The ACRL Task Force on the Future of the Academic Library

Of course it has taken me almost a month to write anything significant about my ALA experience. So many thoughts were percolating through my head the whole long weekend, and it probably goes without saying that much of it isn’t quite as vivid now, after the new semester has started and my normal life has been passing at a rapid clip for the last few weeks.

The extra weeks did give some of those thoughts time to…er, ferment (?), however. And one of those things has to do with the role and position of library students within the greater world of librarianship. As a copyeditor for and a frequent reader of Library Student Journal, I obviously think students have plenty to contribute to the field: innovative ideas, worthwhile research, insight from our previous careers. In fact, it never occurred to me that library students’ contributions might not be taken seriously. In my undergraduate experience, it was common that a professor would acknowledge the intellectual contributions of us younguns, even in published work. We were often considered collaborators, and I expected that would be doubly true as a graduate student.

Now, I haven’t experienced any of the faculty in my program denigrating students’ opinions and contributions. In fact, I think the Simmons GSLIS program does a great job bringing students into the decision-making process and allowing us to have significant responsibility and input in the program. Although even in a place where student involvement is a priority, it sometimes seems more like lip service.

One of the events I chose to attend at ALA Midwinter was a meeting of the ACRL Task Force on Positioning the 21st Century Library in the Competitive Academy (I would include a link, but any interesting information on the ALA site is password protected). It sounded right up my alley: I want to work in academic libraries, and I love to read about the changes happening within institutions of higher eduction (or, as they say, IHEs). And as someone who hopes to be working in those 21st century libraries, I figured it might be a cool thing to get involved in, or at least pay attention to.

One thing I noticed when I walked in is that almost everyone on the task force is…well…older. The roster shows that most of them are library directors or deans. Now obviously, people who’ve been part of ALA for a long time, and have been in libraries for a long time, are more likely to be involved in ALA and to be part of these groups (actually, I don’t really know how one gets involved in ACRL task forces and the like; do you have to be an ALA veteran?). But I was surprised that a group dedicated to contemplating the future of the academic library didn’t think to involve the people who will actually be working in them.

During the course of their discussion, a few of the younguns in the room piped up with some of their thoughts, and several of them noted that it IS important to look to the future librarians in the organization if you’re going to be talking about, well, the future. And everyone on that task force nodded and said “oh yes yes harrumph it’s very important.” And yet, I felt that any actual contemplation of what those younger librarians (one of whom was a library school student) said wasn’t really happening. It felt like the aforementioned lip service. “Oh of course our young people have great things to say, now let’s get back to the important conversation we were having over here.”

Maybe I’m being unfair. After all, this was just my perception, and subjective perception is, well, subjective. But the ACRL task force meeting wasn’t the only place I felt that my opinions were being disregarded. I’ll be paying attention to this task force, and while I hope that they will introduce some comments, opinions, and insights from the next group of librarians to enter the academic libraries, I’m not holding my breath.

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