Library Futures, pt. 1

January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

The pattern is familiar.  A librarian writes a “provocative” article in a journal—-for which most subscribers are not rank-and-file librarians—-creates a “buzz” for a few weeks, and the response is, if not viral, visceral.

Latest example:  Brian Sullivan’s opinion piece, “Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050,” published in the January 2, 2011 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Though perhaps unintended by Mr. Sullivan, the timing was exquisitely stealth.  On January 2, a Sunday, most workers from the groves of academe were enjoying the holidays and trying not to think too deeply about the academy.

Sullivan’s library future:  “…books collections obsolete….library instruction no longer necessary….information literacy fully integrated into the curriculum….libraries and librarians subsumed by information technology departments….reference services disappeared….economics trumped quality….”

A bleak landscape, to be sure, along with this indictment: “…the life of the academic library could have been spared if the last generation of librarians had spent more time plotting a realistic path to the future….”  Librarians, declares Sullivan, are guilty of “audacious denial” and will themselves have caused the library’s “deterioration and demise.”

Responses to this autopsy report were quick to surface and ranged from begrudging agreement with Sullivan’s thesis to ad hominem critique: “The author…should retire now.”

Since the Chronicle of Higher Education is required reading by college and university presidents, provosts, chief academic officers, finance vice-presidents, deans, and foundation officers, here’s hoping there is no institutional support or budget fallout as a post-mortem to the article. 

It’s an intriguing concept, indeed a surpising persona:  the librarian as agent provocateur.

            —–  Contributed by Sims Kline

 

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