Profound changes in the information environment within which learning and scholarship take place have challenged academic libraries everywhere, including ours. Teaching has become a more intensive, engaged activity for librarians, as the information environment within which students and faculty must learn to navigate has grown more complex and more politically, legally, and ethically fraught. The interplay between digital and non-digital flows of information creates new complexities for collection management and development. As digital information is dispersed beyond the physical library, opportunities have emerged for re-thinking the kinds of spaces our library buildings offer. New digital initiatives—including both digitization of primary resources within our collections and development of repositories for student, faculty, and staff scholarship and creative work—call for new commitments of time and resources, and for more intensive collaboration with our colleagues in Information Technology Services and elsewhere across campus. And the networks of cooperation that have always bound libraries together—through interlibrary lending and borrowing, consortial collection development, and sharing of expertise—have grown more important, while the relationships between libraries and publishers—especially in the debate over new, more open models of scholarly communication—have both strengthened and frayed. Today, no library and no librarian works alone.
Like academic libraries elsewhere, the Grinnell College Libraries have been energized by these extraordinary opportunities to engage more deeply with the College's programs of teaching and scholarship, but we are also challenged to identify the opportunities on which it is most important for us to focus. The possibilities seem endless, but making our vision into reality will require careful selection of goals and strategic use of financial resources and the time, talent, and attention of librarians and staff. Deciding among the potential goals will require collaboration with the entire campus community.
For this report, we have identified eight areas of library practice that we believe will be critical to charting our future path:
Information Literacy and Reference Services
Information Discovery and Access
Collections and Collection Development
Partnerships and Collaboration
Staffing and Organization.
Coda: Measurement and Planning: How We Get from Here to There
Each section identifies a critical challenge facing the Grinnell College Libraries, recommends steps we can take toward meeting that challenge, and analyzes the strengths on which we can build and the weaknesses or constraints we shall have to address in doing so. In some cases we were not in full agreement with each other about the best path forward, and we have tried to reflect that disagreement in respectful recognition that, if the answers were simple, the questions would not have been worth the effort of this study.
Libraries and library operations are complex: we serve many kinds of purposes for many kinds of users. Thus no single theme unites this report, beyond our core mission to serve the teaching and learning information needs of Grinnell College students, faculty and staff. However, our self study has been deeply informed by the College's current strategic plan, and especially by our vision of how we can help advance the goals of interdisciplinarity and integrative, inquiry-based learning.
This report assumes a relatively short time horizon of three to five years. This is for two reasons. First, the pace of change in academic libraries and in the broader worlds of higher education, scholarship, and technology has seemed to accelerate for at least the last fifteen years. It seemed wisest to focus on the opportunities and choices that are already emerging and to learn how to use our time and other resources to meet them. Second, to remain a vital part of the Grinnell College learning community, "self study"— understanding the kind of library we need to be tomorrow, and taking steps today to adjust our practices, redirect our energies, or confirm that our current path will get us there— must become part of our daily operational life. We have already begun this process through semi-annual library-wide planning meetings. This self study is intended to deepen that commitment.
Some readers will note that we have not explicitly addressed space planning in the report. This was deliberate, for we believe that before we can create a program for our facilities (whether new or renovated) we first need a vision of our whole program. However, we have identified a number of opportunities and current constraints that could be addressed through new spaces.
This report incorporates many voices. I am grateful for the commitment, patience, passion, and good faith that informed the involvement of everyone who participated. The first drafts of the eight sections were researched and written by teams of librarians, library support staff, and (in most cases) non-library faculty, administrators, or staff; the teams are listed in Appendix 1. Those drafts were reviewed in open library meetings, and after revision were shared with the Instructional Support Committee, Executive Council, and the Libraries' SEPC for comment. Based on those responses, we revised again, reconsidered the implications of what we had written, and revised yet again. With each step in the process we learned more about our profession and about ourselves; we are a stronger, more confident library now, with a clearer sense of direction, than we were when we started.
The resulting report offers a vision for a library that will, we hope, continue to earn the respect and regard of the Grinnell community: a library that is responsive to the teaching and learning needs of Grinnell students and faculty, and alert to the scholarly, cultural, and technological trends that shape those needs; a contributor to the intellectual program of the College, engaged in the College’s teaching program through a conceptually sophisticated, discipline-sensitive information literacy program; a catalyst for scholarly and creative exchange of ideas; and a gateway to the data, scholarly literature, cultural texts, and other records needed for teaching, learning, and intellectual life at Grinnell.
We look forward to the conversation that this self study is meant to begin.
Rosenthal Librarian of the College
9 March 2009
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