I see it, the library has two paths forward, and I submit this vision as my response to the prompt you’ve given me.
The first path for the research library is its traditional role. A crucial aspect of the nature of learning and research is timeless, absolutely so. In this sense, if you want to know what research library will do in the future, well the answer is that it will do what it has always done.
If you’ll bear with me, I’ve drawn a picture of what I mean.
This is the scholarly record. It is the record of what is known or imagined about the world. Teaching and research consists of assimilatingthe scholarly record as it pertains to the disciplines we study, in such a way as to enable us to synthesize something new. In the case of faculty, this synthesis is the creation of new knowledge or new art that adds to the scholarly record, where the cycle starts over. This picture applies to students as well, wherein the syntheses they produce often take the form of apprenticeships for the work their faculty do.
Assimilation, synthesis, reading, writing. Here is teaching, learning, and research, as an endless, virtuous cycle around the scholarly record.
I worked for a great Dean of Libraries who came up with the beautiful aphorism:
“A library is a place where readers come to write, and writers come to read. “
I say YES to that: the core function of a research library is now and always will be to build the collections that drive this cycle. Of course it’s not enough to simply build collections, the library also has to facilitate how people interact, at both ends. For example, teaching generations of new students how to work with the literatures of their chosen disciplines. But really, all library services can be characterized in this way. They cluster at these transition points, here and here.
And with that, I’m going to stop myself because I promise you, I could go much further with this silly drawing. My point is this: the idea of the library is so embedded in the fundamental nature of learning and research that it makes no sense to ask whether you need one. The real question before us is whether you need a great library.  
That, then, is my first path. Everything about it relates to the “what” of academic work, what it is fundamentally, what it intends to do in the world.
And yet, at this very same changeless moment, we are now in a period of full-scale revolution in how academic work gets done. Students and faculty alike are using new tools, in new ways, to produce scholarship in forms that were unimaginable just ten years ago. I used the word “dizzying” a while ago, and I meant it: in this environment, uncertainty abounds.
But here’s one thing I am sure of, and if you retain nothing else from this presentation, please let it be this: this new environment is going to allow smart research libraries to perform that ancient role in ways that produce spectacular new value. This is the library’s second path: embracing, inventing the future so as to do better what we have always done.
Like what, for example. There are so many opportunities that really, our problem is choosing from among them. I’m going to just call out some, a simple list of examples that… illustrate my point, obviously, but I’ve also taken care to choose examples that I have experience with helping produce.
Every item on this list is now or should be a new part of a research library portfolio. What’s more, each one relates directly to issues that faculty and institutions are wrestling with right now. In many cases, they are wrestling, but not knowing that what their library has to offer. There’s nothing dismissive or condescending about it, they just don’t know.
Ladies and Gentlemen: the biggest threat to research libraries is low expectations. Sometimes they come in thoughtlessly dismissive ways, “Aren’t libraries obsolete?” But just as often, low expectations feel warm and fuzzy, filled with nostalgia for a world that no longer exists. To my ears, both are equally toxic.  
So no, our communities can’t be expected to just know enough, say, about the dangerous instability in the scholarly communication marketplace to understand the importance of open access, or any of the other ways we librarians can make things better. No, we have to tellthem, and we have to show them.
I think constantly about how the library positions itself vis-à-vis students and faculty. Imagine a continuum. At one end is library as simple service provider, and on the other end is library as full partner, contributing in a substantive fashion to any campus conversation relating to the institution’s core academic mission.  Yes services are crucially important. But make no mistake: real sustainable relevance on campus requires assertiveness, it requires visibility.Everything on this list is an invitation to do just that.
I have one more thing that I must say about the list. The work required for each is grounded, in one way or another, in traditional research library values and expertise. At the same time, every one of them is situated in an entirely new context. I feel a real sense of urgency on this point: this list is turf, and it is ours for the taking. But doing so means that as a profession, as a library, we must recognize that producing the transformational outcomes that are possible here also requires newskills that we must either learn for ourselves, or hire into our organizations. This is not a phase, it’s the new normal.
Let’s talk about students. The library’s student role is large and diverse, as it always has been, but here again we find watershed developments all around us, and once again, the new opportunities that come with.
Half of a research library’s student function is pedagogy. Instruction. The thing we do here is to increase the sophistication of students in interacting with the literatures of their chosen disciplines. Fine, but as you see from the list on the screen, that pedagogy isn’t just situated in terms of discipline, it’s also situated in a broad range of learning environments, which makes it subject to the same seismic change that is shaking teaching throughout higher education.
A quick story to illustrate: Recently, the head of our instruction programming discovered that faculty are very receptive to hearing about ways they can pare back on research paper assignments, in cases where doing so allows them to focus attention on the topic-choosing, question-framing, literature searching, basic-synthesis-forming skills. Library instruction can help with all of that, and this librarian and her staff have created web-based, interactive, and discipline-specific instruction modules that support that use case. And now Stephanie Otis has a fine trade in advising faculty with their course design.
