- We Can Imagine the Future, But Are We Equipped to Create It?
This special issue of portal: Libraries and the Academy grew out of a discussion about the need for speculative, creative space within the library and information science (LIS) literature.1 While venues for exposing important research and illuminating case studies are plentiful, the LIS literature lacks an obvious platform on which to speculate—to imagine the future. This issue is an attempt to create such a space.
To accomplish this task, several leaders from different sectors of the academic library ecosystem were asked to imagine the future at some critical inflection point. Based on their knowledge of current trends and emerging realities, the authors were asked to project a future for an aspect of this ecosystem they find particularly important or impactful. To challenge their thinking, they were prompted with several future-oriented questions, which included:
How will we define the academic library in the future?
What will a globally networked library look like?
How will we use information differently?
Where will the library begin and end relative to academic computing and other campus and network services that will be available to faculty and students?
How will higher education evolve and how will the academic library align with that change?
How will scholarship and its products evolve?
How will we define collections?
Will current large-scale collaborative efforts create the efficiencies and infrastructures they promise?
This special issue is the product of the authors’ collective response to this challenge, in which they explore the possibilities of what academic libraries might become or cease to be. These leaders from different sectors of academia, publishing, and technology share their thoughts about the future with the intention of producing insights that ignite our imaginations—to leapfrog the intellectual adjacencies of next week or next month and [End Page 319] land on a strategic horizon a little farther afield. By anticipating future directions, they attempt to help us build effective roadmaps to the future we are collectively inventing and possibly avoid paths that could lead to negative consequences. Responding to Johanna Drucker’s futuristic vision of the university as "a fully integrated and distributed platform" based in the library Kelly Miller argues that academic libraries and librarians must become future-present, fostering a new culture of learning where technology is iteratively spawning and responding to change. Within Miller’s vision, student learning is the focus of library activity, and the fundamental issues librarians should engage are how to cultivate the imagination of students and better enable their learning and development.
Like Miller, Frank Menchaca argues for a future focus on student learning support, but from the perspective of measuring an academic library’s value to its institutional mission. He discusses economic and societal changes that have "problematized the question of an academic library’s value and how it can be measured" and argues that measuring value in terms of support for student learning could lead to increased institutional support and relevance; and for publishers, the potential for stable sales.
Steven Bell tackles the future of the library user experience, envisioning "a future where user experience design moves from the periphery to the core of academic library operations." Bell describes a future shaped by ever-advancing technology and rapidly evolving user expectations, but imagines a futuristic library user experience based on core academic library service values.
As the pressure increases for higher education institutions to innovate, Malcolm Brown argues that campus information technology organizations should actively engage the teaching and learning missions of their parent institutions and serve as pivotal partners and facilitators of the ongoing change process. To do so, he argues, will necessitate "a rethinking of the roles of the chief information officer (CIO) and the academic technologist, as well as a new vision for the campus academic technology infrastructure."
Turning to the future of collections, Lorcan Dempsey Constance Malpas, and Brian Lavoie provide a sweeping view of evolving collecting practices in a network environment. They suggest future directions based on an analysis of the changing dynamics of print collections, academic libraries’ increasing engagement with the processes and products of research and learning, and emerging trends in...