Future of Libraries: Combining Technology and Teaching

Kyle McKenzie and Corey Meade's 3D-printed audio bracelet. Photo by Marc Hall

This article, from American Libraries Magazine, discusses the future of academic libraries, particularly collaboration between librarians and faculty. Reaching out to faculty has, of course, been a hallmark of academic libraries for some time. Giving classroom instruction sessions and, when possible, embedding in a course to help students complete a semester-long project, has helped libraries demonstrate their usefulness in the broader academic mission of the institution. At the same time, these activities give libraries an opportunity to make both faculty and students aware of the resources they offer, which will, one hopes, encourage increased use of the library outside of the classroom setting.
Author Joan Lippincott goes a step further, however, in suggesting that libraries use trendy new technologies–along the lines of 3-D printers and Google Glass—in helping students complete assignments. Libraries have already promoted technology in the classroom setting, but that has generally taken the form of databases. Databases are probably not considered a “cool” technology, at least by younger learners, especially since databases can be cumbersome to navigate, even if they do retrieve more results that are useful for schoolwork than does Google. (For adult students who are old enough to remember plowing through the card catalog or paging through magazines, being able to search for and retrieve article instantaneously probably does come across as something neat and exciting.)
The other side of the coin is that, while libraries do possess trendy new technologies, the purpose they serve is generally restricted to the library itself. For instance, while students may use QR codes to play a game during orientation, how many of those students actually go on to use QR codes in schoolwork? In other words, their use pretty much begins and ends during the first week of a student’s college career. To some on campus, it may seem as if the technologies are simply there for show, without really having any purpose in helping the library fulfill its mission and that of the broader institution.
Lippincott’s approach solves both of these problem, while, at the same time, fostering collaboration with faculty and teamwork among students (many technologies are most appropriate for group work). There are added benefits, however, to libraries’ wholeheartedly embracing these new technologies. Beyond  just being useful for classwork, these technologies may, to many students, be a novelty, something about which they have read but that they have not had an opportunity to try themselves, mainly because the technologies are some time away from being affordable to individuals. College-level databases are likely a novelty for students, but students gain experience using a search engine any time they type something into Google or Bing. Even if the technologies are not required for a class assignment, students may have a desire to go to the library simply to take a look at them. (It is hard to imagine students, beyond the most motivated ones, exploring JSTOR or Hoover’s just for the sake of experiencing a database.)
Furthermore, promoting the use of these technologies in completing assignments increases the library’s relevance to students, particularly as a place that is more than just a repository of academic materials that may seem dry, even if some of those materials are online instead of gathering dust on a shelf. On top of that, it increases faculty familiarity with the technological resources a library offers. Just as with students, faculty may be aware of these new technologies but have not had an opportunity to use them. As mentioned earlier, including library technology in assignments gives librarians yet another way to insert themselves into the learning experience.
What are your thoughts on this approach? Does promoting library technology, beyond just databases and other online “research resources”, build on what libraries have already done in fostering collaboration? Or, is it another step away from the “traditional” role of libraries, a step that gives ammunition to those who believe that libraries are becoming too much a social space where students play with technological gizmos?


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