Tag Archives: libraries

London Travelogue, Part The First: Not London, but Oxford and Manchester

So in addition to working in London, I had a couple of chances to do field trips to Very Special Libraries, one in Oxford, and one in Manchester.  The one in Oxford I’ve known about for a while:

The Bodleain

Oxford is lovely, old, and filled with high walls, locked gates, and closed doors.  It is a secret society, I will never know the handshake.
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) March 22, 2014

One of the many beautiful closed doors in Oxford

I know, I know, Oxford is not a “public” university, there should be different notions of access, I cannot expect the walls and gates and doors of Oxford to be open to all comers, because it’s just never been that way.

You have to climb up pretty high to see into the enclosures of Oxford.

But the collective experience of the closed-off feel, the tour wherein we were assured that the most important people in the building were The Scholars (and therefore, Not Us), and signs like this:

No Smoking I can get behind.  SILENCE PLEASE is different.

really hammer it home–“This is not for you.”

The Rylands Library, on the other hand, is a Special Collections library associated with the University of Manchester (a red-brick state school).

You can walk right in, no charge, even if you are not a student (which is not necessarily the case at UCL, even, where you have to swipe your bar-coded-card to enter every library, and most of the academic buildings).  The Rylands is a Gothic Cathedral to knowledge (I’ve blogged about libraries that make me think of ecclesiastical monuments before), and the reading room is open to anyone who wants to work in there, even if they are not working with the Rylands collections.   It’s a beautiful building, and a rare example of an inspiring space that is also accessible.

We talked briefly in our Spaces, Places and Practices seminar about the impact of spaces, in particular Traditional Library spaces that invoke places like the Bodleian and Rylands.  But Traditional Library spaces, while they can be used by students and faculty to get themselves into a desired state of mind (for reading, for writing, for scholarship of various kinds), can also feel exclusionary.  It’s as if some students internalize the signs that the Bodleian puts up (and sells in their gift shop!), and transfer that to all library spaces.  It’s not enough to be respectful of the space, you have to act so that they cannot tell you are there.  SILENCE.  I understand the utility of focus and quiet.  I understand less the signals that emphasize the otherworldly nature of scholarship to the point of alienating people from the traditional places of scholarship.  I am not convinced they are necessary.

They also make me want to stomp my boots and dance around in the courtyard of the Bodleian.

Probably not my dance partner, though.

The Mixed-Method, Interdisciplinary Library

Huddersfield Train Station, with Taxman Mister Wilson in the foreground
So at this point I’ve given 2 different versions of this talk, once at UNC Greensboro, in the library, and just recently at the University of Huddersfield, also in the library.  I talk from a combination of notes, script, and the Prezi, so this is an approximation, but I’d like to share it because it’s a relatively coherent statement of what I think is possible via qualitative work like mine, and where I think academic libraries can create opportunities for their voice to be heard within higher education generally.  Special thanks to Erin Lawrimore for inviting me to UNCG, and to Bryony Ramsden and Kathrine Jensen for getting me to Huds.

