Today I discovered The Changing Roles of Academic and Research Libraries, an essay resulting from a November ACRL Roundtable on Technology and Change in Academic Libraries.

This was a particularly happy discovery. I am on the AASL committee tasked with rewriting the national guidelines. It is cool to peek in on the visioning processes of another division, one also devoted to learning. 

As I read the essay, it occurred to me that we too need to make sense of a messy future.  The ACRL essay reads like a manifesto for change.  Much of what I have been writing here over the past two years are posts longing to be a manifesto.  My new rules for guerrilla practice from last week, the vision chart that hit me in a burst of energy one day last summer, and so many of those other scattered posts along the way.  Many of our friends are posting in similar directions.

I was impressed by the following section of the ACRL document:

Making Sense of a Messy Future

There are three essential actions libraries must take to achieve the necessary transformation and remain vital forces on campus in the years ahead:

  • First, libraries must evolve from institutions perceived primarily as the domain of the book to institutions that users clearly perceive as providing pathways to high-quality information in a variety of media and information sources.
  • Second, the culture of libraries and their staff must proceed beyond a mindset primarily of ownership and control to one that seeks to provide service and guidance in more useful ways, helping users find and use information that may be available through a range of providers, including libraries themselves, in electronic format.
  • Third, libraries must assert their evolving roles in more active ways, both in the context of their institutions and in the increasingly competitive markets for information dissemination and retrieval. Libraries must descend from what many have regarded as an increasingly isolated perch of presumed privilege and enter the contentious race to advance in the market for information services—what one participant in our roundtable termed “taking it to the streets.”

What is at stake is the definition of the indispensable library—indispensable to faculty and students in the first instance, and to the knowledge and information industry in the second. In redefining and reasserting their value, libraries will have to embrace much more aggressively the fact that they are one of many contenders for their institution’s financial support. Libraries have been comparatively slow to realize and accept the need to function in an environment of direct competition for resources, either from within or outside their institutions. As one participant in our roundtable observed, “Don’t assume that people care about libraries. People care about streamlining the processes that support research and learning.” Libraries must be active contestants in the race for financial support or fall increasingly to the periphery of their institution’s strategic vision.

The essay continues to describe a “reconfigured portfolio” for the “road to indispensability.”  Let’s each of us take a good look at our own existing portfolio and work together to make sense of the messy future we own.

My friends, I think we have to stop making the beds!  When I read through the listservs I so often find myself fretting over the small stuff some of us fret about.  Time to fret (or sweat) the bigger stuff. 


My own research leads me to conclude that shift is slow to come to school libraries. My research leads me to fret, that without dramatic shift, without change in mindset and vision, with shift in preparation, without a real manifesto for change, we will lose relevance for a generation of learners who live, communicate, research, and create content online.  Are YOU a window on the desktops of your young users? Can they reach you in someway (not necessarily synchronously) anywhere/anytime?  Can you clearly define where you fit in an emerging school culture?

BTW, I’ve updated my last vision chart recently. I’d love suggestions for revision!

  1. diane


    I’ve been playing around with idea of what the role of a 21st Century librarian should be. Since I completed library school in 1973, this has required some major mind shifts for me!

    My brainstorming list so far:
    – Librarians shouldn’t be tied to a specific space and time: the library as mindset and skills, not as a place
    -Librarian as a roving resource
    -Information literacy ambassador
    -Librarian in the classroom, in the community: an itinerant, a human bookmobile

    Obviously, my ideas need to be fleshed out, but this is the direction I’m headed in.

  1. 1   Joyce Valenza: Are School Librarians Obsolete? « C&I 440 Management of School Libraries

    [...] Manifesto for Change Posted by albeam2 Filed in School Library 2.0, Readings [...]

Leave a Comment