12.04.2009

The Changing Needs of Students

Wow. I need to post more often. It's been over a year. Shame on me! (Well, I did have a baby in that time).

Next week I will be going to a webinar about the Transforming Library Services and/or the Role of Libraries in a Digital World. To prepare for this, my department head sent me a list of readings. The most interesting reading, as she pointed out in the email, was the comments section of Johann Neem's Reviving the Academic Library.

I invite all to read it. The article is short, but the commentary is priceless.


Neem's article talks about libraries, but it is not about libraries. It is about something much larger. Libraries, inside and outside the academy, have always represented the love of learning for the sake of knowledge. Libraries gathered print and media materials so that knowledge would be preserved. People came to the library to partake of knowledge.

And so, for a very long time, students entered academia for the love of knowledge. The degree earned was not a requirement to their daily lives. It was a pleasure and joy sought on its own.

Times have changed. A degree is now a requirement of life and students enter academia to advance their careers. Professions that as few as five years ago required a high school diploma, now require a college degree. Students no longer seem to care about the love of learning and for the massive debt they assume for the degree they need, all they want is the knowledge particular to their desired profession. The classroom is no longer a place of learning, but rather a means to an end. Students expect the specific knowledge they need and no more. Learning for the love of knowledge is expensive.

At a loss as to how to stem this tide, the academy looks to the library, the bastion of tradition, and is dismayed to find it sailing along with the tide. They see coffee shops, computers, mini living rooms, leisure reading sections, and they weep. What they don't see is that the library is doing what it has always done: preserving knowledge and making that knowledge accessible. The difference today, as opposed to the past, is that we have to advertise our services. We draw students into our buildings with the coffee shops, reading rooms, and computer labs. We get them to stay by showing them the fruits of our primary mission: immediately accessible, high quality knowledge that is specific to their professional goals.

Neem's disparagement of the library is really just a red herring. A deeper issue is involved and the appearance of a chameleon act is disheartening and makes the library an easy target.

This is not to say that libraries do not have issues with our primary mission in a world of digitization. We do. We still haven't found the proper response to Google and its descendants to come. Perhaps we should start cataloging them.

But, the assertion that students don't read books is preposterous. Until the textbook publishers buy the proverbial farm, students will be reading printed materials for a long time. In fact, the cost of those books drives students who otherwise wouldn't use the library right up to the circulation desk. This scenario is good and bad, but I'll take it if it lets me share my love of the library with the uninitiated.

The fact of the matter is that the needs of students have changed. We do not have to change our primary mission to serve them. We only have to change how we apply that mission to their needs. I sincerely hope, that in that application, we build life long librophiliacs who go on to greatness in their chosen professions and then become loving donors. Amen.