Star Wars in the Library

Jim O'Donnell

Jim O’Donnell

Jim O’Donnell, University Librarian at Arizona State University (ASU) has become a next-generation librarian; in his presentation he adopted a Star Wars theme (Episode VI: Revenge of the Jedi–The Force Awakens) to describe some strategic directions for librarians. He said that we should think big and do bigger things in the library. There are opportunities for librarians everywhere. Whatever we think may happen in the future probably will, but currently, things are not working, especially with e-books. We find ourselves limited by simultaneous user numbers, checkout periods, and prices that are not sustainable.

O’Donnell discussed 3 priorities (if you have more than 3, you really don’t have priorities!):

  1. All students are online students. ASU has 80,000 students in full immersion programs and 20,000 in degree programs. We must think about all of them. Their use of library collections borders on the trivial; therefore we must change the way we imagine our services and have library services online with physical delivery points around the campus. We must deliver services wherever our users happen to be! We are too hard to find. We must have powerful and effective tools so that people will use the library’s search function instead of Google because that’s where they find the good stuff. But what happens to the physical collections? We need to make them available to all online students. Get past the “boomer books” that have justified stacks and have filled shelves for over 50 years. We are now custodians of the cultural heritage of the 20th century that can be accessed only in print in a time when user behaviors focus on what is here, now, and in hand. If you are not making your content viewable, it will become increasingly unused. Books also provide a serious conservation issue because they need to be repaired more often than formerly. They will need to become digital as the default, and at a reasonable price. Pricing does not matter so much but access is what we need.
  2. The knowledge use practices we engage in depend on accessing huge collections of information structured in various ways and accessible by powerful tools. When you do an online search, what happens to it and the pages you find? Did you take notes or download them to your machine? Usually, we look at the results, then go on to other things. When you close the search window, the search and its results were gone! We no longer should think of libraries as stables of knowledge but places where new knowledge gets made. Libraries have always been makerspaces! We are making new knowledge all the time. We will need to keep up, adapt, and get new skills in order to support new skills for our users.
  3. The printed book has a long and glorious future in front of it.  We will be conserving books, but there will be provosts who ask how many objects are being taken out of our libraries on a daily basis.  We need to be thinking now about what we expect for the print collection of the future.  We should have a curator of print collections who thinks about how we handle books in our off-campus shelving facility, what books are on the campus, and for what purpose. Depending on frequency of use data leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you take something out of your building, it will be used less, and then you wind up with a small collection that does not well represent the richness of the entire collection. Should we be rotating books to the front of the shelves to introduce users to things they would not otherwise see?  We need to be deliberate and focused in deciding what we do with our print books. What will differentiate ourselves in the future will not be what databases we subscribe to but what we do with our collections.

What will the universal library look like in the future?  It will not be like this: a collection of materials all in one place, or a collection defined by one body of users.

Star Wars Library

Star Wars Library

We will define our success not by who we exclude but by who we include. ASU has tripled the number of Native American students who get advanced degrees. We succeed when we make success possible for all, which means we need to think forward when we build a single library collection without duplication of effort. We must find a business model where we can make the most universal access possible.  All  individual libraries will become points of access and service.  What we collect in special collections should be made intellectually accessible to those well beyond the university community.  The library card has been a feature of our institutions for many years.  There are no good reasons why all the riches of the best of our libraries in the world should not be available to students in secondary schools or other countries who do not have the card but who have a right to explore human knowledge.

May the force be with you!

Don HawkinsDon Hawkins
Charleston 2015 Conference Blogger and Against The Grain Columnist

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