With many universities and communities feeling the sting of shrinking budgets, academic libraries have become an important source of community and university growth and advancement. This is not a new arrangement as more than 90% of academic libraries have provided access to library facilities and resources to community members since the 1960s (Leong, 2013, p. 223). Communities provide a source material for scholarly work. Mutual respect for what each group brings to the table is vital for successful partnerships. Leong breaks down the benefits of academic library support for both the library and the community:
1) Community access- Libraries can offer their resources to the community.
2) Information literacy- Community members use library resources to evaluate, assimilate, and create scholarly work.
3) Cooperation, exchange and partnership- Non-academic and academic librarians can share experiences, skills, and resources.
4) Exhibitions and scholarly events- The university is provided a way to advertise scholarly work through publicized projects.
(Leong, 2013, p. 220)
The following three academic libraries express these four principles through their engagement with the community.
University of Toronto Library
Community partnerships can become integral to both groups and provide long-term benefits. Community access has long been a value of University of Toronto Libraries. The library has served the community in one form or another since its founding through focusing on information literacy. The first major library built in 1859 held a public reading room and now most of the 44 Toronto University libraries are accessible by the public. Community borrowers can even access research libraries if special dues are paid (Leong, 2013, 224). While some might fear this hinders the service provided to primary patrons (students and faculty), it is outweighed by the numerous benefits. Access builds support in the community, provides a foundation for working with community groups, and acknowledges community funding (Leong, 2013, p. 223). The success of the community feeds into the success of the library (Leong, 2013).
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Digital repositories can be a welcomed boom for community partnership initiatives. For larger institutions there can be many partnerships going on at once, making it important to track and coordinate university efforts. During the course of UMA’s proposal to gain Carnegie community engagement classification, which requires a way for an institution to track its community partnership data, the digital repository project was devised. UMA library’s efforts to “improve institutional mechanisms for tracking and reporting activities and impacts” would allow a more holistic means of tracking data (Miller, 2012, p. 115). The key to successful partnerships lies in funding and sustainability. Digital records allowed college officials and the community to see the fruits of the program and plan accordingly. The dissemination of the results through an open access repository provides an alternate distribution method to costly academic journals, which weigh heavily on the budgets of many universities to host (Miller, 2012, p. 113). However, staffing for the community partnerships section was redirected in 2010, leaving its fate uncertain (Miller, 2012). This could have been the result of one problem pointed out by Miller: the inability to capture faculty motivation due to academic assessment systems poorly tracking individual contribution (Miller, 2012, p. 111).
University of British Columbia
Public libraries often have a section dedicated to local history, but it would be a tall order to document the history of an entire immigrant group. Academic libraries like no other institution can “serve faculty and the public as an institutional memory for the community” (Cho, 2011, p. 18). These institutions have the tools and expertise to implement costly and long-term projects that reach beyond the community. The stories and impact of Chinese-Canadians have not been well documented. To correct this historical blind spot, the libraries of University of British Columbia created an online database of community history that included oral histories, documents, and artifacts that would be easily accessible to the public. The library not only provided a meeting place for community members to tell their stories and digitization workshops to preserve them, but also devised a new classification system that took into account the intricacies of Chinese-Canadian scholarship. Not only does it serve the university with the creation of new scholarly opportunities and material, it creates tools for other libraries, schools, and institutions to spread and build off their work (Cho, 2011).
Do you think it is the duty of academic institutions to provide access to community members? Why or why not?
Hang Tat Leong, J. (2013). Community Engagement – Building Bridges between University and Community by Academic Libraries in the 21st Century. Libri: International Journal Of Libraries And Information Services, (3), 220. http://proxy.lib.wayne.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=llf&AN=90366004&site=eds-live&scope=site
Miller, W. A., & Billings, M. (2012). A University Library Creates a Digital Repository for Documenting and Disseminating Community Engagement. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 16(2), 109-121. Retrieved November 4, 2013, from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ975812
Cho, A. (2011). Bringing History to the Library: University-Community Engagement in the Academic Library. Computers In Libraries, 31(4), 15-18. http://proxy.lib.wayne.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rzh&AN=2011032405&site=eds-live&scope=site