EDUCAUSE on libraries (with friends like these…)

Library Juice readers on most university campuses should be able to read this new one from EDUCAUSE Review: “If the Academic Library Ceased to Exist, Would We Have to Invent It?” It’s a brief think piece that demonstrates why academic libraries are necessary, answering the idea, apparently familiar to the EDUCAUSE crowd, that they are not. While it’s nice to know that EDUCAUSE supports the fact that we exist, I have to note that the author of this piece, Lynn Scott Cochrane, director of the library at Denison College, does not include reference librarians in her vision of the academic library that would have to be invented if it did not already exist.

Reference librarians in academic libraries are the mediators, the guides, the people in an explicitly educational role. I think it shows a definite inattention to important educational issues in students’ use of information resources not to perceive the importance of reference service in academic library settings. These issues are obvious if you look at a typical college student’s research project and look at the bibliography at the end. I think the primary problems are threefold (maybe there are more):

  • Unreliable resources are used.
  • Inappropriate resources are used.
  • Resources cited are not actually relied upon in the actual cognitive work of writing the paper, but simply included in the bibliography out of a formal requirement (which can be obvious at the reference desk, when students want the first three articles that come up in a search, without showing any interest in what they say).

Librarians and faculty both have roles in addressing these issues, and neither side is doing an adequate job in most places, it seems to me. But how can someone imagine that the average student can do good research – find reliable and appropriate resources and use them with integrity in their research projects – without a reference librarian’s assistance?