A Framework for
Articulating New
Library Roles
Karen Williams, Associate University Librarian
for Academic Programs, University of Minnesota Libraries
In the last decade, new technologies have fueled fundamental shifts in the behavior
and expectations of students and faculty. Digital content abounds and new forms
of information access are evolving, giving rise to changes in the ways scholars
communicate and disseminate their research. Libraries, traditionally focused on the
products of scholarship, are now prompted to understand and support the processes of
scholarship. The University of Minnesota Libraries have been a player in this paradigm
shift, and are deeply engaged in the teaching, learning, and research processes.
Over the past several years, themes of engagement, of “getting in the flow of
users,”1 whether in virtual or physical contexts, have shaped the University of
Minnesota Libraries’ planning and activity. During this time, a shift in our vision and
mission statements reflects the changing paradigm. Our current mission affirms that
the library is no longer the center of the information universe; rather, its strategic
advantage comes from a broader portfolio of assets: our expertise and value-added
services have become paramount. The University Libraries have two roles: as leader in
areas such as information literacy, copyright, and authors’ rights and as provider of
extraordinary information experiences that is, engaging fundamentally in the lives
of students, scholars, and citizens to improve individual productivity and the
achievement of their goals.2
hinking at the system level is always important, but it becomes
critical during times of significant change. Moving from a
model to an engagement-centered one does not
happen overnight. Systems thinking affects how we revise goals and priorities
and how we reevaluate the infrastructure in place. We cannot look at parts of
the organization in isolation but must examine how the pieces support and
reinforce each other. Systems thinking helps us to keep department goals and
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