Three lessons learned from ten years in academic librarianship

Aaron Tay reflects on what has changed in academic librarianship, shares some important lessons and highlights the importance of future-proofing professional skills.

<< back Page 2 of 2

Lesson two - no individual library or librarian can do it alone

This might seem to contradict the earlier point but I think it's clear to me that no single library can go it alone. I looked up the endowment fund of mighty Harvard University and it's around 37.6 billion by coincidence this just about equals the market capitalisation of Reed Elsevier/RELX.

It is not just only a matter of financial muscle but also of mass. Any single academic library (no matter how wealthy), will have a user base that is only a minuscule percentage of all users in the market and the big five academic publishers have vast power over all the eyeballs.  

The solution to this is of course something that many libraries and countries have figured out years ago with the forming of regional and national consortia to increase their collective bargaining power. 

The struggle over who will ultimately control the infrastructure of the scholarly communication system is pretty unbalanced. On one side, you have half a dozen of academic publishers who have name recognition and mind-share of scholars all over the world. On the other side you have hundreds if not thousands of University libraries which are not able to organise effectively as a cohesive force.

It's unclear if the efforts of organisations like Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) for institutional repositories to coordinate regional groupings like SHARE will be up to the challenge, but individual libraries or even consortiums would have a huge uphill battle going it alone.

Lesson three - keep learning, keep trying - create value

I admit being a world champion worrier. I constantly worry what I provide as a librarian isn't providing sufficient value to our users. That my skills and knowledge will eventually be outdated by new developments. I feel very bad if a user asks me a question and I don't know the answer (and even worse if I can't figure it out after researching it for a day).

My general rules of thumb? If what you know or teach can be found by someone else with no knowledge Googling from scratch in 5-30 minutes, you probably don't provide that much value anyway.

Are these standards too high? Too lax? I'm pretty sure I don't reach that ideal all the time, but that's how I feel.

Still, I think this mindset helps ensure that as a librarian, I will not get too complacent. I like to think in my ten years in librarianship, my presence has been a net gain to society, the institutions I served and to users. But you never know.

So never stop learning. Whether it is information literacy, design thinking, project management, electronic resources management or just coding, keep at it. Curious about an area of librarianship, you don't know much about? These days there is so much information out there from blogs, mailing lists, webinars by vendors, library associations or real life conferences.

Remember as a librarian you often represent all of us. Sadly, I've seen too many students and faculty who have encountered less than capable librarians and have dismissed librarians as mere administrators, or as people who teach things that are self-evident. 


I can (and did in another draft of this post) go on in detail about this and other changes in the last 10 years. These changes include the increasing focus on electronic resource management, shifting from library management systems that managed print as primary to ones that now treated electronic resources as first-class citizens, cloud services, changes in how library spaces are used and managed etc but I realised this account while interesting to some would be somewhat subjective and you can consult better sources in these areas if you are so inclined.

Aaron Tay is an academic librarian in Singapore. He is the winner of many awards including Library Journal Mover and Shaker and Salem Press Library Blog Awards - Best Academic Library Blog.

This is an edited version of a post that originally appeard on Aaron's blog.  The original posting is available here.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

<< back Page 2 of 2