the future of academic libraries

On Friday (11.11.11) I attended The Future of the Academic Library: A Symposium: Bridging the Gap. Sponsored by Library Journal and EBSCO Host, the free conference was held at Temple University. The event press release suggested this would be a day “to overcome our misperceptions and stereotypes about our colleagues and our users.” This is a lofty goal, notably because it means first admitting to having misperceptions and stereotypes.

The keynote speaker was Kristin Antelman, Associate Director for the Digital Library at North Carolina State University. Well-spoken and fearless, Antelman confronted the unspoken gaps and even hinted at librarians’ own fault in the widening of these gaps. She took her view of organizational environment from Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web (seen below), adding in the elements of information and trust.

The Cultural Web

An important part of this is web is Symbols, similar to brand. The future of the academic library may mean a re-branding; this will be a tremendously difficult task, Antelman says, because the founding purpose and mission of libraries have become deeply embedded principles in our culture. During the segment of speakers that followed, Damon Jaggars (Associate University Librarian for Collections and Services at Columbia University) articulated this culturally rooted library branding by suggesting we (in the profession) are “organizationally stuck in nostalgia.” This immediately reminded me of Jaron Lanier’s comments during his keynote at ACRL 2011 – if we cannot compete with the Internet and maintain innovation at lightening speed, perhaps we should return to this romanticism and pull on the heartstrings of our culture to lure them back.

competing values framework
competing values framework

Antelman concluded by addressing organizational culture from the competing values framework of Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron (see above). An informal survey of “future leaders” in the profession demonstrated what I’m sure most of us view as our libraries’ culture: they see their organization as a hierarchy but want it to be more of an adhocracy. Then again, how do we know the administration does not also want this too? This goes beyond librarianship; we all want an environment where we can be creative and work within our strengths.

A key word Antelman used was “timid.” We are timid and, looking around the room of the symposium, I had to agree. At least, we looked timid. We looked tired (well, it was Friday) and unsure, hesitant to walk with our heads held high because we might trip over something. I see timidity in myself since I joined the profession. Not necessarily afraid of failure or taking initiative, but desperately wanting to blend in. I wrote the word large and bold on my day’s notes – and now I resolve to walk away from it without turning back.