In-depth qualitative data collection for policy decisions

I don’t get much chance to speak about the nature of my work in a systematic way, and this is giving me a chance to put together thoughts that I’ve been accumulating over the past year or so about the nature of the information that informs library policy. It has been changing over time, and the attention paid to things like qualitative research marks a real shift in administrative focus, and has implications for assessment, as well.
I’m speaking to you today (as I speak every day) as an anthropologist, and so an outsider to library science (but not to higher education, as I am an academic through and through). But I am also someone employed by an academic library. I was hired as library ethnographer in 2009, with arrival of a university librarian who had been at Rochester, where Nancy Fried Foster was at the time. Her hire inspired by the participatory design policy of places like Xerox, who hire social scientists, including anthropologists, to do research into user behavior, to inform their products.
Nancy’s work has certainly made participatory design a highly visible part of what qualitative research agendas can do in higher education, but I’ve been asked to take on an ethnography of academic work generally, to find projects (small and large) that illuminate the behavior of students and faculty on our campus, not just within the library.
The use of words like “disruptive” and “provocative” within library policy discussions (and higher ed generally) has become cliche, but I find them useful in trying to frame the role for anthropologists (and even other social scientists) in academic libraries. Positions like mine are a provocation, not just to library-land, but to Higher Ed. generally.
So, why be provocative? The Anthropology meetings in November of last year included a panel on liminality (included Nancy Foster, as well as researchers from Intel and Xerox). The liminal state is one of “betwixt and between,” of being poised on the threshold. Again and again the panelists made the point that the presence of anthropologists in industry and institutional settings creates a liminal space, which in turn is an opportunity for change and innovation. Qualitative research provides opportunities for change, moments to disrupt current practices, to dwell with the possibility of something else.
The researcher from Intel pointed strongly to the potential for innovation that comes out of persistent and embedded anthropological attention to technology and the processes involved in producing that technology. She worked with engineers, who were so immersed in the production of technology that they lost sight of the people who would be using it.
Likewise, anthropological attention to uses of technology in information seeking can help us think more carefully about how we use technology to engage with people in academia, students and faculty alike.
I know there are people with anthropology and sociology training working as librarians now, but the qualitative work is seldom their full time job (so many people run up to me at library conferences and confess their undergraduate degrees in anthropology!). Myself and Andrew Asher (At Bloomington) are the only two I am aware of who are employed full time by universities in the US, and I know of one anthropologist who was just hired by the London School of Economics in the UK.
I’ve blogged before about the role that we play in libraries as anthropologists, especially regarding the discussion we hosted at the 2013 AAAs in Chicago.  
The idea is not to thumb our noses at current practice, but to actually provide a place for the new to emerge. Margaret Mead talked about anthropology as making the “exotic familiar, and the familiar exotic.” She is talking about the power of cross-cultural insights allowing fresh eyes on our own society, the practices of others helping us think critically about our own practices.
We are fundamentally searching for insights into why. Anthropology assumes that there is a logic to people’s behavior. It’s not enough to describe or count the things people do or interact with or own or use.  And furthermore, there are things that we can observe are important that we cannot count–or there are things we should be counting that we don’t know are important. We need multiple ways of talking about what is happening–a holistic approach can include counting, but needs to incorporate other ways of observing/describing. Ethnographic practices can provide such a thing. And I would argue that they are most effectively deployed as a part of a full-time qualitative agenda, not just carved out of already existing jobs, or brought in short-term.
Qualitative methods need explanations and defense in part because they are not the norm in library-land, and are still contested outside of qualitative-centric fields like anthropology and sociology. My experience working with LIS has reflected this–I have participated in longitudinal qualitative studies that my LIS colleagues are still still very very nervous about if it’s not embedded in a survey that we also conduct. I see this concern about generalizability, etc. reflecting a general unease with actionability of qualitative data.
Higher Ed is quantitative in part because of a policy orientation where evaluation is the equivalent to counting and measuring (think: grades). Assessment, however, should be about information that can lead to changes, and ideally, improvements. A reasonable question to ask is to what extent the massive amounts of quantitative data libraries collect every year has led to improvements
For example, UNC Charlotte Atkins Library recently participated in the MISO survey;  we now have all of these numbers, what do they mean? For example, these “satisfaction” graphs from various constituencies:

All the bars are basically the same length.  What can this mean?  What does it mean when we ask about “satisfaction with the library?”  How can that be quantified? Why would we want to quantify that?

 It’s just not enough.

Qualitative data can move library improvements in a way that traditional treatment of quantitative data has not.  This is the power of insights, of epiphany, of something beyond just description. Evaluation and analytics are descriptive, and not necessarily with an eye to change.  Assessment should be about that which can drive change.
We cannot get rid of quantitative data, nor should we want to, but I believe it needs to be embedded in the context provided by qualitative researchers.  Approaches to our quantitative data can be transformed with considered uses of qualitative research in libraries, and higher education generally.

Think of individual projects that characterize themselves as “mixed-method.” Imagine a “mixed-method.” library, drawing on both sorts of information.
What does that look like?

It can look like me: the Anthropologist in the Stacks.  The permanent staff presence of a qualitative researcher means non-LIS people working within the library. Disciplinary knowledge from outside of LIS can illuminate higher education policies, not just within library, but across the university. So, I am not just talking about a mixed-methods library, but an interdisciplinary one.

