Posted by: Emily | October 26, 2009

LACUNY Institute 2009 reportback

I was on a panel representing the young folks this past Friday at the CUNY Grad Center for this year’s LACUNY Institute. I shared the dais with the wonderful Jason Kucsma and Erin Dorney, both able and affable tablemates who made the use of my research day inside a conference room feel useful and productive. My colleague/pal Jenna Freedman, a member of the morning panel, has written up her report of the day here.

I was curious about how the day would unfold because I was not the only panelist with some trepidation about wading yet again into the NextGen waters. It turned out, though, that I had an awful lot to say. (I guess I usually do.) The day opened with Stanley Wilder, whose talk was engaging and interesting. He talked a lot about the ‘feral librarian,’ this new kind of professional who combines tech skills and some library training but who doesn’t necessarily share ‘our values’ of service, intellectual freedom and privacy, etc. When I’ve heard about this oncoming staffing train, I’ve often folded myself into the the definition. (I usually manage to make it all about me.) But I think what Wilder was talking about was the incursion of non-librarian staffers taking on increasingly important roles in libraries. At my last institution, the reference librarians were folded under the Academic Computing department and were managed by a non-librarian who lacked a background in libraries. This had, to put it mildly, implications for librarian morale. More than feral librarians, I think we face a future of feral tech people who begin to manage what we librarians do. That’s a very real risk, I think, and we should be prepared with arguments against such a shift in organization structure.

Wilder also articulated what I think is the argument: Libraries are central to the core instruction and research mission of the college/university. As hard as we work to make our subscription resources look and feel ‘like Google,’ they’re still selected, acquired, and organized by librarians who link budget to curricular needs. We know what tech people don’t know about the academic mission, and we need to remember and articulate that. Libraries still matter, for content and commitment to teaching and learning. I don’t think tech people have that native orientation.

I felt two elephants in the room, one the collapse of the economy which seems to more or less be freezing everyone in place. I know we’re operating under a hiring freeze, and most other places are too. How is this changing all of our calculations? My second elephant is the lack of an analysis of power as it relates to generational change. The nextgen conversation so often seems to be about fear of a youthquake, without attending to the structural limits that prevent me from doing much more than shaking mildly alone in my office. As a junior faculty member far, far away from tenure, I’m dependent on my older colleagues for access to library power and resources in a way that surely mitigates against whatever ka-razy teen thing I might otherwise bring to my workplace. I don’t know why we never seem to talk more concretely about that.

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