New Presentism: Transitions as Opportunities

Welcome to part two of my series about outreach in academic libraries. Today’s topic – New Presentism. For me, the idea of new presentism means that librarians should insert themselves during moments of transition. What better time to showcase services than when staff and faculty move into different roles?

Not to beat a dead horse, but, dear readers, did you know that the higher education landscape is changing? Changing rapidly? Between this recent Forbes opinion piece about how humanities departments need to be gutted to the recent firing (and rehiring) of UVA’s president, there is much to be said about the myriad changes facing higher education. For some change is crisis, a time to scale back, hide, and hope that the budget axes don’t come for you because your reference statistics are just fine. But lately for me and for Hampshire College, change  has allowed for opportunity.

So often in libraryland, outreach and service are thought about in terms of meeting existing needs, but not necessarily anticipating and meeting new ones. Service is often framed in terms of responding to emails in a timely fashion or having a smile on one’s face during reference transactions. But I firmly believe that in this shifting landscape, we need to be proactive about service, proactive about taking advantage of change.

The digital humanities present significant opportunities to embrace change during moments of transition in higher education generally and in libraries in particular. Digital humanities is not just a discipline or a a new take on a discipline, but in the words of Barbara Rockenbach, a new service orientation for libraries. Moreover, it’s not simply a new service model for libraries, but a culture shift in higher education around open access publishing as well as new types of scholarly production and products. At Hampshire, my colleagues and I in the library wrote a a grant  application to get funding to host learning communities in the Five Colleges during the 2012 academic year. Sure, we collaborated with faculty, but we took the lead in project management, in the writing of the grant, in the facilitation of the meetings, and the vision to move our project forward. Out of this experience, I found that librarians have an important role to play in the management of new forms of scholarly production. We began managing this transition, leading it, and guiding it, as opposed to just reacting to it.

And that’s the key inserting oneself in a moment of transition: embracing change as an opportunity as opposed to something to fear. Librarians at times have been asked to know their place and serve their faculty, but the seismic changes in higher education demand that we question “our place” as service points. We must acknowledge and embrace that we are active agents in our students lives. After all, with the rise of contingent (adjunct) faculty, we are some of the only constants on campus. So let’s take advantage of our presence and take an active role in navigating higher education’s changes and challenges.