(I have blogged already about examples from the Atkins library –here is the point in the talk where I use Prezi to give visual examples of the kinds of data I’ve been collecting, including Photo Diaries, observations, and cognitive mapping.   If you peruse the stuff tagged #anthrolib you can get a feel for it, if you haven’t already.)

We need to know what people are doing to effectively engage. Anthropology, ethnographic techniques, qualitative research can help us learn this.  There are additional implications for the position of academic libraries within their institutions, once they commit to a qualitative research agenda.


For example, at UNC Charlotte, the library is represented on a campus-wide meeting about Student Success.  We are positioned as colleagues within the university, rather than as “helpers”–we are part of a scholarly community, and we also provide, in the library, a neutral ground for the coming together of scholars (including ourselves).

There is tremendous potential for libraries in higher education to be sources of qualitative research about student and faculty work/behaviors.  This research can give us a voice on campus around issues that people in Higher Education are interested in:  what students do, where they go, what faculty do, why.  

 Anthropologists and other social scientists can produce data which may be brought to bear on policy decisions at the college and university, and which has the potential to positively impact student academic success. The fact that these studies come out of the Library has implications for the role academic libraries can play in higher education generally, potentially transforming the kind of voice libraries have in university policy, because we are producing information/data that no other sector of higher education is doing.   This is powerful.  We need to do it more.
Both times I gave this talk, I just sort of stopped there, and asked for questions, and was really gratified by the engagement and thought that was put into the discussion.  I wish I had transcripts to share of what we talked about at UNCG, and also at Huddersfield. 
Dave Pattern and Bryony Ramsden were kind enough to tweet some of the content of my talk, I Storifyed it here:  

 For the conclusion of this blogpost, I will simply share an image of part of my speaking fee at Huds, safely ensconced in my bag, on the train back to London.

Bacon Crisps!

Interested in 2014

So several conversations with people in my professional and personal circles have led me to the conclusion that it’s not terrifically important or effective to try to be interesting.  Either as an individual, or as an institution, it’s just too subjective and hard to figure out how to be interesting, and who on earth can define for sure what “interesting” means in a given context?

Working in an academic library since 2009 means I’ve been witness to ongoing low- (and occasionally high-) level anxiety about how to get people interested in libraries, which I usually interpret to mean a concern with levels of engagement with us as institutions.  How do we get people on campus to come to us?  How do we make sure they know we are important?  How can we convince them we are interesting?

Well, telling people we are important doesn’t work (showing them, OTOH…).  And I am skeptical of the “hey, we’re interesting!” tack as well.  What we can to is be interestED.  We can reach out to people doing cool work on and off campus and ask questions, find things out, and then connect what they are doing with stuff that we are doing.  Expressing interest in other people is, not incidentally, a great way to make friends as well.

Basically, Be Interested.  Interesting things will follow.

