Via @librarythingtim, who is not touching it with a ten-foot pole, comes this Chronicle article on how librarians killed the academic library. Well, I like poking contrarian ideas to see what can be learned from them, so, poles ahoy!
The article posits a world — phrased as present, but I choose to believe future — in which the academic library has died for the following reasons:
- Nearly all books are readily available digitally.
- Search and database interfaces are user-friendly enough to no longer require instruction.
- Information literacy is integrated across the curriculum.
- Faculty, IT departments, search engines, and social networks have developed the ability to answer students’ questions on reference, research, and technology.
And so forth.
My question: is this bad?
As a teacher, I was always trying to render myself obsolete. If my students could understand Latin without any help from me, that meant I had won. And I think this is broadly true of human service professionals. Managers win when their employees can take initiative aligned with corporate goals. Social workers win when no one needs help with poverty or addiction or abuse any more. (One can hope. Would that it were likely.)
So if academic librarians render themselves obsolete — because information is readily accessible and easy to navigate, because faculty broadly care about and implement information literacy instruction, because a wide range of people have developed competencies in answering reference questions — is that bad? Or is the Chronicle author wrong in supposing that that set of conditions would render the academic library obsolete?