To the Editor:
The executive summary of the Chronicle’s research report, "The College of 2020" (available at: http://research.chronicle.com/asset/TheCollegeof2020ExecutiveSummary.pdf?utm_source=at&utm_medium=en). discusses various changes in colleges. On page 2 they write:
"Colleges must be ready to offer all those options. The challenge will be to provide them simultaneously and be flexible enough to change the methods as the market changes. Faculty members must be flexible, too. The Internet has made most information available to everyone, and faculty members must take that into consideration when teaching. There is very little that students cannot find on their own if they are inspired to do so. And many of them will be surfing the Net in class. The faculty member, therefore, may become less an oracle and more an organizer and guide, someone who adds perspective and context, finds the best articles and research, and sweeps away misconceptions and bad information."
There is quite a bit that is noteworthy in this statement, but as a librarian, I find especially interesting, "There is very little that students cannot find on their own if they are inspired to do so," something that is certainly outside the experience of many librarians. While students may be highly adept at entertaining themselves by killing Orcs in World of Warcraft or downloading music, they often face severe problems when they use the web to do their real work When they discover that their reliance on Google’s "relevance ranking" can be simply insufficient, they often are completely helpless and don’t have any idea how to continue. Librarians realize that the use of digital tools has made many tasks in research much simpler, but other tasks are perhaps far more difficult than ever, especially when new tools with new idiosyncracies pop-up almost every other week.
Linking "inspiration" to "finding" seems a bit out of place as well. While inspiration is a wonderful personal and emotional experience, it can’t help anyone when they are finding information. Instead, people need knowledge and skills: they need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the tools at their disposal and how to use those tools effectively. These are areas that have not been the responsibility of the faculty, but have traditionally belonged to the librarian, whose job it is to keep up with innovations in "information access and retrieval," an area of almost unbelievable development today when compared to 25 years ago. In fact, in the scenario made by the Chronicle’s report, there seems to be no place at all for the librarian. Faculty normally know the collection and resources within their areas of specialization quite well, but it is the librarian who specializes in maintaining and searching materials in the collection as a whole.
I admit that it may not be fair to criticize a report only through the executive summary (although that is all most people will read anyway, especially when you have to pay $75 or more for the full report), so I am sure I am missing some vital information.
James L. Weinheimer
Director of Library and Information Services
The American University of Rome