Internal boundary changes .. the library in the institution

Lorcan 3 min read

It has been interesting in recent years to see how library boundaries within universities have shifted as relationships with other campus providers potentially change.
This is natural enough as the network has changed the way in which research, learning and administration are carried out within the university in important ways, with follow-on information management and service impacts. The creation, management, manipulation and disclosure of digital materials has become integral to a wide range of university activities.Think of GIS and survey data, data-intensive science, lab-books, learning management systems, digital repositories of various sorts, digital publishing initiatives, grants and publication details.
As information management becomes pervasive of university activities, it also becomes natural to think about how information management support services are aligned across existing and new organizational units. This creates organizational choices for the University in how it arranges information management services internally, and what it choses to externalize. These changes are usually driven by local personalities, politics and cultures, although you would expect patterns to emerge over time.
In thinking about this topic, here are some examples that have arisen more or less successively in recent years.
Library and IT services. Libraries and IT Centres (variusly named and structured) have interacted since automation began. As with others, the library would look to the IT Centre for general support with security, networking, office support, and so on, but maybe also specific library technology support. Early discussions may have been around library automation systems, but continue around evolving infrastructure to manage digital resources. Boundary issues are common.
As requirements evolve, organizations may look at infrastructure in new ways. Interestingly, Yale has established an Office for Digital Assets and Infrastructure organizationally distinct from both technology and library operations, but on a peer level with them. It is charged with creating the infrastructure required to manage digital institutional assets.
An early and telling example involves the development of so-called merged or converged services, a trend particularly noticeable in the UK. Approximately fifty per cent of UK academic libraries are part of larger organizational units which may include some combination of academic computing, administrative computing, elearning management, and other emerging digital infrastructure services [1].
Library and elearning. Most institutions now maintain a course management system, and within that, or associated with it, a range of information, communication and groupwork resources. From an informational point of view, think of reading lists, resource guides and course reserves. Or of the desire to make library resources visible within course management workflows (learnflows). Or of the management of course materials. Although they are now a major investment, there does not appear to be a consistent organizational pattern. So, in some cases elearning infrastructure may be managed by the library, in others by the CIO’s office, or in others in some other way. Levels of coordination between library and learning management may vary.
Library and publishing. As publishing processes evolve, as institutional research and learning resources are managed and disclosed to the world, and as self-publishing models are explored, so do boundaries between publishing, library and resource management come down. The University Press, or new publishing initiatives, may or may not be associated with the library. The University of Michigan has an interesting collection of activities under the MPublishing label: ” By bringing together the talents and resources of the University of Michigan Press, the Scholarly Publishing Office, Deep Blue (the University’s institutional repository service), the Copyright Office, and the Text Creation Partnership, MPublishing builds upon the traditional publishing strengths of the University of Michigan while creating and shaping sustainable publishing models for the future.” Mpublishing is organizationally situated as part of the library service.
Library and research infrastructure. As information generation, management, manipulation, and disclosure becomes integral to a larger part of research, universities are considering organizational management support for these. Data curation provides one example. In some cases these interests may have crystallized around a ‘cyberinfrastructure’ or ‘digital humanities’ organizational hub, or some capacity in a department or school; in other cases it is not formalized. Libraries are also developing services here and in some cases may host such units. It is interesting to look at the ‘history‘ of the Center for Digital Scholarship at Brown University Library.
The library has a persistent institutional role; however we have seen other areas emerge with overlapping, similar or converging functions. These have included IT, e-learning, publishing, e-research and digital humanities support, writing centres, research and publication administration. As the information management function becomes integral to more activities, and these activities are unified by the network, then the university may realign information management support.
This has led to various well documented boundary issues – between libraries and IT for example, or libraries and e-learning. It has also led to really interesting new service configurations which bring together previously disparate service areas as common interests become clear. It is surely likely that these new configurations will become more common in the next few years.
[1] Hanson, T. (2005). Managing academic support services in universities: The convergence experience. London: Facet

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