How many people do you know who started their careers in academic libraries are now in leadership positions within academic computing? How many great educational technology folks that you have worked with have taken positions in libraries?
The future of campus computing belongs to the librarians and the libraries, and that is a very good thing. Here is why:
Reason 1 - Service Orientation: The culture of the library is a culture of service. Service to students, service to faculty, service to the institution. The librarian, and the library services, exist to make the work of learning and scholarship possible. The focus is on the patron, the learner, the researcher, the searcher, the browser, the borrower. This service orientation translates very well into the world of technology, where platforms and tools are only as good as they are friction free, usable, and helpful. The culture of service extends to education, with librarians having developed skills over decades on creating formal and informal educational opportunities around their services and collections. When librarians migrate to academic technology, they bring these educational skills and service orientation with them.
Reason 2 - Strong Relationships: Librarians build durable and nourishing relationships across the campus, but in particular with the faculty and students they serve on a daily basis. Good instructors quickly figure out that a key to a successful course is bringing in a library colleague to help develop curricular resources, design assignments, and educate students about finding and evaluating primary and secondary sources. Smart students learn to supplement search engines and library databases with advice and guidance from reference librarians. All these conversations, all these interactions, add up over the years to levels of trust and understanding between librarians, faculty and students unparalleled at the university. These relationships travel and are maintained when librarians move into academic technology.
Reason 3 - Multilingualism: People trained in information science enjoy the benefits of a broad set of skills and perspectives. Some librarians are trained in the disciplines of the faculty and courses they work with, and all librarians have the baseline of skills to relate to the full range of academics. Librarians speak the language of research, are familiar with its tools and practices, and can connect specialists with the databases, journal and articles they need to accomplish their work. The training and practice of librarians encourages a comfort with a wide range of disciplines, ensuring a common language (and worldview) across the academy. Where technologists might thrive with specialized knowledge (networking, server administration etc.), librarians being largely client facing need to speak many languages.
Reason 4 - Technology Experience: The library was one of the first to move to co-residence in the physical and digital world. Before we had the learning management system, we had the digital catalog. Course reserve and campus media have long been provided by the library, and the library has moved these services from paper and VHS/DVDs to web based and digital delivery. Bringing academic platforms into this portfolio of skills is not a big stretch for already digital librarians. They have negotiated with vendors, lived through migrations and upgrades, and had to manage the demands of student and faculty accustomed to the pace of consumer technology for a long time now.
Reason 5 - Collegiality: This last reason that librarians are the future of educational technology is perhaps the most important. Librarians are universally the most collegial professionals on campus. The library cultures I've observed are supportive, collaborative, and perhaps consensus driven to a fault. I've been privileged to be able to observe a particularly progressive and nurturing library culture up-close and personal over the past few years, but this experience has tracked with my previous observations. As technology, including educational technology, increasingly moves from a product to a service, we will see a great premium placed on the ability to collaborate, partner and lead. All skills that librarians have been perfecting for many years.
The discussion about Library / IT campus mergers is, I think, largely besides the point. Formal mergers may or may not happen, either way the future of academic technology belongs to the librarians (and those most like them). Us non-librarians would do well to learn from and emulate our colleagues from the Library.
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