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Retaining a Liberal Arts Approach in the Digital Age—Shore and Henry in EDUCAUSE Review

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image © Colby College

The latest issue of EDUCAUSE Review includes the final E-Content column for 2014, wrapping up ARL executive director Elliott Shore’s one-year term as column editor. Along with Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) president Charles J. Henry, Shore co-authored the November/December article, “Tenets of the Liberal Arts: Complex Thinking in the Digital Age.” The co-authors are members of the Committee on Coherence at Scale for Higher Education, a group sponsored by CLIR and Vanderbilt University that fosters emerging large-scale digital projects with the potential to make higher education more effective, efficient, and sustainable. Shore has focused the 2014 E-Content columns on initiatives of interest to the committee, including the Digital Public Library of America, Unizin, SHARE, and HathiTrust. As Henry and Shore state, these projects are “interrelated aspects of a new digital ecology in service to higher education…[and they] collectively represent a new, bold venture that could have transformative value for future generations.”

This final article in the E-Content column for 2014 ties the year’s entries together by presenting the collective power of initiatives such as the ones covered in the column this year. Focusing on the classroom and the library—whether physical or virtual—Shore and Henry argue that the popular idea that the liberal arts tradition does not translate to the digital environment is misguided. The authors observe, “The transcendent aspects of a course well taught lie in the interplay of minds….” This is true of library use as well. Henry and Shore note, “Fundamental to a sound liberal education is dialogue.” The authors encourage us to bring a liberal arts approach—questioning, seeking, exploring, experimenting, conversing—to the digital environment. We should not be content to “package known information and pass it along” in MOOCs. Nor should we settle for “a digital version of a 20th-century library” that simply replicates redundant print collections in electronic form.

Shore and Henry implore, if we are to develop a collective digital environment in which everyone can truly learn:

…we must remember what we already know. [The environment] must be framed by the tenets and methods of the liberal arts, becoming an extension of our finest traditions of inculcating curiosity and rigor, elegantly passing human understanding from one generation to the next, and acknowledging that each generation will contribute to, and possibly upend, that knowledge.

Read the complete article on the EDUCAUSE Review website.


The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s 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/.

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