Plattsburgh via Angel Wings: Sharing SUNY LA

| June 20, 2011

View from the Boathouse at Valcour Conference Center

I learn that the theme for SUNY LA 2011, Shared Borders: Collaborating for Success, is inspired partly by its physical locale. Plattsburgh is bordered by a sixth great lake and close to the Canadian border. It’s way up there, the “north country,” as they like to call it. For me, a SUNY LA “first timer,” it’s eight hours on the train from Penn Station, a preliminary lesson in the beauty and scale of upstate New York. There is wide open country, mountains, forests, and lots and lots of water – in some cases due to heavy flooding, as I will realize at dinner overlooking Lake Champlain and the foothills of Vermont.

Held June 15-17, the SUNY LA conference has many highlights — chief among them, the “connectedness” of the program participants and relevant range of sessions. Librarians from SUNY, as well as other community colleges, colleges, and universities, unite in rich discussion about information mash up, e-readers and mobile devices, ecoliteracy, librarianship on the high seas, writing tutors, softball coaching and research assistance, RDA cataloging and the semantic web, information commons, future of academic librarianship, and a wealth of other interesting topics.

The keynote address, Collaboration Hurts: Past the Point of No Return, is delivered by Curtis Kendrick, University Dean for Libraries and Information Resources at City University of New York, and former Director of Access Services at Columbia University. Curtis draws upon his experiences with “many successful and also less successful collaborations, and suggests that changes in academic library environments necessitate even deeper collaborations in the future.” He outlines multiple factors when considering collaboration, including its benefits, organizational culture, trust, cost, communication, leadership, resources, scale, and scope – drawing attention to the need to minimize borders in an era of “information hyperabundance.”

In the cautionary tale, How Much Is that Free Lunch, Anyway? Google, Facebook, and the Web Economy’s Impact on Intellectual Freedom, Joshua Alvarez and Valerie Nesset from the University at Buffalo show how web services are exchanged for various types of attention and data. They suggest how advertising-based models contribute to the lack of information control by users, prompting issues of intellectual freedom, and they advise us on the need for a balanced viewpoint.

Librarian-mortician Brian Sullivan of Alfred University delivers the most sobering presentation of all. He clinically summarizes his recent, controversial article, Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050. Key factors in the death of the academic library are: 1) Book collections become obsolete; 2) Library instruction is no longer necessary; 3) Information literacy is fully integrated into the curriculum; 4) Libraries and librarians are subsumed by information-technology departments; 5) Reference services disappear; and 6) Economics trump quality. We learn that The Chronicle changes his title to Death by Irony: How Librarians Killed the Academic Library, publishing it as such without Brian’s permission — prompting a deluge of responses.

We are asked to consider what academic libraries/librarians need to do right NOW to prevent our demise. How to chart a course to 2050 where people are discussing the rebirth/renaissance of the academic library, rather than its death? A book vendor offers publishing as a new way forward. The man to my right suggests “library as place” with activities that extend beyond the traditional (putting a gym in the equation). At this last session, I draw people into the Gottesman Libraries, home to Teachers College Record and Pressible, as I visualize TCP at the corner of 121st Street and our many book talk collaborations. I talk more about the Education Program, reflecting on the avid interest in our 4×8 poster and popularity of our MOO cards in the Warren Ballroom at Angel Center.

SUNY Plattsburgh - Angel Center Courtyard

The intimacy of the conference, superb organization, and mix of wonderful librarians contribute to the conference’s success. Heading back south, I thinking about borderless libraries and the constant change in our profession. I contemplate the request for a 2012 SUNY LA host, wondering about guardian angels in the absence of Amtrak hugging the shore.