This month, ARL executive director Elliott Shore begins a one-year term as editor of the E-Content department of EDUCAUSE Review, EDUCAUSE’s bimonthly magazine about IT and higher education. Under Shore’s leadership in 2014, the E-Content columns will explore different aspects of the work of the Committee on Coherence at Scale, a group sponsored by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and Vanderbilt University. The committee is analyzing emerging national-scale digital projects and their potential to help transform higher education in terms of scholarly productivity, teaching, cost-efficiency, and sustainability. The committee aims to ensure the programmatic, concerted, and efficient development of large-scale projects that, if built as coherent elements of an emerging digital environment, will significantly enhance scholarly productivity and enrich teaching.
In the January/February E-Content column, Shore kicks off his editorship with an essay on “Coherence at Scale and the Research Library of the Future.” He notes that many of the challenges faced by library and IT professionals in academia have developed from the origins of the modern research university:
In the mid-to-late nineteenth century, many people thought that the increasingly complex world that was emerging could be managed by reducing each problem to discrete parts and tasks. The library embodied this idea: the separation of spaces into distinct work areas and the development of library stacks, file drawers, and filing cabinets were closely linked with modern corporate techniques of classifying information and categorizing tasks…One of the key assumptions lying at the root of this conception of the world is that knowledge and expertise, and the research products on which they are built, are also discrete and finished—built up slowly, preserved and maintained by experts with technical training in various disciplines. But the penetration of the dynamic, changeable nature of digital, web-based, linked information technologies into colleges and universities and research libraries exposed the assumptions behind some of the fixed structures into which we have organized ourselves and how we think about our work.
Shore is optimistic that research libraries can “find a middle ground” between the old way of organizing the world into fixed compartments and the new, fluid reality. He notes that the community needs to “go beyond the notion of a collection that is housed somewhere in a discrete location and move toward thinking about how to connect all of us in academia in a web that facilitates sophisticated research…the answers to the age-old question of the universal library, if it is an attainable idea, do not lie in our own institutional precincts but call for systemic, global change.” There are many barriers to achieving this vision of the universal library, but the Committee on Coherence at Scale is attempting to address those barriers and determine whether “a holistic approach can help to provide the basis of the research library of the future.”
Watch for five additional E-Content columns on the work of the Committee on Coherence at Scale throughout 2014.
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. Its mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.