Are you an edupunk librarian?

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.



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11 responses to “Are you an edupunk librarian?”

  1. Patti Hill Avatar

    Really great observations! It seems like learning institutes are following in the footsteps of traditional media. I work for a newspaper, they are facing so many similar challenges! I think that traditional media (tv, radio, print) will have to adopt new philosophies and learn to be more agile. Traditional media and education both suffer from the one way channel thinking. They've never had to listen before. It will be interesting to see if they all grow ears and use them. Great post.

  2. Steven Bell Avatar

    The good news is that it doesn't take any additional money or hi-tech to create a better library user experience based on totality, meaning and relationships. See:… and

  3. Kenley Neufeld Avatar

    Great links Steven and thank you Patti for making the connection to traditional media.

    Even though I recognize that user experience can be done with little or no money, and this is where I will focus, to do it at the level of Starbucks and the Ritz-Carlton will cost some money; I'm sure they spent a ton. Granted, we can learn from what they did in business and not spend as much money.

    Keep the comments coming.

  4. buffyjhamilton Avatar

    I had just picked up my copy of Fast Company and had started to read the article on edupunks when I came across your blog post while searching for the e-copy. GREAT post—thanks for the excellent food for thought!

    Buffy Hamilton

  5. stevesprinkel Avatar

    We will always have books. I am reading some right now. Libraries are like banks-safety deposit banks, They maintain information securely, even if containing errors, whereas electronics, particularly the emerging, cliched, infosources like wiki are hackable, apt to be contaminated, open to too much editing, unfocused. And the info, the writing, can disappear.

    I love both systems, and they should co-exist, but not at the expense of one.

    And I can not read with pleasure and physical patience electronic material. I would never consider reading Robert Caro's latest book on Lyndon Johnson online, ever. It would be too tiring, and not portable, not comfortable.

    Open sourcing implies the internet-based material. I am not afraid of the free-for all, but proof and hierarchy have their place. Your lucky your library is not critiqued by the sociopaths on YELP.

    After educating myself for the past 40 years, post serious institutional experience, including 1 year at Harvard, I think that Harvard is not going away because its like the CIA, or the lobbyists who make sure that Westinghouse and GE get Defense Department funding. Its need is self perpetuating by past and current members of the community and the future community that will want to take advantage of the fast lane that is Harvard and the modest number of institutions like it.

    How can alternatives break that clubby system ?

    The wrong people are tasked with deciding whether to fund libraries. These are the same people who considered closing the state parks right before the no vacancy season.

    My wife, ignorant of what I am writing right now, has just taken three books to bed with her.

    But I believe that all the new ideas, critiques of longstanding systems, wondering, doubting, is fine. In the end we will decide that a laptop can not replace a book, that laptops lead more people to buy books than vice-versa, and the problems with libraries are that they are too small and not funded well.

    We just got home from seeing the movie about Julia Child. It was all about a book.

    And a blog.

  6. Daniela UoPeople Avatar

    University of the People (UoPeople) is the world’s first non profit, tuition-free, online academic institution dedicated to the global advancement and democratization of higher education. The high-quality, low-cost and global pedagogical model embraces the worldwide presence of the Internet and dropping technology costs to bring collegiate level studies to even the most remote places on earth. With the support of respected academics, humanitarians and other visionaries, the UoPeople student body represents a new wave in global education.

    See what the United Nations has to say about us

  7. Kenley Neufeld Avatar

    I love you Steve; thank you for writing so beautifully (as usual) and singing the praises of the analog.

  8. Kenley Neufeld Avatar

    Thank you Daniela for bringing this to my attention; I will check it out.

  9. facebook-38307077 Avatar

    I agree that I am worried about higher education as a whole. We see it in the library because the shifts caused our models to break earlier than the rest of the academy, but who is going to want to pay for a class here, when they can watch world-class lecturers on YouTube for free? Or see MIT syllabi, etc. for free?

    Especially since many people seem to think that college is a “product” where they sit in a class and have knowledge poured into them, and then they go get a great salary, instead of seeing education as a “process” that is going to involve at least tears, and perhaps sweat and sometimes blood, as they challenge their assumptions and work to find the truth for themselves.

    Going through the process is worth paying for, but does that have to include ivy-covered buildings?

    So, I think librarians need to start showing faculty web 2.0 tools. So that we get prepared for the paradigm shift. Like Michael Wesch's ideas (

    as a start)

  10. Kenley Neufeld Avatar

    One element that none of the programs that highlight MIT, etc. is that we will still need the MIT's of the world to produce some of the content. Of course, if everyone/everything migrated outside an institution we would just have scholars providing content, right? It's an interesting environment.

    We definitely need to start showing web 2.0; on my campus I serve on two IT-related committees and am chair of the committee on online instruction and this provides a great opportunity.

    Do you work with my friend Cindi?

  11. Kenley Neufeld Avatar

    One element that none of the programs that highlight MIT, etc. is that we will still need the MIT's of the world to produce some of the content. Of course, if everyone/everything migrated outside an institution we would just have scholars providing content, right? It's an interesting environment.

    We definitely need to start showing web 2.0; on my campus I serve on two IT-related committees and am chair of the committee on online instruction and this provides a great opportunity.

    Do you work with my friend Cindi?