Saturday, June 28, 2008

Information Commons: A New Concept?

For my final roundtable of the conference, I attended the Information Commons roundtable led by members of the Information Commons staff from Asbury Theological Seminary. Last year, quite a large group attended their presentation on the Information Commons model; this was a much smaller group interested in continuing the conversation about how Asbury has made the Information Commons model work for them.

Asbury established their Information Commons in 2003, but, due to faculty demand, they added a Faculty Information Commons (FIC) in 2004. The FIC is staffed with four people drawn from other parts of the library and information technology areas: one librarian, one person from I.T., one person from media services, and one person from ExL, the extended learning program using Moodle for online courses. The FIC supports around 50 full time faculty members plus many additional adjuncts, assisting them with online course development, providing media services, and training them in the use of software and media devices. The result has not only been greater collaboration with the faculty in teaching and learning, but a greater horizontal collaboration across library and information technology staff as well.

Jared Porter and Paul Tippey also shared a number of observations based on Transforming Library Service Through Information Commons, by D. Russell Bailey and Barbara Gunther Tierney. According to Bailey and Tierney, institutions that move from the traditional separation between Information Technology departments and the library to a shared Information Commons model go through four stages:

I. Adjustment level -- there may be a computer lab in the library, but its functions are separate or it is run by library staff.

II. Isolated change -- library computers include more productivity software, and there is some integration of staff functions across departments.

III. Far-Leading change -- the library and I.T. share in collaboration with faculty, and the boundaries of the library become functional rather than physical.

IV. Transformational change -- there is full integration of library and I.T. functions, and the resulting Information Commons is an active participant in the educational mission of the institution.

As institutions move through these four stages, the tendency is for service models to become less data-centric or collection-centric and to become more user-centric in both their accommodation for user needs and their presentation of I.C. services.

I have not read Bailey and Tierney's book, and listening to the Asbury staff, it is clear that the Asbury I.C. is a vital part of Asbury's educational program that is successfully meeting the needs of both faculty and students for both library and I.T. services. I do not, however, understand the assumptions behind Bailey and Tierney's four stages. It sounds to me like a false dichotomy between a poorly managed library and a well-managed one. Even before the advent of the Internet and I.T. departments, a library's mission was never defined by the walls of the library building. Librarians have an excellent track record of serving both local and distant information needs through interlibrary loan, consortial arrangements, and document delivery services. As is abundantly clear in the ATS standards, the library is and has been a vital part of the educational mission of the institution. Close collaboration between library staff and faculty in teaching and learning is the assumed norm, not something new that dropped down from heaven with the advent of the podcast.

To the extent that the I.C. model eliminates information silos and departmental turf battles, I think it is a wonderful model. One reason the Asbury I.C. model is as successful as it is is because they have also ensured the continued delivery of traditional library services. In addition to their cross-trained I.C. staff, they also have full time librarians who are available for reference and research assistance not provided by the front-lines workers. I hope someday to be able to visit the Asbury I.C. as it looks to me like it has been carefully thought out and creatively designed. I am reassured to hear that in the midst of their many technological and departmental transformations, they have also continued to offer the educational services that librarians have always offered even without the I.C. model.

1 comment:

Don Beagle said...

Hi. I've enoyed your blog, and I might be able to throw a bit of light on the four Information Commons stages, since Bailey & Tierney drew upon my 2006 book, The Information Commons Handbook (Neal-Schuman) pp 51-53. I had originally found those four stages in a "matrix of change initiatives" in higher education, as part of an A.C.E. study, Taking Charge of Change. I applied the A.C.E. matrix to the IC concept in a paper at Southern Cal's 2004 IC conference. It met with such favorable reception that I elaborated it in my 2006 book.

The matrix is not meant to characterize the entire library, but rather the specific IC service component. A library can be well-run and very collaborative as a whole, but still house an IC unit that serves primarily to orient students toward use of the library's own databases. Such an IC does not co-locate functions of writing centers, learning centers, or media authoring labs, and so falls toward the "adjustment" end of the matrix. At the far extreme, some library Learning Commons facilities do all of the above, and even include "instructional incubator" spaces where faculty can actually run classes using leading-edge Web 2.0 social networking tools, etc. These LC's are sometimes developed as part of a campus-wide initiative to explore new pedagogical practises, and so fall toward the "transformation" end of the scale. There does seem to be a general though uneven migration from the former toward the latter, and the matrix is simply an attempt to provide a context for better examining and discussing the ongoing development of these facilities and services. By the way, Prof. Susan McMullen of Roger Williams Univ. did a sabbatical study of IC/LC facilities, and her 2007 paper pretty effectively validates the general planning schemas presented in The Information Commons Handbook.

Thanks, Don Beagle. Belmont Abbey College.