Thursday, November 25, 2010

library as a "creative organization"

Libraries are often known as places that are all about following the rules, whether it be keeping quiet, returning books within a certain amount of time, or cataloging things using a certain system. This makes sense: to organize, preserve, and provide access to numerous physical objects rules are essential.

But, increasingly, I think that there is a case for the creative library that breaks the rules. As our resources shift to big aggregations on the network (JSTOR, LexisNexis, Ebscohost), less of our work will be about locally replicating what thousands of other libraries are doing, and more of it will have to do with strategically advancing the missions of our institutions in creative ways.

This creativity should flow through research and information management techniques that we teach students as they navigate a complex information landscape. It should surface in publications that explain how our resources and services can support local research and teaching. It should emerge in complex digital projects that we manage to support faculty and student research. It should show through in events that we put on that better connect our communities. It is also needed as we continue to manage an increasingly complex array of analog and digital media that we must access and preserve, often most effectively with consortial partners.

I don't want to throw out the rules. Rules and standards are still essential for much of what we do, and if we don't have folks who can put the right systems in place and utilize them with attention to detail, we'll certainly fail at our most basic functions. Furthermore, rules often give our creative projects a framework in which to flourish. For instance, the standards EAD and TEI are often the backbone of our digital projects.

But how do we bring creativity into our organizations while retaining our rule-bound needs? A topic for another post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

counter trends in a digital world

I enjoy the continuous churn of the digital world. I like change and evolution in the information landscape and exploring new digital media. I am a huge advocate for the library's role as a guide in that changing landscape.

However, I wonder, as the world goes more digital, is there a counter-trend role for the library? With the world around it changing in favor of digital media, could it be that our printed collections and our expertise in printed media become that much more important?

I'm often intrigued by niche industries that defy a bigger trend by going back and doing something retro, generally in a high quality way. Economies of scale say that goods like beer and coffee can be mass produced cheaply, yet I see hundreds of examples of small scale producers of these products using artisan methods thriving, especially here in the Northwest. There has been a resurgence of vinyl recordings sold recently. You could argue that liberal arts colleges fit this model also.

I do think there are a few print-centric roles that libraries will continue to play as the world shifts more digital. First, the transition to digital is and will be messy and fragmented. We'll continue to maintain materials in print that you can't get digitally anywhere and we may be especially appreciated for doing so. At times when media change fast, we maintain the ability to access and preserve those out-of-favor formats.

In a liberal arts curriculum, print culture will continue to be an important aspect of the humanities. Faculty will want their students to encounter texts in their original form and many will ask their students to study media in their native form from earlier times. Library print collections, especially special collections will be a laboratory for doing so. For example, one of our English professors is working closely with our Special Collections to expose her students to the kind of letterpress printing done by Virgina Woolf's Hogarth Press in the 1920s.

We're fortunate enough to host the Berberis Press out of our special collections, a small press that does poetry broadsides and occasional publications. The Berberis press has done collaborations between poetry and graphic design courses, in which the design students create broadsides for the student poets. We've also begun tapping into EM-space, a Portland based book arts center. This will enable the Berberis press to do some cool letter press printing projects. The book arts is a great way that the library can creatively support arts and literature. It's also a great creative outlet for staff.

Strong connections to the culture of books is key. The University of Puget Sound Library put on a book collecting contest for students to: "encourage undergraduate students at Puget Sound to read for enjoyment and to develop personal libraries throughout their lives, to appreciate the special qualities of printed or illustrated works, and to read, research and preserve the collected works for pleasure and scholarship." I'm reminded of the thriving world of book collecting almost everyday as I receive a beautiful catalog from a rare book dealer intended for my predecessor, Jim Kopp.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Watzek Annual Report: The Short Form Version

Every year, the library puts out an annual report. For this year, we decided to try something a little different and create an easily digestible "short form" version of it. The idea was to brag about a few different areas of our work: building collections, engaging in teaching and research, exploring unique source material, and sponsoring exhibits and events.

Thanks to Anneliese Dehner, who designed the report. It's a trifold design with four doublesided pages. Look for it in your mailbox.

Watzek Library 2009-10 Short Form Annual Report


Today, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2010, I begin this blog. With the campus largely empty this morning due to icy roads and the library lightly staffed due to the holiday week, there is a strange quietness that has prompted me to write.

Three months into an interim directorship at Watzek Library, Lewis & Clark College, I've decided to put together a blog to record some of my thoughts and experiences about the liberal arts college library. The college library is a beloved institution and at the same time a problematic beast with an uncertain future. Its changing nature and the competing visions of what it is and ultimate can be make this job an interesting one.

The theses behind this blog is that a liberal arts college library can be a strategic asset for its parent institution. Small colleges need to distinguish themselves from one another to thrive. I believe that the library can help a college do this in a variety of ways. If you're interested in how this can happen, read on.