This background article explaining the rationale for the Conference Themes appeared in the CARL Newsletter, 18:3 (September 1995), pp. 4-5.

Re-Tooling Academic Libraries for the Digital Age: Missions, Collections, Staffing: Third Annual CARL Conference Focuses on Critical Issues: Background Rationale

This year's 3d Annual CARL Conference, "Retooling Academic Libraries for the Digital Age: Missions, Collections, Staffing," will endeavor to address "cutting edge" issues in a way that is both informative and provocative.

The issues are global--the purpose of higher education institutions, the nature of academic library collections and the kind of people we need in order to manage academic libraries in the emerging digital age-- but our focus is California, and most panels will include representation from the UC and CSU systems, community colleges and private colleges and universities.

In addition, Conference will provide opportunities to discuss these issues with colleagues from other institutions, learn more about what they are doing, and develop new ideas, initiatives and areas of cooperation.


The first issue is the very purpose of higher education institutions. Along with other institutions in society, academia is coming under increasing scrutiny and being held to new standards of accountability. Are colleges and universities really doing what needs to be done? Is it worth the cost? Are there more effective and inexpensive ways to provide what society needs? Do we still need campuses, the four-year curriculum, tenured faculty? Should accrediting agencies be measuring learning outcomes rather than traditional quantitative `inputs"?

What do today's (and tomorrow's) faculty and students in academic institutions really need from libraries? How is this changing with the digitization of knowledge resources and learning tools, and the decentralization of access through global networks? Is it still critical that libraries have employees with faculty or academic status? Why? How does faculty or academic status enable us to do a better job in providing the resources others need?

Does the digitization and networking of knowledge resources and learning process make librarians and other information professionals less relevant? Or does our experience in selecting the most useful resources, organizing them for efficient retrieval and effective use, and preserving them for access far into the future, give us opportunities for leadership as academia reshapes itself, and fashions new organizational structures for computing, telecommunications, instructional technologies, and networked access to knowledge resources?


The second issue is collections. What do we need to acquire and preserve at each institution, or on a regional basis, in order to provide effective access, both for the immediate instructional and research needs of our faculty and students, and for the long term needs of future generations of scholars and students?

To what extent can we substitute access for ownership, if "access" must be paid for through year-to-year license fees, or "per-use charges" to commercial vendors? What will become of the principle of "fair use" if most knowledge resources become available only on a "charge per use" basis?

Will libraries become increasingly specialized as providers of locally-produced information, lenders of purchased books, and brokers subsiding access to networked commercial systems which handle most trade and scholarly journals, newsletters, statistical data and other knowledge resources amenable to distribution and sale through global networks?

How can we shape emerging concepts of "the digital library" so that we insure the continued effective availability of the kinds of knowledge resources which are critical for learning and scholarship, as well as for the life-long learning and informed citizenship of the public as a whole? How are various current digital library initiatives and grant-funded research efforts addressing this problem?

What can we do to radically redefine our approach to academic library collections, dramatically shift our use of available resources, and achieve genuine cooperation on a much broader level than ever before? Do we need regional consortia, bringing in all types of libraries, with far more "division of responsibility," regional catalogs, patron-initiated online requesting, rapid document delivery arrangements, and regional or statewide purchasing and licensing arrangements with commercial information providers? Many other states are already making impressive strides in these directions.

The California Library Networking Task Force, under the leadership of the California State Library, has been working for nearly ten years to develop a framework for multitype library cooperation in California. This year the effort will be completed, and a plan for action will be adopted and carried forward to relevant governmental agencies for support and implementation. What will this plan have to include if it is to be effective in addressing the needs of our students and scholars? What can we in academic libraries do to shape the final version and help sell it to the state government, and to our own institutions?


The third theme deals with us--librarians and other staff who work in academic libraries. What do we need to know to carry out our jobs effectively? How can we educate and re-educate ourselves, to keep our knowledge and skills current? Is there still such a thing as a "profession" of librarianship, or of information management? What are its core values and knowledge components? Which staff in academic libraries ought to have that core professional knowledge and values orientation? Those staffing reference desks? Teaching classes? Catalogers? Selectors? Administrators? Managers of gophers and Web servers? Managers of OPAC's or CD-ROM networks? Those managing "access services" such as Circulation and Interlibrary Loan? Some libraries now assign staff other than librarians to any or all of these tasks. Is this desirable? Acceptable under certain circumstances? Necessary, as budgets shrink and we can no longer afford to hire as many librarians as we need?

Is ownership of an MLIS or other ALA-accredited degree any longer sufficient evidence that an employee possesses the core professional knowledges and values necessary in today's libraries, or should we adopt some form of formal continuing education or re-certification? Conversely, can we acknowledge that some staff acquire such professional knowledge and values through other academic training and on the job without obtaining the MLIS degree? When can we justify appointing someone to a position as a "librarian, " with academic or faculty status, if that employee doesn't have the MLIS degree?


Our Conference will include a talk on each theme by a principal speaker, and nine panel discussion sessions, each focusing on a facet of one of the themes.

Patricia Breivik, ACRL President, will speak about the mission of higher education institutions and the work ACRL is doing in conjunction with accrediting commissions and the American Council on Higher Education to reshape objectives and accreditation criteria. She will also discuss ways librarians can develop more of a leadership role within academia and realize her Presidential theme: "Every librarian a leader!"

Clifford Lynch, Director of UC's statewide Division of Library Automation, which manages the MELVYL online system, will speculate about the future of academic library collections, the potentials and pitfalls of digitization for access and preservation, and the implications of the trend toward tighter commercial control of published information as distribution becomes increasingly electronic.

Stuart Sutton, Dean of the School of Library and Information Studies at San Jose State University, will outline his vision of the changing nature of the library and information management profession, and the future relationship between professional education programs and the staffing practices of academic libraries.

Contributed by Bill Whitson, Conference Chair

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