Shifting the Boundaries of Academic Libraries: The Miles Conrad Memorial Lecture

Article excerpt

The Miles Conrad Award, presented in memory of G. Miles Conrad (NFAIS's first president and one of its founders), is the association's highest honor and the highlight of its annual meeting since 1968. The award pays tribute to a member of the information community who has made significant contributions to information science as well as to NFAIS. This year, NFAIS rolled out the red carpet to Lorcan Dempsey, vice president of research and chief strategist at OCLC, who gave the accompanying lecture on the changing face of the academic library.

As with everything else today, the business of education is changing, and Dempsey mapped out some of the new routes that universities and academic libraries are taking. He sees a trio of categories of academic institutions emerging: research/elite (facilities with a strong brand connected to global science and scholarship); convenience (community colleges focusing on continuing education); and the struggling middle (limited research facilities with high overhead), a business model that probably won't succeed into the next decade, according to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Dempsey, who joined OCLC in 2001, explored the networks that connect researchers to others outside their own institutions. Before OCLC, Dempsey was affiliated with the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and was director of UKOLN (formerly known as the U.K. Office for Library and Information Networking). He sees academic libraries now experiencing the effects of technological advancements, such as cloud computing, which free scholars to tap into research collections and content services beyond the four walls of their respective academic libraries. So in a sense, format will ultimately be less critical than delivery channels.

Libraries are trying to decide where to focus their efforts and spend their resources. Instead of emphasizing collection development activities and materials acquired by the library, tomorrow's libraries need to find ways to deliver their services to users beyond the library. …