What Provosts Think Librarians Should Know

by | Nov 9, 2012 | 0 comments

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One  of the best sessions was this humorous and highly insightful one with university provosts.  Many librarians probably don’t know what provosts do, and may only see them very occasionally at administrative meetings.  They may even think of them like this:

or this:

Provosts want to change their image to this:  all knowing, all seeing, and interested in librarians’ welfare.

This panel described the issues that provosts want librarians to think about.

Provost panel: (L-R) Jim O'Donnell, Georgetown University; J. Bradley (Brad) Creed, Samford University; Jose-Marie Griffiths, Bryant University

Brad Creed, Sanford University Provost, began by saying that many people do not know what a provost does.  They do many of the jobs that the president does not want to do.  He/she is responsible for students getting a quality education and ensuring that the faculty has the resources needed to do that and probably has the most difficult job on the campus (after the football coach!).

Creed said that librarians are the “GPS” for students navigating the information highway.  They teach students how to access, analyze, and evaluate information.  Librarians play a critical role on campus in developing information literacy and are essential leaders.  They are central in navigating the waves of change.  The economic downturn of 2008 provided opportunities to implement new methods of learning and information dissemination.  Librarians moved from being providers of information to being teachers.  They can make a difference in people’s learning and lives and show us the way to go in the future, especially by encouraging people to read.

Jose-Marie Griffiths, Provost, Bryant University, reviewed some of the issues that provosts think about including:

  • Economic trends:  Funding of universities, the ability of families to pay rising tuition costs, the continuing ability of faculty to relocate, and the ability to manage costs.
  • Technology:  Anticipated and unanticipated consequences.  Students accommodate to new technologies faster than ever before.  For example, we are seeing significant changes in content delivery.
  • Competition:  Student stratification in which they go to community colleges for a year or two, a rise of for-profit institutions, and changes in the international arena, where it may be less expensive to go to a university outside the U.S.
  • Geo-political:  ongoing immigration to the U.S., a drop in the number of domestic graduate students, building of international higher education infrastructures.
  • Structural changes:  we may see some major changes in higher education in the U.S.  Some smaller colleges may have to close because of lack of funding.  Public research universities are especially affected.  Community colleges are becoming major higher education players and are moving into 4-year and even graduate programs, and for-profit institutions are doing very well.

Library roles are evolving.  Open access/open data has spawned institutional repositories, and the funding model is changing.  How will we make unfunded research available?  The universe of authors is in academic institutions, but the universe of readers is outside.

There is a role for libraries in digital publishing and research in digital humanities.  We need new collaborative structures between the library and researchers.  Librarians also have a role in curriculum issues.  At Griffiths’ university, librarians are on all curriculum development committees.  They have a role in the assessment of learning and structuring e-portfolios.

It is important to recognize that we are interdependent in our mission and are innovators.  Librarians have been at the forefront of institutional innovation.  They are consortia members to leverage collective impact.  They can teach the rest of the institution how to be collaborative, especially as we move to leasing information instead of owning it.  A lack of cooperation would be a disaster.  There are many places where we need synergy in our institutions.

Jim O’Donnell, Provost of Georgetown University, told us how to keep the provost from becoming an ogre.  The provost’s day is filled with people coming to seek money.  But the provost also has constituencies and stakeholders.  To try to negotiate a direct relationship between the library and provost will probably not succeed.  The library must be viewed a part of the solution, not a problem.  This means becoming friends with the deans and departments.

Boards are part of the challenge of looking for assessment of outcomes, proof of the efficient usage of resources.  Universities and provosts need a good story to illustrate that.  Help the provost tell your story and illustrate your worth to the university.  The provost cannot be helpful in everything.

Two “asteroids” will significantly affect the library in the eyes of the provost.

  • Big data and MOOGs are coming.  Control of big data will be important in forming valid conclusions.  Libraries can be collectors and understand big data.  You must control the data and tell the provost who is using it and for what purpose.  Make yourself a player and you will have a voice.
  • The future of the print collection is changing.  E-readers are making a major impact.  Library collections take up very valuable real estate on campus, and many libraries have needed to move part of their print collections elsewhere.  The physical use of the collection needs to be thought about.  The next 10 years will require libraries to think about what to do with their print collections.  Boards are becoming less sympathetic to spending money on building more space for books.

If you can address these types of issues, you have a better change of turning your provost into an angel!

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Don Hawkins blogs about conferences for Information Today and Against The Grain. He also maintains the Conference Calendar on the Information Today website and is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, published by Information Today in 2013, and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits, published by Information Today in 2016. He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and has worked in the information industry for over 45 years.

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