Will we Always Need Libraries to Locate Information?

The Ithaka organization recently released the analysis of a 2006 study examining the role of the library in higher education. The report, Ithaka’s 2006 Studies of Key Stakeholders in The Digital Transformation in Higher Education, describes the findings of surveys distributed to faculty and librarians across the nation. While I found considerable value in the findings and recommendations, the report also prompted me to contemplate perceptions of the roles that modern librarians play. My questions regarding the roles of the library were further amplified by Steven Bell’s blog entry The Question they Forgot to Ask.

In order to conduct the survey, the authors had to define specific roles of the library, and thus librarians. They summarized three roles:

  1. Purchaser: paying for resources (journals, books and databases)
  2. Archiver: archiving, preserving and keeping track of resources
  3. Gateway: locating information for research

One of the interesting findings in respect to these roles is that faculty perceive the importance of the role of the library as a “gateway” declining. In contrast, over 90% of librarians perceive this role as very important.

As Bell emphasized in his blog, it is possible that there is another role that should be considered; the library as “instructional partner” or “partner in achieving student learning outcomes.” While the study couldn’t possibly examine ALL roles of the library, I began to think of my own perception and wondered if there are other important roles missing here. To me, I find value in the library as “information literacy authority and educator”.  This is more than the gateway idea because it isn’t just simply locating information, it’s thinking critically about information and evaluating how to best use results. These critical thinking skills are essential, and may not be addressed in the traditional curriculum.

Perhaps this is implied in the gateway notion, however I wonder if faculty thought of it this way when they took the survey? If they did consider this, is it possible that faculty believe that students and the faculty themselves will be needing less help critically evaluating the usefulness of of information in the future?

Other questions that bubble up for me when reading this report (that could in no way be covered in this report):

  • How do students perceive the role of the library?
  • How does the role of the library in higher ed compare to the role in K-12?
  • What is the perception of public libraries?

I welcome your thoughts!

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