It seems that I’m on a run of bad luck – I turned to Brandeis University with the assumption that a comparatively young university would be more likely to adopt new technologies quickly, thanks to having more flexibility when it comes to tradition. Clearly, I have miscalculated. Brandeis, founded in 1948 and named for the first-ever Jewish Justice of the Supreme Court, is one of the youngest research universities in the United States. My preconception was not entirely wrong, at least on a superficial level. The websites are clean and mostly clear, they look up to date stylistically and remind the user of the higher class of digital newspapers. It is also obvious that Brandeis as a whole has no philosophical or technological problem with Web 2.0. The homepage for the university has the usual sort of links, but in the bottom right corner are four small linked symbols. They take the user to the University’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, Flickr photostream, and YouTube channel, all of which are obviously heavily used. However, moving through the menus to navigate towards the Library and Technology Services page does not make the change that I hoped to see. The symbols remain entirely unchanged – the library does not have its own accounts for these Web 2.0 services.
Maybe I skewed my expectations with the three universities I looked at first. Stanford, SFSU, and Oxford were all different, but so very competent and advanced in their own individual ways. I keep thinking about the Library 2.0 Manifesto written by Laura Cohen. “I will recognize that libraries change slowly, and will work with my colleagues to expedite our responsiveness to change,” she pledged. This could be interpreted as an argument for patience, for the acknowledgment that each library will change at its own pace, based on the combination of user and staff needs. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that student culture in cities as vibrant as Edinburgh and Boston fails to see the usefulness of social media and in this context Cohen would encourage all to focus on the second half of the pledge, to expedite change. Cohen’s other points, such as “I will take an experimental approach to change and be willing to make mistakes” and “I will not wait until something is perfect before I release it” point to the prevalence of excessive caution and foot-dragging amongst library communities.
Brandeis’ library has surely had opportunities to experiment. One of the pages I found in poking around inside the Brandeis websites is entitled Blogs @ Brandeis. It seems there has been an effort to make blogging freely available and even common in the Brandeis community. Going by the list of blog links on the right-hand side of the page, the project enjoys moderate success. There are blogs by individuals, organizations, departments, and even parents. In that whole list I was only able to find one that was specifically by library staff. The LibSys Blog, last updated in June of this year with a post entitled “Ain’t I a Librarian?” is by the Library Systems group. The sentiments expressed in this rarely-updated blog (seven posts in two years? Really, people, you can do better than that…) involve the feelings of being left out that the systems librarians seem to have. The top post enumerates the Library Systems Five Year Plan Goals, which are:
- Provide always-on, highly available, device-agnostic access to scholarly information resources.
- Facilitate and support collection sharing, new models of collection development, and data-driven collection management.
- Support initiatives to make available to the global academic community those materials that make Brandeis unique.
- Identify and foster the development of core technical competencies needed by library staff in today’s information environment.
These could all be supplemented by venturing into the social web, and it is clear that little to no effort has been made to do so. Point Three especially would benefit from a more aggressive web presence, and encouraging the use of Web 2.0 tools would go a great way to put Point Four into practice. As Laura Cohen’s manifesto points out, fear of change and of the new technology hinders library development in a big way. I have no evidence to prove that this is the explanation for the mysterious absence of Brandeis’ libraries from the social web. All I have to go on is what I did (or rather didn’t) find. Other than the LibSys Blog, the Brandeis library system seems to have no blog project, there is no Twitter presence, and the Facebook presence is about the same as Edinburgh’s was – a map and an address, no more. The reference page has phone numbers, reference desk hours, and a generic 24-hour-turnaround email reference service. I have to say, Brandeis, I am disappointed in you.
The last stop on our trail is the University of Pennsylvania, which I fervently hope will provide a positive end to this exploration.