The Status Quo Has Got To Go!


Brad Eden

Brad Eden, Dean of Library Services, Valpariso University, closed the plenary sessions with a stirring challenge to the audience. His address, entitled “The Status Quo Has Got to Go”, was extremely information-rich and was filled with a plethora of slides filled with tiny print. They will shortly be available on the conference website, and should be required reading for every academic library professional (those in other areas of librarianship will also find much that is useful in them).

Eden began by saying that he wanted to make people uncomfortable, and it was clear that he succeeded. He noted that we need to be uncomfortable because the world is changing, and we will become obsolete if we are comfortable. We are no longer technical services, public services, or collection developement people; we are a team and we must work together as a team! We must be fully informed about the strategies of our organizations; it is part of our job.

It is useful to view the overall picture of the library from the administrator’s perspective. It is all about politics! Some of the major issues are:

  • States are disengaging themselves from higher education because nobody wants to pay more taxes. This trend will not change, only accelerate.
  • The Google book settlement will dramatically change how we disseminate information. Google wants to be another Elsevier. It will eventually be the largest item in library budgets.
  • We need to get involved in social networking and talk the way our users talk.
  • Space and people–distributed print repositories are the big topic. State governments will not build more buildings for storage space, so we are getting into regional repositories. It costs $4.26 to keep a book on the shelf per year. High density storage cuts this cost to 86 cents–a huge cost savings. So why are we putting books on our shelves any more? We need to get beyond this!

Here are some things that must occur:

  • Move the organiztion into the digital mentality and the digital level of collections. Dramatic change must happen.
  • Move from the local to the network level in collaboration, metadata, and resource sharing.
  • Move towards open access and scholarly communication.

The current publishing model where we give away our research for free and then buy it back at exhorbitant prices is unsustainable. We need to start talking about digital preservation. Everyone needs to understand about author rights and inform and educate the faculty.

We must shift from information literacy to media literacy and understand the power and capabilities of our devices.

People are not coming to us becasue we are not talking their language. In today’s 3-dimensional world of visualization why are we are serving up info in old fashioned one-dimensional text? (See the Theban Mapping Project for an example of how learn in 3D.)

Technical services and libraries have been a microcosm for bad PR and a lack of marketing. We must show people what we do. A recent OCLC report debunks the 80/20 myth; ARL statistics show a 50 to 60% decline in reference transactions since 1995. We are biuying a lot of content that nobody is using, and people do not know what we do. Why do we continue to buy things?

Three major issues for today’s library administrators are:

  • If you are still doing local copy cataloging, you are wasting your organization’s money! Stop paying a vendor to display your data in a proprietary system.
  • Users no longer think of the library or its OPAC as the first option for obtaining information; they are usually the last option, if an option at all.
  • If and when the current economic situation improves, library staffing will never return to its former levels. So be a leader by freeing up staff time. Move things around for cost-benefits. Train your current staff (you won’t get any more!) to move into the digital resources environment.
  • Get with it! Examine open cloud solutions. Why are we still keeping our data in and using proprietary systems? STOP!! Get out of them. It is uncomfortable but it is the right thing to do. Vendors are giving us parties at ALA conferences with our own money! You are part of the problem! Get smart–this is ridiculous!!
  • The next on the cutting block will be reference services. Are you going out to the users? Nothing more that can be cut out of the back room processing costs.

Provosts’ Report on Academic Libraries (entitled “Redefining the Academic Library”) was published by the University Leadership Council in 2011.  (Provost’s are those who control the funding of academic libraries.) The report is in 2 sections: 1. Transformational Change in the Information Landscape, and 2. Managing the Migration to Digital Information Services. This is an excellent report that tells provosts how to move the library into the future. We need to help them make the right decisions. Which is more important: high profits for commercial publishers, or jobs for academic librarians?

We must think and act like an informed library activist or employee (i.e. library administrator). If we do not work as a team, we will all sink together. Find out what your university’s strategic plan is; if you are not on board, you are not on the ship. Develop goals and targets. Don’t play it safe–this fosters mediocrity which leads to decay. Leave plenty of room to take risks. There is no substitute for your talent; understand, value, and develop it.

Here are things we should stop.

  • Checking in print serials.
  • Binding print journals.
  • Maintaining serials records locally instead of centrally across the campus.
  • Local customization of bibliographic records.
  • Having a staff member distribute records for loading into local OPACs.
  • Preparing full records for everything instead of “good enough” ones.
  • Having separate local ILSs.

And here are some things we should do.

  • Spend time on collections that are uncataloged or undescribed.
  • Share responsibility for cataloging backlogs.
  • Redeploy staff to description and organization of digital resources instead of print.
  • Do all bibliographic work at the network rather than the local level.
  • Consider the life cycle of all resources and formats.

What will kill our profession is a lack of imagination. We need to be bridge builders and global thinkers. A helpful resource is the Self-Improvement Newsletter, and a new book, The Challenge of Library Management, is also excellent.

This summary only scratches the surface of Eden’s presentation, which was one of the highlights of the conference. Again, I highly recommend reading the slides.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor


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