Entangled Technology and AAA2013, or, What I did on Friday

My AAA 2013 partners in crime this year were some people I have presented with before (and was delighted to have a chance to again: Andrew Asher, Maura Smale, Mariana Regalado), and some new-to-me colleagues I look forward to working with some more (Lori Jahnke and Lesley Gourlay).
Andrew brought the donuts. We managed to wait until after our session before eating them. That is some seriously professional self-control. Yes, that is bacon on four of the donuts, from Do-Rite Donuts. The other two were pistachio.
Never let it be said I don’t blog about important things like donuts.
Our session, Embedded and Engaged In Higher Education: Researching Student Entanglements with Technology, (here’s the link to the Prezi we used as a visual aid for the discussion) was a roundtable, where we presented and then connected the work we are engaged in, picking up on four main threads of discussion.
1) How institutional disconnect from student behavior and expectations affects access to education, to information, to what they need to engage with resources they need for their academic work, but also for the life they will build post-college.
Maura and Mariana’s work at CUNY spoke most powerfully to the everyday details of this, but I think Lori’s work text-mining IT and University strategic plans was equally important. The content of those strategic plans is just so strikingly distant from the priorities and realities of students and faculty members in higher education. We need to pay more attention to those sorts of documents, and in particular the urgency with which they need to be informed by social science research results.
2) How cultural, political, and social values are embedded not just in search, but in Higher Ed institutions generally. And again, the impact that has on #1
Andrew is doing such important work with this. Search is a cultural construction. Higher education is a cultural construction. Libraries are cultural constructions. They are not free from the values of wider society, and need to be observed critically if we are to truly concern ourselves with access to higher education, and the benefits, privileges, and problems inherent in the system.
3) The use of anthropological research to ground higher education policy (macro and micro) in the behavior of people, and the potential of the applied anthropological approach to improve outcomes of educational agendas broadly written, where ultimate goal of education is an engaged and informed citizenry.
I think this second theme is also linked to the underlying themes of the Liminality session that NAPA sponsored the previous day. My own work at UNC Charlotte is a nice example of what can happen when administrators are on board with a social science-informed policy perspective. Lesley is also trying through her work to effect change at the University of London.  But not all administrators are sympathetic. It can be challenging to inform policy beyond quantitative metrics, if qualitative approaches are not valued. Our challenge as anthropologists is to insert ourselves into institutional conversations, to become part of organizations that need more qualitative approaches, to provide perspectives that are currently all-too-scarce.
4) Our positions as professional outsiders in higher education contexts, but also as sort of native ethnographers, as we are all products of and participants in the kinds of systems we are studying.
My boss told me today that he values me at least in part because I am an outsider to the library. On the panel, our positions as people both within our institutions and tasked with thinking critically about those institutions can be personally and professionally challenging. And also, terrifically worthwhile.
Andrew, Maura and I live-tweeted this session, and I Storified it rather than put it here, because it’s kind of long.
I also quite liked our session abstract, and since you can’t see it without being a registered AAA member, I am going to reproduce it here:
Abstract:  Embedded and Engaged In Higher Education: Researching Student Entanglements with Technology
“In this roundtable we propose to explore our status, research, and findings as we work as interdisciplinary collaborators with non-anthropologists in academic settings. Our projects initiate and facilitate scholarly as well as policy discussions about the nature of information, the configuration of digital and physical spaces in academia, and the changing state of academic work and scholarly communication in the 21st century. Some of us, employed in academic libraries, are positioned as native ethnographers, as we are tasked with observing and analyzing the thoughts and behaviors of our own communities: the students, faculty, and staff in the practical, everyday spaces of academia. Our outside eye is valuable in pinpointing not just ways that academic institutions and libraries can reshape themselves for the 21st century, but also in illuminating the nature of scholarly work among our peers and the relationship of that work to the world outside of academia. This roundtable provides a forum for sharing our work and our perspectives on anthropology in higher education settings.
The panelists represent a variety of ways that anthropological knowledge and research are presented and conducted. Through a range of methods, including mapping, time logs, drawings, photo diaries, and research process interviews, we have examined how students and faculty engage with and are constrained by technology as they navigate the spaces and systems of academe. As researchers we are diversely engaged, bringing not only anthropological methods and theories to our projects but also the methods and theories of library and information science, science and technology studies, education, sociology, and user experience research.
Our research actively explores the role of technology for students in their academic work at colleges and universities. At this moment when educational technologies are very much a part of the broader, global conversation about the cost and value of higher education, we examine how these technologies constrain and enable students, and how they fit with the essential learning mission of college, especially in the academic library, a traditional locus of student use of information technology. As social scientists embedded in academia, we leverage our research to bring student voices to these discussions. Our studies produce data which may be brought to bear on policy decisions at the college and university, and which has the potential to positively impact student academic success.
As researchers who are well positioned to observe the complex interactions between digital technologies and the social organization and practices of students and faculty member, this roundtable will speak not only to how technologies are used within higher education, but also to broader cultural transformations within and outside the academy. For example, how do political and cultural values embodied in digital tools and technologies constrain or empower students? How do the social contexts of students’ communities and universities affect their technology use? By examining these questions, anthropologists working in higher education can contribute both to improving the learning environments of our universities, but also to better understandings of the meanings, effects, and lived experience of technologies and technological change. “

Playing with Cognitive Mapping

I am messing around with cognitive mapping instruments, stolen with Andrew Asher’s blessing from the ERIAL toolkit (I know, I know, I don’t need anyone’s blessing because hey, that’s what toolkits are for!  Especially those posted on the web).  I am doing this in part because photo diaries, while useful and capable of yielding rich information, are really really time consuming and difficult to get students to do.    I am still very much hoping to get back to University College, London, to continue the work I started there in 2011, and when I am there I’d like to use cognitive maps as well as structured interviews and immersive observations to get a sense of how and why various learning spaces are being used by UCL students and faculty.

