The heart of the University

Recently, it seems to me I have heard the sentiment that the library is no longer the ‘heart of the university’ expressed several times.
If not the heart, which organ? I wonder ….
Photo credit: taken by my colleague Günter Waibel at Sterling Memorial Library, Yale.

4 thoughts on “The heart of the University”

  1. Hmmm… a good question. Perhaps the feet of the university — holding up everything that happens above it in the information food chain. That’s not an organ, though. How about the lungs — the point of transfer for life-supporting oxygen. Wait…waste in the form of carbon dioxide also goes through the lungs…I’m not sure there is a counterpart in the library. The library is like the skeleton, then — the supporting structure on which everything else hangs.
    No, I think the library is still the heart of the university. It is just evolving from a 2-chamber heart structure (curating knowledge that is “done”) to a 4-chamber structure (curating knowledge that is done and knowledge that is being created). []

  2. But if the library is no longer “the heart of the university,” what has replaced it? If not the library, which academic function or organization or structure?
    Or do those who express the sentiment feel the university has been left without a heart? I wonder…

  3. This is certainly a comforting and sentimental thought, beloved of university fundraisers and recruiters. But I wonder if it’s really true.
    Libraries are no longer the sole curators or gatekeepers of knowledge for the university and in some cases (more than we like to admit?) we are not the main pipeline for delivery of that knowledge.
    When a student receives needed information online through someone at “Cha Cha” or some other answer service while sitting in Starbucks, how are we the heart?
    When a professor has his secretary order the books he wants, used, on Amazon or E-Bay, (oh yes, it happens..) instead of getting them via the library, how are we the heart?
    When a medical researcher uses a complex dataset residing in Singapore (and regularly communicates directly with the creators of that dataset), how are we the heart?
    None of this is to say the local academic library doesn’t have a vital, important role to play in the life of the university. We know the needs of our local users (or should). We have the expertise to teach and guide them to the information they need. We catalog and sort and preserve and acquire… But we are just one of many sources/guides/teachers/curators of knowledge that our users have available.
    If you’ve got to find a heart, perhaps it is no longer “the library” (local) but “The Library” (the global collaborative Net) in which university libraries, though important, are just players.

  4. Jake, That was special. Thanks.
    It’s not just unis, is it?. It’s all the institutions we call “education”. Your example of a researcher communicating directly with a dataset’s creators is such a good illustration of the key for librarians to remain relevant. Mine is from my 8 year old niece who plays mathematics with her learning group from Denmark, the US and UK.
    While the old world’s National institutions just fade away in relevance at least we know that the new ones are coalescing around global groups of interest, discipline and friendship.

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