Library Next: Notes from Academia Next about the Library

Bryan’s Alexander’s recent book Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education (Johns Hopkins, 2019) is an excellent resource for understanding trends in higher eduction and thinking about future scenarios related to these.

Here, I simply would like to note a few of Alexander’s comments about the specific role the library has had–and will continue to have–in shaping the future of higher education:

  • Libraries (themselves a form of information technology) have always evolved with technology, and they have been evolving with digital technologies since the 1960s. Highlighting information literacy and new networked information resources, Alexander claims: “Few professions have been so far-sighted, so collaborative, and so forthright in action” (35).
  • In one of his more positive scenarios, “Open Education Triumphant,” Alexander credits libraries for contributing to the “open paradigm” shift: “Libraries were crucial in the transition to open, as they were early adopters of scholarly material repositories, encouraged faculty to adopt open access publishing mandates, and negotiated with publishers” (166). With an abundance of digital content, libraries create “more multi-media materials of their own” as well as “new practices for research and learning.” The shift away from the role of purchaser enables libraries to “publish new finding aids, teach new classes, and explore the history of information to look for inspiration in how previous ages responses to upsurges in content” (169).
  • In another positive scenario, a “Renaissance … [with] new media layers added to college and university lives,” libraries share and celebrate student work. This is an extension of what libraries had been doing for some time, increasingly playing “a larger role in supportive community creativity, from advising on copyright to providing recording spaces and media technology, and archiving resources” (177f.).

Books about higher education rarely delve beyond surface assumptions about the nature and role of libraries, and those thinking about technological transformation rarely see what libraries have done, are doing, and may do yet. Alexander’s book is helpful and appreciated corrective to limited images of the library.