It Takes a Community to Raise an (Academic) Library

posted Oct 9, 2011, 7:07 PM by jj pionke
I've been thinking a lot about community.  One of the projects for my SI 581: Preservation Administration class is to go to a local archive and do a preservation survey for them.  A huge and ongoing discussion in my SI 641: Information Literacy course is how do we teach info lit to different populations and the thing that we keep coming back to is community.

Our communities are changing drastically because of technology and the role of the library, any type of library, is changing as well. More and more, people see the library as not just a place for books but also a place to learn new skills, get assistance with job searching, and find information that they need but is not necessarily in the tried, true, and sometimes tired, reference books.  All of this is especially true of academic libraries.  I am focusing my attention on them because that is where I want to land up after graduation.  Still, nevermore have I seen the need for community outreach than I do in the archive that my 581 team surveyed.  The archivist is doing more outreach and PR than actual archival work in part because the funding situation is pretty abysmal and in part because a lot of people simply don't know that she exists.  Academic libraries aren't necessarily in the same boat since they are attached to institutions of higher learning.  However, in the last few years, there has been a fairly drastic outpouring from academic libraries to try and reach out to the communities that they reside in, and I am not just talking about students here, but the people that live in the town, whether they are a member of the college/university or not.

Most academic libraries are actually open to the public.  The public usually has some lending privileges, though they are not as extensive as students and certainly not as pervasive as faculty.  There are often special lectures and presentations in the library as well as exhibits, and yet the public often has no idea that these exist.  It is not just a courtesy to reach out to the community, it is an imperative.  Too often, the college and the town it sits in are at odds with each other because you have the intelligentsia and the local folks and there can be some pretty epic clashes between the two in terms of religious, political, and social beliefs.  Still, the library can and should be a bridge between those two groups; a way for the college to reach out and say hey, we are doing these really cool and amazing things, come and see and get involved.

As technology continues to change and leave a huge gap in who knows what to do with it and those that don't, community reach out will continue to become more important, especially as students come more and more underprepared to higher ed.  Libraries that  have defined information literacy policies and actionable items are going to far outstrip libraries that don't in terms of usability and community outreach.