UC Berkeley is currently recruiting for a new Associate University Librarian (AUL) for Scholarly Resources. Berkeley University Librarian Jeffrey Mackie-Mason explains the vision behind the new position in a brilliant post on the wonderfully named Madlibbing blog. Mackie-Mason is relatively new in this role himself, so I read this AUL position as an effort to define the focus and thrust of his time at the helm.
After reading Mackie-Mason's post a few times, I find nothing to disagree with (a rarity). The new AUL is expected to bring to fruition a new, more digital-centric notion of scholarly communication -- but without abandoning print whenever it is still the best medium of communication. The new AUL should be an advocate for improving practices in scholarly communication -- namely, making them more open. Open access, open data, open workflows. And the new AUL should systematically understand the needs and expectations of users, and tailor library resources and services accordingly. The more familiar option, of designing resources and services from the librarian's point of view and then pushing that agenda, no longer holds.
Again -- nothing to disagree with. Mackie-Mason's post in its entirety is an extremely cogent statement about the dynamics at play today in major academic research libraries. And he correctly observes that "There has never been a greater time to be an information professional."
Nonetheless there is an inherent conflict in promoting openness and a new way of working, while simultaneously catering to the needs of users. After all, those users will sometimes want academic librarians to operate as though the Internet never came to be. Just add more books to the stacks, please, and hurry. To the extent that such users have power and influence at Berkeley, the more transformative agenda that Mackie-Mason seeks will be hard to produce. Librarianship for born-digital scholarly objects has no need for stacks but does need data storage. It would be a shame if the stack budget crowded out storage for those bits and bytes.
To avoid this, hopefully the incumbent AUL will frame their user research as a series of "blue sky," open-ended explorations about the future of librarianship and research. There are more urgent questions than, "How can the library help you succeed better?" That question is important, but even more important is, "What kind of library would we build if we started with a blank slate today?"