Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

Are you an edupunk librarian?

By on August 9, 2009

It’s risky business…talking about limited money/funding when you still have some money/funding. Some might suggest, based on this exploration, that if you can do without the money then we’ll take away what you have already. This discussion is more of an exploration in planning. Planning is important for leaders to consider, especially with the potential for limited funding and possible obsolescence.

Over the past week, I’ve been reading the latest issue of Adbusters (#85); the entire issue is a “book” on economics. The economics of moving beyond our current established paradigm of economic thinking and theory. The premise is to kick over the neoclassical economics bucket because it is not sustainable in our global system.
Peter Victor wrote in that issue,

A mature economic system – just like a mature ecosystem – would be characterized by maintenance and renewal instead of rapid growth. Humans living within this system would be educated to repair rather than replace, and would continue to learn throughout their lives: schools, colleges and universities would be springboards for well-rounded lives rather than just for employment. The point of all this is not to replace the pursuit of economic growth with a target of zero growth.

I started to write and then picked up the September issue of Fast Company. An article, “Who needs Harvard?(not online yet) immediately caught my eye because the of another theme I’ve been exploring over the past few years on the obsolescence of higher education. The concept of an edupunk, a growing movement toward high-tech do-it-yourself education, was pulled from this article.

The architects of education 2.0 predict that traditional universities cling to the string quartet model (where you can’t remove any of the players) will find themselves on the wrong side of history, alongside newspaper chains and records stores.

As I consider the current economic crisis in California, especially as it relates to the educational system, I clearly see our inability to sustain the unsustainable system of economics in this state. There is waste, yes. There are significant expenditures, yes. Programs and services are being cut, yes. For example, in my recent report for ACRLog,  California’s Community Colleges Crisis, I highlight the 100% loss of funds for electronic databases. The state determined that continued funding for this program was not sustainable.

The question on my mind today is about the sustainability of academic libraries, and perhaps the academy itself. The Academy have been protected for so long, a highly subsidized industry, and we are again being faced with significant cuts that will force us to ask how we are to continue? Are we a bloated industry? Are we ripe for innovation? For revolution?

Some will say that education is not an industry and that people have the right to be educated. We are not in the business of making money so we don’t follow the same rules as business. And yet, in the scope of history, public education is a fairly young enterprise and some have predicted its end in the coming century. At the very least, we may need to evolve in order to stay relevant and needed. My argument is not that education is unimportant, because it is critical, but more about how education can disseminated.

In the August 9, 2009 article In a Digital Future, Textbooks are History, the New York Times explores the end of the textbook.

The move to open-source materials is well under way in higher education — and may be accelerated by President Obama’s proposal to invest in creating free online courses as part of his push to improve community colleges.

How far off is the academy itself? No less than five businesses are discussed in the Fast Company article (2Tor Inc., Edufire, Grockit, Inigral, and Knewton) who are taking the lead in the future of education.

Now I need to take this out of the clouds (though I am very intrigued by these new companies) and bring it down to the reality of my day-to-day life.

My job is a Library Director at Santa Barbara City College in California. I work for an administration that has been very supportive of our library and our library services. Though our budget is small, compared to a university, we still provide a few dozen electronic databases ($75k/annually) and new books/periodicals ($125k/annually). Programatically, we do a lot serving 20,000 full & part time students with our 4 librarians and 5 classified employees. However, in the coming year we could potentially be cut up to 30% depending on my administration’s ability to find other funding sources.

What I want to hear from you, my dear reader, is what to do with the situation. A failing economic model, dwindling resources, and our relevance as educators and as libraries.

Here is my litany of questions for your consideration:

Can you have a library without money, without new books, without print periodicals, without subscription databases? What if the institution continues to fund positions (librarians) but not resources (books, databases, etc.)? Can we still provide a service that will benefit students? Do we benefit students? Faculty? How do we maximize our role given limited fiscal tools? How do we move the “library” forward in a potentially shifting educational environment? Do we have a place in startup companies? What should receive attention first (books v. periodicals v. databases)? How can we capitalize on the free resources and make them usable for our students? Are books, periodicals, and databases truly important for scholarship today?

I want my library to be a leader in providing top quality services in spite of dwindling resources, even if that means no books, no periodicals, and no databases. Let’s think outside the box, like an edupunk librarian. The knowledge and skills contained in the mind of each librarian is our greatest asset. This is what we can market. Help me make it happen.