That’s a small but significant example of what I mean by proper positioning of the library on campus. Stephanie puts us exactly where we want to be.
The second half of our student function is building-related, the spaces we provide for student academic work.  I have a missionary’s zeal as to the following idea:  research libraries can be instrumental in building the culture of study on campus. There is a powerful synergy here that only we can offer: the co-location of librarians with collections, and technologies, placed in appropriate spaces,with appropriate furnishings, long hours, and reliable security. No one else can do that!
I like to say that a good research library should be like a zoo. As you pass through it,you will see  students in the very act of learning:chemistry equations here, Chinese vocabulary there, marketing, biology and all the rest, live and happening right before your eyes.  You can even point at them, you can throw popcorn, they don’t mind, but the thing you’d be pointing at is the thing we all work every day to produce, it’s our professional reason for being. If you don’t walk through that zoo and feel energized, I suggest you may want to find another line of work. I would have all students socialized in this way, to where those zoos are just normal: long hours of intense group or individual study?
The title I’ve used for this section is “the world,” as shorthand for a whole range of externally-focused responsibilities that take the library far beyond the scholarly record drawing I talked about earlier. I might also have used the word “leadership.”
I’ve got a bit of show and tell to do for you now, a bit of bragging, maybe, but my intention is to give you a feel for this vision in action.
My story begins this time last year, at UNC Charlotte. Our library was presented with an exceedingly generous bit of one-time money in a more or less blank check fashion. At that moment in time, a number of very prestigious University Press book publishers suddenly made their current lists available, as a package, and in digital format. No limits on simultaneous users, no digital rights restrictions, and good preservation characteristics.
We jumped, bought everything of this sort that we could. We added 75,000 monograph titles last year, average price per ebook volume: about $10.
By June, everything’s in place, the community has full access to these books.
Now, our staff looked at those titles and recognized that there were many among them that were going to be assigned reading for students in the fall. If we could get the word out to faculty and students, we could save students lots of money.
With this insight, our staff flew into action, and just in time for fall semester, produced this web page, complete with links to the ebooks. They also prepared a social media campaign to alert students and faculty. Here’s what we learned: if you use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about free textbooks? Get out! In a PR sense, nothing we’ve ever done has been so successful, so fast.
So fall semester follows, and the use data on these new ebook packages starts to roll in. Friends, I’m here to say: the scholarly monograph is NOT dead, its use in ebook format is fantastic. Quick example: we have a huge investment in Springer journals and ebooks: our book chapter downloads, from day 1, run slightly ahead of Springer article downloads. Sure, this is a bit of apples and oranges, but on the face of it, it flies against every instinct a research librarian could ever have. Kinda mind blowing.
Spring semester comes, and this time we have had more time, we’re better prepared, and come up with this web page, and associated PR. The results have been stunning, faculty and students alike galvanizedaround our initiative, we know of a history professor teaching graduate classes for which the students have heavy reading lists, but no books they must buy.
Now we’re up to 4 weeks ago, our staff unveiled their own invention, a database that faculty can use to “shop” for ebooks appropriate for assigning for classes. The database consists of 140,000 titles, every ebook we own, plus every ebook we can get easily get from one of about a dozen University Presses.  As you can see, if you’re a faculty member, see something you want to use for class, we buy it immediately if we don’t already own it.  
Now class, let’s review: this anecdote gives us a shiny example of both paths: path number 1: exactly what is new about a research library buying books to support curriculum and research? And then once we’ve got them, what is new about making those books available for class use? It’s reserves!  OK, there’s our ancient function, but we’ve also got path number 2: everything about howwe did all this is new, not just new, it provides brilliant new value that wasn’t possible before.
One last point about that anecdote: I ask you: did the University ask the library to invent a program like this so as to lower the cost of going to college? Because that’s exactly what’s at stake here. NO! They couldn’t have, they couldn’t have known to ask! I talked about low expectations awhile back: sometimes low expectations flow from folks just not knowing what we’re capable of. But I can promise you, people will listen, and they’ll certainly notice.
At this point our staff are fielding queries from all around the country, folks wanting the code, wanting to see how we did every aspect of this. Meanwhile, back on campus, our entire community looks at the library in a different, and better way.
Here again, a well positioned library.
I should pause here to give full credit: the vision behind this anecdote owes entirely to Chuck Hamaker. Once Chuck had this idea, he had inspired help from a large number of staff across units. Oh, and here’s another point: my role in this project? I supported it. Nothing more than that!
Seeing your library also means seeing its staff. Committed professionals every single one, they possess a spectacular range of expertise.
And yet, like the books on the shelves, these people in front of us also evoke the generations of staff that preceded them.
I’d like to tell you a story from my early days at LSU. So early that I was still scrambling to remember the names of my new colleagues. One day a meeting. We were discussing the consequences of a decision made by a staff member, and, wishing to contribute, I suggested that I could meet with her to negotiate. Which prompted whoops of laughter: this person had retired sometime in the 1960s, and had long since passed.
What an epiphany in that moment, though: such a testament to the enduring quality of our work. We can only conclude that we did not build this thing. It was handed to us as a trust, a sacred trust, that through our brains and hard work, we ensure its renewal, and then hand it over in our turn. Stronger than before.

