Every time that I write something about my academic librarian colleagues I feel the need to preemptively apologize. Ideas that are large revelations in my own mind are, I fear, almost always completely obvious to a librarian.
Be that as it may, I've been thinking about the library, and the librarian, as a campus hub. The role of the library in connecting academic disciplines and functional staff areas (computing, admissions, student affairs etc.) together seems to grow in proportion to the degree that these areas become more and more specialized. The library, and the librarians connected to the library space, seem to have some key advantages as connectors. These include:
A Physical Space: And not just any physical space, but in most cases the campus library is at the geographic, intellectual and emotional center of the campus and/or school. Librarians seem to think about and pay great attention to their spaces. How many campuses do you know where another space rivals that of the library? As the academic library has evolved the space has evolved as well, so today we see more common areas and group study spaces and perhaps less book or periodical filled shelves. The library has become a social and productivity space. I wonder how we can think about expanding or growing our library footprints to accommodate even more services? Perhaps we can leverage blended learning techniques to build fewer classrooms, and use the resources to build bigger libraries that build on the existing desire of students, faculty, and staff to congregate at the library.
An Interdisciplinary Focus: I work with quite a number of subject librarians at my institution, and all of them are amazingly knowledgeable about the disciplines in which they partner with faculty around teaching and research. Even subject librarians, however, retain a wide range of knowledge and a fluency in the language of the contiguous disciplines. Faculty promotion and tenure rewards hyper-specialization, librarians by the nature of their work need to have (I believe) a broader orientation. Librarians, therefore, are ideally suited to bring together faculty who may be working on common problems, but may be reading separate literatures and going to different conferences. A librarian will come to understand the research questions and teaching objectives of a wide range of faculty, and be able to make connections and introductions across departments (and sometimes schools). Since librarians often work with staff members in other divisions, such as educational technologists or media professionals, they also may be able to facilitate connections and make introductions that will bring new inputs to courses or research projects.
A Service Orientation: I've long thought that technology people (like me) can learn a great deal from our library colleagues on many many fronts. One of these areas is the orientation towards service. Service to our students, service to our faculty, service to colleagues, service to the mission of the institution, and service to larger ideals such as privacy and the availability of information (regardless of rank or status at the institution). I wonder about the degree to which this service orientation explicitly extends amongst my library colleagues to acting as connectors and bridges across people and departments.
We are always talking about innovation on our campuses. Our desire to foster innovation. To support innovation. To incentivize innovation. In my experience our campuses have lots of innovative people doing lots of interesting work. What we often lack is a way to connect these people with one another.
Is it fair or reasonable or even a good idea to ask our librarians to take on this role of connector? Or is this something that is already the norm, and I'm just seeing it now?