Hello and welcome to Stacking Up, a blog for the "modern" librarian! The great thing about today's librarians is that we are so diverse: different ages, backgrounds, personalities, looks... this blog is here to share this diversity with ideas, insights, stories, experiences and opinions for anything and everything having to do with being a librarian!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Are academic librarians becoming extinct?

If you are a librarian and/or library school student, I really encourage you to take a moment and read this article that was posted by Karen over at the Free Range Librarian-- it really speaks to our profession and where it is headed.

Karen Schneider is the director of the Cushing Library at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. She has over 20 years of library experience and has published over 100 articles, along with 2 books. In this blog post, she responds to Jeff Trzeciak, the University Librarian at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Trzeciak (no clue how that's pronounced) gave a talk earlier this month having to do with the direction that academic libraries should be headed in. The new trend, according to him and many other college library directors, is to do away with traditional library services and replace them with large-scale digital projects carried out by PhD-level academics and  IT professionals. Why? Because digital projects put college libraries on the map and make library directors look good. Problem? Not every college library has the funding, resources or even the need for huge digital collections-- but they are being pursued nonetheless. The result has been many librarians quitting or being laid off because they simply weren't trained to be IT professionals.

So basically (If Jeff's vision goes through), all of us bumbling, old-fashioned librarians will no longer have a place in the academic library world. Oh, and all of us newly-graduated library school students? Yeah, those MSLIS's and MLIS's aren't going to land us an academic librarian job any time soon-- we may as well have paid $50,000+ to have a piece of paper to hang on the wall, because from now on directors will only be hiring candidates with extensive IT backgrounds and even higher-level (and multiple) degrees.

I can speak from personal experience that I have seen this trend occurring in university libraries-- even small ones, and that for me is what is so disturbing. Yes, large schools like Syracuse University and UNC have both the funding to carry out large-scale digital projects AND the kind of collections that draw researchers to their campuses from all over the world. Umm... smaller schools don't have either of those, and yet their directors are still forcing them to compete with the big fish in order-- I am assuming-- to make themselves look good. It's almost as if, and maybe I'm wrong, but it's almost as if the new plan is to have college libraries go in whatever direction is most gratifying to the director's ego. And you know what? I think that any director who values these kinds of projects over traditional library services will ultimately ruin the library they are supposed to be leading.

Our place as librarians in the academic world is to provide research assistance and information literacy instruction to students and faculty-- that is our number one purpose, whatever any director has to say about it. I can only hope that there are more directors out there like Karen who are still realistic enough to understand the value of librarians in the academic world. Otherwise, I truly weep for our profession.


  1. Wow, this was a really eye opening post! One of the superintendents of an area public school system made a statement about how librarians (take a deep breath) aren't needed since people can find information on the internet themselves. Although this wasn't said in regards to an academic library, it surprises me with how many people act like librarians are just disposable resources. So disappointing...

  2. Wow, it boggles my mind that even on the school-level there are those looking down from their "exalted" positions and saying that librarians are no longer needed- that is scary! I really don't like this trend in academic libraries of replacing librarians at the reference desk with students to help other students with research-- I am not even speaking solely from a librarian-perspective on this, either-- as a student, I don't want another student helping me do research, I want the expert/information professional who knows what they're doing to help me!! I don't see how taking away librarians and saying they are no longer a valuable resource to students because they "have the internet" is going to help anyone-- it denies students the information literacy and research help they need and it limits the ability of the school to teach basic skills needed for a lifetime.

  3. Thank you for posting this. Very well said. I do worry about our profession. It seems that everything is getting more and more specialized, and that may be pushing some of us out of a job. I graduated in May 2010 and it makes me sick to think about the large number of people who graduated with me that do not have a library job. It seems more and more I am seeing postings for Digital Something Librarians. I read the descriptions and I think to myself who could ever qualify for this?! The "higher ups" need to wake up and see that their libraries need "real" librarians.

  4. True that! Reminds me of the university library I worked at recently.My department's director was always pushing projects and forgetting about the real goal of libraries and librarians. But now I've gone from one extreme to the other. From a library that felt the need to pursue big digital projects that were sometimes unnecessary to one that is small and a bit behind the times.

  5. Btw, you can check out my blog at www.modernlibrarianmemoirs.wordpress.com!

  6. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks once again.
    Vee Eee Technologies