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Wake Up, Fellow Librarians: The Sky is Falling! - Commentary by Cindi Trainor

.: I am pleased to welcome my good friend and colleague, Cindi Trainor, IT Librarian at Honnold/Mudd Library, The Libraries of The Claremont Colleges to STLQ. Cindi offers a brief commentary on a recent article by Jerry Campbell, Chief Information Officer and University Librarian of USC. She describes her piece as "not a full-on response to the article, but rather an invitation for discussion with our colleagues", and I agree. I hope you find the time to read Campbell's article, and join in the discussion. Cindi writes:

Two recent publications with potentially far-reaching consequences for academic libraries have been greeted by that segment of the library world with silence. One is OCLC's Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources, to which STLQ alerted readers in December of last year; the other is a recent Educause Review article by USC's CIO and library director, Jerry Campbell, titled "Changing a cultural icon: the academic library as a virtual destination." (HTML version, PDF version.) In it, Campbell asserts that academic libraries are "relinquishing" their "historical" role, that of repository of "authoritative" information, in the face of projects like Google Print and Yahoo's Open Content Alliance. Campbell further asserts that academic libraries need a new mission, and that services that have grown out of our original missions, such as creative and collaborative use of library space, providing metadata, virtual reference and providing information literacy instruction, are not enough to constitute that new mission nor to ensure the future of academic libraries or even librarians.

It's very hard not to react to this article defensively. Take, for example, this quote: "...simply asking questions about the future of libraries, let alone working to transform them for the digital age, almost inevitably evokes anguished, poignant, and even hostile reponses filled with nostalgia for a near-mythical institution." Any librarian invested in his or her job would react negatively to that statement. But it's important not to have another knee-jerk, claws-out reaction that have been typical of us lately (does the phrase "radical, militant librarians" ring any bells for my fellow American librarians?). Yes, we would welcome the opportunity to change proactively rather than reactively; yes, we would welcome the opportunity to get our jobs done without having to worry about justifying our future, but Campbell raises some valid points and does so to an audience that has the potential to help us plan our futures. I won't go so far as to say that he's thrown down the gauntlet, but it's our responsibility to engage our academic colleagues in planning for the future of our libraries.

My final point has to do with the scope of the article. Campbell lumps all academic libraries--public, private, large, small, liberal arts, research--into one amorphous dinosaur. I would argue, from the perspective of a librarian at a small, private, liberal arts institution, that the person-to-person interaction that Campbell claims "does not scale" to the web is at the heart of most liberal arts colleges, that perhaps the accusation that he levels is more accurately aimed at large research institutions where by virtue of sheer numbers, one-on-one interaction is a smaller part of an individual's experience.

I'm tired of listening to the crickets. What say you, librarians?

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