Look to the present of libraries to see the future

When I was doing research among children in Northern Ireland, one of my projects was to write against the notion that “children are the future.”  Yes, children will live in the future, but they are also living in the present, and their behaviors need to be observed and interpreted as very much Of This Time.  We do them a disservice if we marginalize their importance to the world as it is now.

I feel that way about the recurring conversations about the Future of the Library (and in particular, “the death of the academic library”).  There are things happening now in library-land that are important because they are happening now, not because of what they may or may not signal about the future.  And, if we speculate too much about “the future” we run the risk of missing important things that are happening now.

These thoughts are tied up with my lingering musings about ACRL 2013, and what I got from it.  The low-level hum of anxiety about relevance and engagement (between the academic library and the rest of the university) felt strange to me, given how engaged I see my colleagues at Atkins are in the current work of UNC Charlotte (and, how engaged many people at ACRL were in scholarship of their own).  It made me think of my colleagues in folklore and anthropology wondering why no one asked them for help/advice/expertise.  When the answer is, you don’t wait around for them to ask.  You offer.  You act.  I see people offering and acting all the time.

In my experience and opinion (disclaimer:  I am not a librarian, even as I work in an academic library), libraries are far more than the resources we provide.  We who work in academic libraries are contract-negotiators, we are digital tool-wranglers.  We are fellow researchers with our own range of expertise, we are partners in the delivery of curriculum to our students.   We are not waiting around for someone to include us in their research project, or their classroom strategies.  We are doing our own research, and teaching in our own spheres of influence.  We are experts on how students and faculty do their work, and we are advocates for and providers of digital and physical spaces in which that can happen.  We are facilitators of interdisciplinary connections, we provide the places in which scholars encounter each other, work together, learn and explain old ideas, and brainstorm new ones.    We are champions of faculty and student copyright holders, and of open access and all that it can yield to the new landscape of scholarly production. We are humanists, we are scientists, we are social scientists.  We are the heart of the university.

If we continue to frame libraries as containing staff and resources that merely “help” the rest of the university, yes, we will marginalize libraries.  This is why it’s important to continue to advocate for faculty status of librarians, because it removes a perceived barrier between “faculty” and “Library.”  Academic librarians are doing faculty work, and are more properly conceived of as colleagues and partners in the university’s larger goals.   The question should not be, “what can I do for you?” but “What can we do together?”