Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Academic Libraries-What and Who are they for???

Academic Libraries- What and who are they really for?

As I read through the article by Wiegand I could not help but wonder, did Ranganathan have to do the Kitchen Classification Project to become a librarian?

When reading this section of this weeks reading you probably quickly realized that this was really a section of reading that was straight up history, hard core facts. One of the main things that stuck out to me in this particular section, “Academic Libraries” was the idea of who are the Academic Libraries for really? We can take this one step further and ask ourselves what is the role of the Academic Librarian? Are they teachers, gate-keepers, or just the common man who is willing to fill the position?

I really got a kick out of the section in the reading where Weigand touches on the idea of how Librarians are “viewed”. He talks about Germany and how they wanted to hire the best and brightest to run their librarians. I mean if they have intelligent librarians who know what they are doing then they are able to assist the researchers and better that outcome is for the further advancement of society. Yet he then comments on the idea of the American view of the librarian and this notion of; well we decided to hire the janitors because they don’t really have high academic aspirations, and they are reliable. Realize I’m being a bit extreme but I hope the point is taken.

I couldn’t help but think in this day and age how do “we” view the academic librarian? Does the “everyday common man” even know there is a difference between the public librarian and the academic librarian? Is there a difference? I personally plan to spend the rest of my life in upper education and I have to wonder what role will the academic librarian play in my life? Will this person be the person who holds my hand and helps me decipher all the information I have to dig through for my latest and greatest project? Will this academic librarian come to me and offer assistance, or will I have to muster up the gumption in my hour of need to go to this academic librarian and beg for help? Will this academic librarian even have prior knowledge of my topic, or will they just be wearing their homogenized belt of library research tools they use for every other research topic that comes across their plate? Will I be the academic librarian and how will I fit this role? I really would like to think of the academic librarian as my friend and colleague when it comes to furthering myself in my academic career as a teacher an artist. But I ponder this, if the role of the academic librarian is to help me advance, then what do they get out of it? Maybe I will be the academic librarian and I question will there be room to grow, or will I play the role of catalyst and assistant?

So once again I want to ask these two questions:

Who are academic librarians and what is the role of the academic library?


Katie Hanson said...

I think this point sort of came up in class today, but I get the sense that who academic librarians are (and this could be the case for any type of librarian) really depends on what the mission and user of a library is. Wiegand's article did a good job of showing just how much academic libraries have changed over time: from the books chained to the shelves sort to the more open (I can't really say 'entirely public') stance that most have today. The example of the Germans desiring 'the best and the brightest' for the role of librarian in contrast to the American perception of the role of librarian as essentially being put out to pasture is a good case of this. Germany was revolutionizing the methods by upper education was being taught; America still clung to an essentially medieval model. No wonder the perceptions of librarians were different--the users and purposes of the university that the librarians were serving were totally at opposite ends of the spectrum. Fast forward to today, with the vast numbers of students of all types and the proliferation of disciplines, it isn't suprising that academic libraries are seeming a lot like public librarians, because they are serving a much broader demographic. In some ways too, I get the sense that as funding for libraries of all types becomes harder to come by and various electronic resources make info seeking easier for all types of people, academic librarians have been more pressed to justify the costs of collections with the argument that their services are essential to the larger public, not simply the academic community (this is especially the case of such state funded libraries as the UW). So the line between public and academic blurs even more. My personal opinion, and maybe some of you who are going into academic libraries have different views on this, but it's the trend that I tend to see in discussions of access.

Deborah said...

Wiegand writes, "The status of librarians in the academic community has not been standardized; rather it has always been subordinate to the academic functions of research and teaching." In my opinion, the phrase 'has not been standardized' is key. The article illustrates how academic librarians are perceived and valued over time and by different countries/cultures. Wiegand makes it clear that there is no one model for the role of the academic librarian--it's very dependent upon the institution. I would be interested in research about American colleges and universities that have tenure tracks for librarian positions. In my opinion, institutions that grant tenure to librarians and require them to research and publish hold librarians and the work they do in high esteem.

As to Megan's question, I don't think there is one answer. I think it varies from institution to institution and, from a historical perspective, the role of the academic librarian is certainly not static.