So, I’m doing some here at UNC Charlotte.  At the very least, such an exploratory exercise can give us a sense of what our undergraduate and graduate students’ spatial networks look like when they are written down.  The data I’m collecting can also begin to serve as a comparative set for the data that I hope to be able to collect in the UK.

I just want to put some of the maps here because I think they are really interesting.  I am of course far from the only one doing this–Lesley Gourlay at the IOE and her colleagues have done some mapping exercises, and of course there is the aformentioned ERIAL work, among other ethnographic projects in the US.  The students were given 6 minutes to complete each map, and were asked to map all of the places that they go to/inhabit in some way for their academic work.   I was specific in saying that the spaces could be on- or off-campus.    The maps posted here are undergraduate maps–I have maps from graduate students that we are still processing.  In general, undergraduate space maps indicate the need for them to be in places that make it easy for them to get to the other places they need to go to.  If they have class in a particular building, they are more likely to study in the Student Union than the library, because the former is closer.  If they live away from campus, they might be likely to have off-campus cafes, etc. on their maps as work spaces.  The choices they make about where to settle in to study are not made in a vacuum.  There is a similar diversity to the spaces they find themselves in, however, in part because undergraduate classes occur in a variety of buildings in different parts of campus, and are not necessarily taught in the building that house their major programs.  Graduate student maps (in process) have less diversity of spaces, because they are much more tied to the departmental labs and spaces of their degree programs.

The students worked for 2 minutes in each pen color, beginning with blue, moving to red, and then ending with black.  Some students finished before the 6 minute mark, resulting in some maps in just 2 colors (such as #7 shown here).

This undergraduate lives on campus, and has drawn straight lines connecting all of the places he needs to go.  The library is one place in a larger network, of course.  Several of these building are classroom spaces.  This senior lives in an on-campus dorm.  There are no off-campus spaces shown here.
This sophomore lives in an off-campus apartment relatively far from campus, but her boyfriend’s apartment (the building in the upper left corner) is closer in.  She has mapped campus buildings such as the Student Union and various classroom buildings, but also included important spaces such as where her youth group meets, and the 24-hour cafe Amelie’s.  The library does not figure in her mental map of learning spaces.
This student lives close to the South Carolina border, nearly a half an hour from campus.  She has included several cafe or bookstore spaces, all of which have free wi-fi, but not all of which are open 24 hours.  “School” is the university campus, and she has not differentiated places within the campus, because she has so many other places she inhabits.  The library on this map is the public library closest to the university.
This junior has sketched only the places within the library he inhabits on the left hand side of the drawing.  He has put in study rooms, and indicated where the study rooms are in the building by their proximity to round tables with computers on them (these are on the 1st floor).  His other learning spaces are in his close-to-campus apartment, on the right hand side.  He has sketched his living room furniture (comfortable chairs as well as desks), and his bedroom.

EDUCAUSE 2013: Finding our Way in Anaheim

My second attendance at Educause, and this one was in Anaheim.

I had a full Wednesday of presentations.  One presentation was with my Visitors and Residents collaborators, Lynn Connaway and Erin Hood  from OCLC (but sans David White, who was with us in spirit even as he stayed in Oxford).  We talked about our analysis of the data we’ve been collecting since 2010 on modes of engagement with digital places, people, technology, and information.  I was gratified that the themes revealed in our work, and in particular our conclusions about how important people and relationships are to the choices people make when engaging with technology and the web, were so well represented in other presentations at Educause, including Sir Ken Robinson’s keynote, and Mimi Ito’s presentation on her work regarding Connected Learning.   As an anthropologist, I am of course a big fan of researchers (like fellow anthropologist Mimi Ito!) pointing out to Education Technology specialists like the ones who attend Educause that that they need to pay attention to people, their  behavior, and their motivations, and not get distracted by the specifics of the shiny tools that people are using at any given moment.

