Friday, 17 April 2015

Rick Anderson - A Quiet Culture War in Research Libraries (plenary session, 1st April 2015)

A quiet culture war in research libraries
Presented by Rick Anderson (University of Utah)

Rick started out the session by quietly admitted he’d be quite pleased if someone stomped out during his talk!  Sadly, he was not to be obliged on this front...

He was conscious of the fact that he gives away the ending of this talk via the title.  The culture war he believes is brewing is between 2 schools of thought: "libraries’ most fundamental mission is serving the scholarly need of the institution", vs. "libraries’ most fundamental mission is changing the world of scholarly communication for the better".  These missions are not mutually exclusive or in conflict in general, though they are in tension at every institution due to priorities, funding etc.  The conflict is mostly rooted in the migration from print to online, and are illustrated in movement from:

objects -> access
individual -> collective
institutional -> global
simple issues -> complex issues
toll access -> open access

The distribution system was accepted for what it was when it was dealing with physical objects, where the issues of distribution and access are not quite so complex.  Now the issues at play include access, costs, rights and funding.  At the same time, the demand for some of what we have seen as the core purposes of librarianship is dropping.

The big question is becoming: how do we balance our responsibility to the host institution (including local patrons and their needs) with our drive to work and interact globally? The time and money we spend are hours and budget we can’t spend on something else; he gave examples of Big Deals, OA program memberships, OA mandates, APC subventions, ILL vs. short-term loan etc.

He then showed a slide splitting librarians into ‘soldiers’ (working on local needs/impact) and ‘revolutionaries’ (working on global needs/impact), moving on to a matrix of librarian depth perception and the crossover between the revolutionaries and the soldiers.  At the surface: what is the library’s local-global balance now?  We have to then assess alignment (how does it fit our institution’s goals?); address disparity (by talking to those linke the provost/VP who have a say in goals etc.); and consider influencing the institutional mission/culture to reflect our own; if feasible, one can create a strategy for doing so; if not, one will need to realign library to fit with the institutional goals.

Rick's bottom line was that soldiers are employees, and revolutionaries are (usually) freelance; however, the immovable fact is that the university library is not freelance.  Therefore, clarifying what that means for all us and for the mission of librarians is absolutely imperative.

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