Leadership & Governance

Campus Libraries Rethink Focus as Materials Go Digital

Sari Feldman, American Library Association

November 25, 2015

Produced by Julia Schmalz

 

Sari Feldman, president of the American Library Association, sees a coming transformation of academic libraries thanks to technology. She says they are taking on greater roles in creating teaching materials and scholarship — and preserving tweets as well as books.

TRANSCRIPT

JEFF YOUNG: We're talking today with Sari Feldman, president of the American Library Association. Thanks for joining us today.

SARI FELDMAN: I'm so happy to be here. Thank you.

JEFF YOUNG: So college libraries have been going through profound changes as so much moves to digital. And I'm wondering, as you start as being the head of the American Library Association, do you feel like there's a moment where colleges — college libraries — are going through almost a moment of having to redefine themselves and even maybe prove their place on campuses today?

SARI FELDMAN: I certainly think that college libraries — I like to say campus libraries, because we're talking colleges, universities, all different types of academic institutions — are going through this incredible transformation.

And it's so much about the people who work there and the talent they bring to support student research, student researchers, and faculty researchers. The place, the actual library space, is undergoing a transformation because there's so much more collaborative activity and making.

The creative commons is happening there. And then the projects, the platform of what's happening, and libraries are not only gaining digital content from outside vendors, but they're creating digital content.

I think the Harvard Project, where they're about to digitize all that case law, is so exciting. They're going to make it accessible to the world. What could be better?

JEFF YOUNG: Well, I was actually going to ask you about a different example that happens be at Harvard, which is at their famed Widener Library, which is one of the — maybe the largest — library in the world as far as holdings.

They recently put in a studio, one of many college libraries, I understand it, to put in a studio, where it's almost like a TV studio, where they can make courseware and MOOCs. It's a production facility.

And I'm curious — this is a little different to me. How does that fit in with the mission? How do you see that fitting in with the mission of an academic research library?

SARI FELDMAN: So I think today academic libraries are less about what they have for people — so certainly, those collections are incredible and important. But they're more about what they do for and with people.

So they're really supporting student inquiry and investigation. And when students are taking online content, or discovering online content, they're so isolated.

But that library environment, that trusted brand that we've always had, is increasingly important, not only the relationship they can have with the people who work in libraries, but the cohort group that can be brought together in the library space.

JEFF YOUNG: And you mentioned publishing all those legal decisions. But there's also lately the open-access movement with journals. And this gets at the other side of a library's role of the so-called crisis and materials crisis in affording all those subscriptions that colleges need to buy to academic journals to meet that need for the academic researchers.

There was recently, in the news, a journal, a linguistics journal, where all the editors quit to protest what they saw as too-high fees by this commercial publisher, and starting their own open-access journal on their own. And then these things have happened over time.

But do you see their ever reaching a tipping point where that becomes the norm and there's a majority where it's do-it-yourself by different academics so that these costs can be brought down, so that there's a shift in the way publishing of scholarly journals happens?

SARI FELDMAN: I think that we're already seeing the shift. So there are about 35 academic libraries today that are publishers themselves. So where campuses used to have the publishing house on campus, it's now embedded in the library itself.

And I think they are supporting all this scholarly research and then saying, "and we'll publish it for you." And as platforms for people to upload their content become more readily available, this is going to be the increasing environment.

The other piece of this is the incredible opportunity to collaborate around research. So institutions are working together. And researchers are working together across these platforms. And isn't that an incredible opportunity? And we're so happy libraries are at the heart of that.

JEFF YOUNG: And so it doesn't sound like you see an existential crisis, where libraries could be — that is such a prime piece of real estate on so many campuses, these campus libraries, that it seems like as the space needed for materials does decline, it seems like, despite all these activities, since so many of them are virtual, does there ever seem a feeling of, oh my gosh, we have to remind campuses why we exist for your members?

SARI FELDMAN: I think that there certainly is an effort on campus for libraries and the people who work in them to be much more outward-facing, so to know their community better, to work more closely with faculty, to actually be embedded in class content in a way they never were before.

But I also think that the space in libraries, even as content becomes digitized, is still critical. First of all, the rich, historic collections are not going to be replaced or destroyed. And so that role that libraries have in preservation is absolutely essential.

I think also a place for people to come together around inquiry and creation — that's a role that libraries have really taken on. So it's bringing new life to some libraries that perhaps in the '90s were less used, or in the early 2000s. But we're seeing a lot of revitalized space and energy in the library.

JEFF YOUNG: Now you've spent a lot of your career — most of your career — in the public-library world.

SARI FELDMAN: Correct.

JEFF YOUNG: And I'm curious, what can campus libraries learn from public libraries?

SARI FELDMAN: So I think that something that is very common right now in the library transformation is this idea of being outward-facing, that we need to be much more directed by what our consumers, what our customers, want. And on the campus, that's your faculty, and your students, and maybe your alumni.

So how do you do that? How do you get to know them better? And I think that that is very new. I think there's also this tremendous opportunity to lead on Big Data that public libraries are interested in that, helping people to manage data and manage all this information. Academic libraries going to lead on it.

So two projects that I want to call out in particular — one is happening at George Washington and one at Syracuse — around social media: At George Washington, it's the Social Feed Manager, where they're actually trying to manage Twitter and trying to collect data around Twitter and the impact of that.

And at Syracuse University it's a similar kind of project called Stack. And they're collecting social media around the 2016 presidential campaign.

JEFF YOUNG: So they're archiving some of this —

SARI FELDMAN: Exactly.

JEFF YOUNG: — ephemeral material that's digital, I guess.

SARI FELDMAN: Right, and they're creating structure around it, and meaning, and probably data visualization, which is another very important instructional piece that is now embedded in the academic library. So what could be more exciting really, as a new — so it's the old traditions of libraries managing information.

But we're managing a very new form of information. And we have great tools to then present it to the broader community. So that's pretty exciting.

JEFF YOUNG: Great. Well thanks for sharing that. Thanks for being here.

SARI FELDMAN: Thank you.