NMC Library Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 3 of 6): Key Challenges for Libraries, Learning, and Technology  

We have plenty to celebrate as we consider that fantastic intersection where libraries, learning, and technology meet. We also have plenty of short-term, mid-range, and long-term challenges to address at that same intersection, as the newly-released (first ever) New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project educational-technology report on libraries reminds us.

NMC_HorizonReport_2014_Library_cover_borderAlthough the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition focuses on academic and research libraries, the challenges that are documented within the report can easily be considered in the overall library-as-learning-center environment, and are also well worth the attention of those involved in training-teaching-learning outside of libraries since libraries so clearly are an important part of our lifelong-learning sandbox.

Among the “solvable challenges” (“those that we understand and know how to resolve”) is the challenge of embedding academic and research libraries in the curriculum. (Other trainer-teacher-learners can read this section and consider what it suggests in terms of embedding their own learning opportunities into the public and special libraries as well as the non-library settings they/we serve—after all, if we’re going to be effective in meeting our learners’ and our organizations’ learning needs, we need to be where those learners are at their moment of need.) When Report lead writer Samantha Adams Becker and her New Media Consortium colleagues suggest that “[l]ibrarians need to broaden their own concept of their role in the design of curriculum and provide outreach to faculty to help them understand how librarians can add to the education of students” (p. 20), they are reinforcing something any trainer-teacher-learner recognizes: we need to be demonstrating, in positive ways, how we facilitate and support the learning process for those we serve—and demonstrate, through our actions, how committed we are to being accessible to those learners.

The report writers also note how a first-rate learning facilitator “transforms the library space into a physical and virtual learning environment” (p. 20)—a challenge many of us have accepted and continue to explore as creatively as possible. It’s an idea well worth pursuing for anyone who still sees academic classrooms and workplace learning labs as the places where learning takes place and sees libraries as places to go (onsite or online) for materials that support rather than provide learning opportunities. As we continue to see the lines between “classrooms” and “libraries” as learning spaces blur—to the advantage of anyone interested in learning—we also need to keep thinking bigger and bigger to explore how we can more fully integrate library and other learning programs into our efforts in ways that connect libraries, library staff, and other key players in our local, regional, national, and global learning communities through a blending of onsite and online learning opportunities. (MOOCs—massive online open courses—as I frequently write, are just one of the many variations we are just beginning to explore.)

Moving to a second solvable challenge documented in the 2014 Library Edition of the Horizon Report series, we are treated to a concise and inspiring section about “rethinking the roles and skills of libraries”—a topic that again easily extends to any contemporary trainer-teacher-learner: “The challenge is in keeping institutions flexible enough to adapt to…new roles while finding leaders that can build sustainable models and collaborate across departments to meet the ever-changing needs of their institutions” (p. 22)—and, I would add, the ever-changing needs of their learners.

ARL_LogoA particularly intriguing part of the “rethinking roles” discussion is recognition of ‘the need for ‘superliaisons,’ or library staff that assist a variety of departments with their specialized skillset” (p. 22)—a concept drawn from the New Roles for New Times publication series from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). Where the ARL report on Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries includes a fabulous reminder that “no liaison is an island” (pp. 12-13), the Horizon Report inspires us to think about how superliaisons might benefit any learning organization or community of learning. Furthermore, it actually makes me realize that any great trainer-teacher-learner needs to be cognizant of the importance of being a superliaison in a much broader sense: being a liaison between what happens in our formal and informal learning spaces and what happens when our learners are called upon to apply their learning far beyond the confines of onsite and online learning spaces.

nmc.logo.cmykThe 2014 Library Edition of the Horizon Report series carries us further by documenting two difficult challenges (“those that we understand but for which solutions are elusive”) and two wicked challenges (“those that are complex to even define, much less address”). The wicked challenges of “embracing the need for radical change” (pp. 28-29) and “maintaining ongoing integration, interoperability, and collaborative projects” (pp. 30-31) are, like the solvable challenges, topics that ought to be on the minds of all trainer-teacher-learners—not just on the minds of our colleagues in academic and research libraries. And because the latest Horizon Report so effectively captures the essence of those challenges, it is already helping to shape the conversations that will help us at least partially address them.

NB: This is the third set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition. Next: On the One-Year Horizon—Electronic Publishing and Mobile Apps

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