I also presented a poster session with my colleague Bob Price, Director of Digital Initiatives at UNC Charlotte. We were focusing on two primary things:  the wayfinding tool that our Digital Initiatives department built, and the research processes that helped inform why we wanted to build the tool (not just because it would be shiny!), and the plans we have for it going forward.

Our poster was in two parts, designed by our fantastic colleague and web graphic designer Maggie Ngo)

Click to see larger version of Posters 1 and 2

Thanks to all who stopped by, the conversations were wonderful, and the interest in our work truly gratifying) was that this sort of project was inspired in part by the open-ended exploratory research I’ve been doing among our students.  The photo diaries I have been having undergraduates do for the last 3 or 4 semesters have been a way to evaluate and observe the habits of our students in terms of where and how they do their academic work, regardless of whether they are in the library or not.   Some of the prompts ask library-specific questions, and some ask much broader questions about their practices, without cues to talk about the library (I adapted the photo diary instrument from a similar one used by Nancy Fried Foster and her team, in her research at Rochester).  The photo diaries from our UNC Charlotte students revealed a deep level of ambivalence about some library spaces, in particular the stacks, and the corridors.  Valuable resources are in the stacks, and along the corridors–the latter is how you find study rooms, classrooms, and our reference librarians, in our physical building.

We saw leveraging digital tools to give students a way to become more familiar with our building as a way of encouraging them to become comfortable with the building before they even walk into it.  In the same way that people use Google Maps to figure out where they are going in an unfamiliar place, our students can use our digital wayfinder to plan their route, to see what lies where, and to generally get a feel for the physical spaces, before they are even there.

The campus population at UNC Charlotte has many first-generation college students, as well as transfer students who were accustomed to buildings and resources at their previous institution.  Even traditional first year full time freshmen might have mental barriers to entering a university library building, which can seem large and intimidating to someone not used to these sort of institutional spaces.  It is our responsibility to try to respond to the need for students to access our useful spaces (like libraries), by making them navigable, familiar, friendly.

In future iterations of our wayfinding tool, we hope to go beyond the physical building, which is just a part of what our library has to offer.  Linking our digital resources and spaces in with the wayfinder will give our patrons a more holistic vision of what we contain:  electronic resources, booking software that allows students to connect with each other in study groups, connections with liaisons via chat, text, and email, and other tools we haven’t built yet.

We welcome comments, and those interested in collaborating with us on future versions of the Wayfinder.





Sleeping and Successful Library Spaces

.@DonnaLanclos have you read the ‘learning aviary’ paper yet? Fave quote so far is if students fall asleep in 1 area then design success 🙂
— Bryony Ramsden (@librarygirlknit) August 27, 2013


So the article my colleague Bryony is referring to is this one : 
 Legerton, G. (January 01, 2013). Encouraging choice, serendipity and experimentation: experiences from Griffith University library (G11) extension and Gumurrii Centre. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 27, 51-62.
I am interested to read it further, but her tweet reminded me that I had never pointed out one of the fun facts uncovered by the behavior mapping that myarchitecture grad student, Alison Schaefer, carried out last semester.   First, I want to show you a typical circulation pattern through our ground floor collaborative space.  This map was generated not long after the space opened, but this primary pattern has yet to deviate substantially.   Then look at the next two maps, in black with beige highlights.
The dotted lines show the circulation paths.  This map was made on Jan 24th, representing the pattern at 12.40PM. 

Sleeping map, January 2013


Sleeping Map, April 2013

Notice, in the two maps above, where people were sleeping

While some of the sleeping is indeed happening away from the high traffic areas, some of it is certainly happening right in the middle of relatively noisy and active parts of the ground floor.  

Another thing to note is that these maps were not created during finals week, a time when it is assumed there will be lots of sleeping in the library, along with studying (and, avoiding studying).
In short, making assumptions about where students will sleep in the library based on a) where we think they should be sleeping, or b) where we would prefer to sleep, or even c) conventional wisdom about where students sleep, will not get you very far.
Our students sleep anywhere, as they need to.  They are working hard, and sometimes need to recharge.  If sleeping students are symptoms of successful spaces, then Atkins Library is doing very well indeed.

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?”