Why Google Increases the Value of Relationships with Academic Librarians

Answering a question from Temple’s Steven Bell.

August 25, 2016

"When it is time to do research on educational technology do you start with your favorite search engine or do you invest time delving into your academic library's education research databases?"

A question/comment from Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian at Temple University, continuing the discussion from my 8/23/16 post On Choosing Technologies That We Know Will Diminish Quality.

First, thank to Steven Bell for engaging in this dialogue and asking this question.  My guess is that many of us are networked into Steven Bell’s world.  Steven is the sort of higher ed leader that provides opportunities to others.  He has done so for me, opening up speaking opportunities and inviting me to contribute to the book that he conceived and edited Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership.  Steven’s writing in the Designing Better Libraries space is a must read - and I’m sure that many of you have Steven Bell connection stories.

Steven’s question helped me understand a shift in how I think about academic libraries and academic librarians - a shift that I had not fully grasped or articulated.

The answer to Steven’s questions is that the appearance of ubiquitous information - the Google effect - has served to increase the the professional value of my relationship with academic librarians.

The more information that I have access to from the web and search, the more important it is to develop and nurture relationships with my academic librarian colleagues.

The reason for this conclusion about the importance of the value of these relationships can be found in what Google can’t do - and in what academic librarians do beautifully.

What I can’t do with Google is have a conversation.  I can’t discover what I don’t know when interacting with Google.  I can’t evolve my understanding in dialogue with Google.  From Google I can get facts, data, and information - but I can’t contextualize that information within the problem that I am trying to solve.  Nor can that information be placed within the cultural and organizational context in which I’m trying to utilize that information to answer a question or tackle a challenge.

I don’t want this piece to come across as pure academic library cheerleading.  What I’m trying to argue is that by orders of magnitude the greatest benefit that my academic library provides to my work is the academic librarians.

This work with my academic librarians is not transactional.  I seldom have self-contained questions that require discrete answers.  Rather, the work takes place in the ongoing conversation.  In the evolution of my thinking that comes from an ongoing set of conversations with a number of academic librarians.

My librarian colleagues bring a deep level of expertise to these conversations that is different from other folks in my network. This expertise may be around information science, or open access and open resources, or how a new discipline (such as the digital humanities) is forming.  This expertise may be subject matter related.  This expertise may have to do with how physical and digital spaces change, merge and interact.

Almost always, I learn from my librarian colleagues in our conversations new things about how learning and knowledge production are changing, and how we can be most effective in an environment of ever-increasing demands and ever-shrinking resources, time, and attention.

The discussion of the competing demands to pay for people vs. paying for content (information, subscriptions, database access, journals, books etc. etc.), is a discussion that I’m sure dominates the academic library profession.  I’m not sure what the current academic library spending pictures look like - my sense is that about half the money goes to acquisitions/content and half goes to people.  Is that right?  How does it look at your school?  Do academic libraries publish this data?  Does that differ across privates and publics?

From my experience - and in my humble opinion - I think that the money should shift (as much as possible) towards people.  Or better yet, academic libraries should get more money, so they can keep investing in the scholarly collections that are necessary for the work of knowledge creation - but add to the hiring (and compensation) of the academic librarians that create critical differentiation in institutional quality.

Did we know that Google would make relationships with academic librarians more essential?

Is this relational / conversational formula with academic librarians a construct that is pushed within and outside of the academic library community?

Is it the norm across higher ed that librarians have the time (and incentives) to invest in the time consuming and messy work of long-term relationship building with their colleagues outside of the library?  (From faculty to non-faculty educators?)

Is there an effort in the academic library world to create more opportunities for relationships with more librarians, and to carve out time to strengthen and deepen the relationships that patron facing (is that the right word?) librarians already enjoy?

Is there a shared understanding across higher ed that Google is in reality the best friend of the profession of academic librarianship - as ubiquitous information makes contextualized knowledge and ongoing collaborations ever more essential as drivers of both individual productivity and institutional quality?

How would you answer Steven Bell’s question?



Back to Top