notes on information organizations

August 4, 2010

no laughing matter – are library websites any better?

Filed under: higher education, information access, librarianship, web site design — Frank Cervone @ 8:18 am

This analysis from Inside Higher Ed about a comic (that has gone viral) on how bad university websites are points out just how disconnected many academic websites are from their user communities. I don’t think there is much to add to the analysis except for considering how disconnected many library websites may be from their user communities. In particular, what are the library equivalents on the left side of the Venn diagram that need to be replaced by library services more representative of those on the right side of the diagram?

A couple of things on the left side come to mind immediately: the welcome from the director, the slide show of empty computer labs, “news” items that are really marketing pieces with no relevance to services or collections. Some of these things should be on the website but just not on the front page. On the right side, many of the items listed for the university site are also valid for the library: calendar/hours, address and phone number, maps, reserve reading lists, direct seemless access to all resources and not just the catalog.

April 1, 2010

on adapt or decline: change in higher education

Filed under: cultural trends, higher education — Frank Cervone @ 11:06 pm

Graduation capPerhaps what is most interesting about the article  Adapt or Decline by Anya Kamenetz is not the article itself but the subsequent comments. In her article, Ms. Kamenetz outlines a number of trends that have been discussed to varying degrees in other venues; for example, Richard Heller’s presentation on an unbundled education model at the PCF5 conference a few years ago. Some of the trends that she points are we’ve heard before: the open courseware movement, the ubiquitous nature of technology, and the reality that many of our academic institutions cater to “non-traditional students” meaning, of course, that our students are not full-time, 18-24 year old, full-time campus residents.

As is often the case in discussions related to technology, opinions are presented as fact and the taking up of positions tends to devolve into hyperbole. As one of the commenters to the article point out, the problem with many of these discussions is that they contain a lot of hasty generalization. Higher education is a broad community and different types of institutions fulfill different roles. The phrase “higher education” lumps together many different sorts of institution and practice. Institutions such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton will probably not have to deal directly with the changes in higher education Kamenetz mentions. The same is true for many of the elite liberal-arts colleges. However, for the majority of institutions, the issues Kamenetz discusses are things that they will have to address in the next several years. For institutions that primarily focus on preparing people for careers, regardless of how the institution would like to position itself, competition from the private sector and other disruptive forces will only increase. While it is true that much of Ms. Kamenetz’ article is predicated on a noncritical assessment of current cultural forces and probably overemphasizes the important they eventually will have, to completely dismiss her points because of that does a disservice to the debate on higher education. While it’s debateable how large an effect these factors will have, it’s pretty clear they already are affecting most of our institutions and we need to really think about how we will respond. Based on the comments to Ms. Kamenetz’ article, it seems many are not ready for that discussion, which is too bad because things are moving forward regardless of whether they’re ready to think through the issues or not.

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