"Why Madison?" Libraries and Educational Technologies
President's Journal —
Libraries and Educational Technologies, Carrier Library, Nov. 1, 2012
Libraries and Educational Technologies have a birds-eye view on JMU's educational culture
Today I met with Libraries and Educational Technologies, an astute, competent and committed group with a birds-eye view of the educational culture of James Madison University. From their multivariate roles in advising, educating, serving and supporting faculty and students across the university's programs, these professionals and faculty members are active collaborators as we try to instill in our students sound habits of mind and scholarly discipline. Their perspectives and functions cut right across all disciplines, along with their "mini eco-cultures," as I heard it put.
Vast scope offers lively and engaged places of inquiry
I like the mission of this group--to engage people with ideas and engage people with people. Given its support of the entire academic curriculum, Libraries and Educational Technologies is an organization with a vast scope, with Carrier Library, Rose Library, the Music Library and the support one would associate with maintaining, acquiring and accessing our collections and resources. In addition, the Center for Faculty Innovation and the Center for Educational Technology provide specialized outreach. With 1.8 million library visits per year and programs like Blackboard seminars, JMuse Cafes, and Faculty Flashpoints, JMU's libraries are lively and engaged places of inquiry. We reach beyond campus too, especially with our lead role in coordinating the VIVA consortium in the commonwealth, which gives many Virginians access to collections. That's engagement.
Becoming the best JMU we can be
This group had specific insights to share as to where some of our opportunities might be. I say that quite pointedly because, as I have been sharing during the "Why Madison?" Listening Tour, one of our challenges is deciding how to describe ourselves. We have many of the strengths of small liberal arts colleges as well as many of the strengths of research-intensive universities, and yet we are neither. Technically, we are defined as a comprehensive university, but no one outside of higher education knows what that means. And if you consider other "comprehensive universities," JMU is really unlike any of them. JMU is uniquely special, and so rather than trying to emulate this college or that university, we need to focus on becoming the best James Madison University we can be. I have been calling that "the Engaged University," for which JMU can become the national model—with help and support, of course.
Library professionals can help define what it means to be a scholar at JMU
From its birds-eye view, these library and technology professionals and faculty members are able to help us discern and define and discuss what it means to be a scholar at JMU. We have the opportunity to unshackle ourselves from traditional notions. Given JMU's strengths in teaching, team-teaching, collaboration, mentoring, faculty-student interaction, service, research, hands-on learning and our innovative and entrepreneurial educational culture, we have a wonderful opportunity to engage in conversations about what we mean by scholarly and engaged.
Let's take the conversation university-wide
Our Center for Faculty Innovation, Center for Instructional Technology and our three libraries can help us talk about how we can innovate further and become a national model.There is no law that states a university must regard scholarship in the predefined models we know to date. We can find new definitions that do justice to the rigor of existing standards but that allow us to set a new, innovative, relevant and engaged course. We must get ahead of the curve, establish best practices and become that national model. How do we assess (something we are known for nationally) in this new area? And what is our faculty reward system within this new scholarly agenda? I'd like to see us have a seat at the table at national conferences and be recognized as a leader. I look forward to having this conversation university-wide.
Special implications and challenges for our libraries
One of the library directors mentioned that many of our materials and collections are acquired based on the research specialities of our faculty, which have grown more varied in JMU's evolution from a teacher's college to today's hybrid university. Today, 76 percent of the libraries' budget is devoted to ongoing collections. Some of those collections are more costly than others. One of the questions I am hearing loudly and clearly is, "How do we scale our services and collections to accommodate growth in scholarly communication and diverse disciplinary objectives?" We must put this question on the table for Madison Future Commission deliberations across the university. As research specialties grow, what collections and support services do we consider high impact? In other words, what do we choose to scale up? How do we avoid being a mile wide and an inch deep? And in CFI's world, what is a high-impact process for faculty development?
The faculty needs extra attention in our student-centered culture
I am pleased to see that we have an organization like CFI to address the needs of faculty—in teaching, research, service-learning, and more. Because of our learner-focused culture at JMU, our faculty needs that extra attention. I am especially impressed by CFI's confidential teaching analysis service as well as its attention to our adjuncts, who tend to be left out of the faculty mainstream at many universities. We ask a lot of professors, and since it is their efforts that have created our unique educational culture, we need to support their needs. I understand that some faculty would appreciate a faculty club as a place to further their own sense of community. The networking, intellectual discourse and collaboration that might result could help us to achieve that national model of the Engaged University.
The role of space in scholarship
During our "Why Madison?" Listening Tour visit, we spent a lot of time talking about space—physical space and virtual space—and the role of space in scholarship today. On every visit I make to one of our campus libraries I see why. Not only is every physical seat taken every day at Carrier Library, Rose Library and the Music Library, students are setting up shop across the floor to gain access to critical reference help, technology support, and physical and virtual collections and materials. Carrier and Rose together provide a mere 2,211 seats to serve our enrollment. It is no wonder that our staff would like to see an expansion of Carrier Library put on the capital needs list.
Group learning puts additional pressures on space
Space will present special challenges as we go forward with our strategic planning, given that the demands on the traditional library are growing because today students learn in additional ways—not different ways. They still need the quiet, reflective spaces we often associate with libraries, but they now also need group collaboration spaces. Carrier Library was built at a time when quiet reflective study space was the norm. Rose Library was developed with 45 group study spaces—and that's not enough. With today's marketplace relying on teamwork, JMU's study spaces must accommodate groups of students as they work on projects, conduct and assess their research, and work out their approaches, solutions and presentations.
We must think creatively about planting library culture across campus
Given the challenge we would face in scaling our study spaces—not to mention our student media labs and support—we also need to think creatively. I want us to talk about how we can take the library's mission and culture and plant it in other campus locales. What spaces are physical and what spaces are digital? We must be creative about it. How can we build on our excellent and foresighted liaison librarian program?
Addressing discrepancies in classroom technology
I not only want us to think creatively, but as I have been saying along the "Why Madison?" Listening Tour, I also want us to dream big. For instance, can we link satellite library programs to upgrades for our instructional spaces? Given Libraries and Educational Technologies' role in supporting our cutting-edge classrooms, can they serve as a focus for new library satellite programs? I don't know the answer, but I am probing because during my listening tour, classrooms have been among the spaces I've been touring. Some appear to be state of the art, while the chalkboard appears to be the centerpiece of others. How do we address these discrepancies in our conversation about the role of space in instruction and study—and perhaps libraries?
Can James Madison become a focus for Special Collections?
As part of becoming the best James Madison University we can be, I agree that we must focus our Special Collections on what makes us unique and what can help our scholars conduct research. I appreciate that we've been focusing our resources on our own intellectual output, local history and a few niche acquisitions—like the country's third-largest pulp fiction collection. I'd also like to see us develop some strategic goals for the future that might include acquiring documents that strengthen our tie to the legacy of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution and the university's eponym. Goals like these can help raise the stature of the university, especially as we further intensify our historical partnership with Montpelier.
Information literacy is key to sustaining democracy
As one leader put it, "How do we prepare students for a time when they will not have vetted library resources? How do we teach them to be good scholars while they are here and wise critical consumers of information later when they will be faced with a completely different set of information resources?" I take that thought a step further. Information literacy is a fundamental aspect of citizenship, which in turn is fundamental in sustaining what James Madison would have called his democratic republic. Today we call it democracy. What specifically can an engaged James Madison University offer to students and faculty that is unique? Given today's social media and instant information culture, I like that we have these astute library and technology professionals focused on this mission.