The Opening Session: 21st Century Academic Library

by | Nov 9, 2017 | 0 comments


Loretta Parham

Loretta Parham

Loretta Parham, Director of the Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center, (AUC) presented the opening keynote address on the 21st century academic library: the promise, plan, and response. A recent article in USA Today said that librarian will be one of the 8 careers that will become extinct by 2030. But librarians are focused on the entire pool of knowledge. Something must change quickly in our libraries. We must help professionals stay afloat in the river of digital information.

The corporate sector is also interested in professionals with the skills of librarians. One of our challenges is trying to lead a 21st century organization with the support of a 20th century HR organization. We are at a moment of change; the most significant one is happening with staffing. Who is doing the work? Who are we hiring and retraining?

As technology changes, so does the audience. We know about the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. Who is the new generation that is coming to our doors? They require a new way to deliver information and use our services. See David Lewis’s book Reimagining the Academic Library. We need to retire legacy print collections and deliver information to this generation in a way they expect. We need a materials budget strategy, reimagination of our spaces, and commitment to special collections. We must infuse the organization with our knowledge and skills, then hire talent to fill in the gaps. Get the library’s culture right and take risks, have a plan for our operations and services, sell our changes, and share successes with our stakeholders. Whatever we want to sell, we need to market it repeatedly over and over until our constituents say “Aha”. Once they discover us, we have them for life.

The AUC is a consortium of 4 independent colleges that was founded to serve freed slaves. Its shared library was established in 1981. The library operated well for many years, and then it declined because the director was reporting to several provosts. At one point, vendors would not acknowledge orders, so the students would not use the library’s services. The presidents commissioned a study to improve the library, called the Fry Report (chaired by Billy Fry, provost of Atlanta University) that made eight recommendations including: incorporate the library as its own entity, improve the funding stream, and recruit for sustainable leadership. This meant the library would operate as its own company reporting to a Board of the presidents of the institutions. The funding stream comes from debiting the accounts of the schools. If the school doesn’t maintain accreditation they don’t get library services.

It is important to talk frequently about planning and work on both the long-term strategic plan and an annual work plan. Our industry has changed, and we must become attuned to its new vocabulary.

Old and New Vocabularies

Old and New Vocabularies

The new generation of learners has little consideration for many of the old things and our behind the scenes operations and services. We must be ready for Gen Z users who will be knocking on our doors shortly.


They have lived with technology all their lives and are very accustomed to changes. They have an expectation that we will have something different next year so we cannot rest!

Generation Z Traits

Gen Z people expect to customize their own brand, are physical and digital, realistic, see the result of not protecting things, and have never seen the government collaborate! They don’t want to wander in impossibility and have a fear of missing out–information must always be just a click away. They don’t know a world where anyone is not connected, look at everything as do-it-yourself, and don’t trust anyone to do things for them. Participation means nothing to them. They understand winning and losing but want to know why they lost. They grew up with technology and don’t accept it; they expect it. So we need to change what and how we are doing things in libraries. We have a particularly important role in preservation.

We will need to change professional staffing and will need to hire people without the MLS. The introduction of a bachelor’s degree in information science is becoming popular. Salary expectations are increasing, today’s hires are asking for more money. Digital transformation is not about a new startup; it’s about how you change a legacy organization.



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