Rutgers' Future Charted at Libraries' Summer Symposium

In late July national education leader Dr. Clara Lovett, Rutgers Executive Vice President Philip Furmanski, and University Librarian Marianne Gaunt came together at a Libraries symposium to build a theoretical time machine and take participants five years into the future.

Dr. Lovett, president of the American Association of Higher Education, served as the keynote speaker for the "Envisioning the Future" symposium held in the Scholarly Communication Center and teleconferenced to the Camden and Newark campuses. Over 125 university faculty, administrators, librarians, and library staff participated.

Dr. Lovett charted the broad higher education landscape to which universities are rapidly headed. She noted that a democratization of knowledge has developed, resulting from an increased number of information outlets and increased expectations of access in our society. This democratizing trend has produced a generation of students who expect to find information sources that are user-friendly, unfiltered, and readily available.

At the same time, the rapid growth and proliferation of information technology has placed more responsibility on educators to help separate the wheat from the chaff. In higher education settings the traditional role of imparting knowledge has become less important, while guiding students on what information to choose and why has become a far more impacting role.

Dr. Lovett pointed out as well that our universities have witnessed a marked rise in diversity and globalization, a product of a student body that now encompasses many segments of American society and students from many foreign countries. Academic curricula have also broadened to account for an international scene that has grown increasingly interdependent.

In our era, a college education has become an increasingly valuable commodity. College degrees have become essential passports to gainful employment. Societal expectations have expanded, and universities are viewed as central and essential to individual and civic success. At the same time for profit colleges and other alternatives for developing vocational competencies are arising that challenge universities' purview over credentials and knowledge. To address these challenges directly, it is vital that universities coordinate with each other, pool resources, and select diversified roles. Libraries have traditionally excelled in forging such partnerships and will see these efforts attain greater prominence in the years ahead.

University Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Philip Furmanski spoke about Rutgers vision of the near future world, one in which the university will achieve distinction from signature niche programs that capitalize on Rutgers areas of strength. These distinctive programs will bring together faculty, centers, and programs on all three campuses and partnerships with government, industry, and the non-profit agencies in the state and on the federal level.

Rutgers envisions building national distinction in programs focused on transportation, stem cell research, early education, advanced materials and devices, nutrition and global and ethnic studies. Concurrently, the university has increased its focus on undergraduate education and is working to define Rutgers' goals, expectations, and mandate for the undergraduate experience.

Dr. Furmanski pointed out that state funding for Rutgers increased in the recently passed budget and that the university hopes for a continued reinvestment by the state. Yet there is considerable financial ground to recover, with overall funding to Rutgers down sharply from a high point of over a decade earlier. Dr. Furmanski encouraged the Libraries to take account of the university's priorities as it develops a new five-year plan.

University Librarian Marianne Gaunt sketched out the challenges academic libraries face as they strive to adapt to the shifting higher education landscape and serve the strategic vision evolving at Rutgers. Foremost among these challenges are the changes in scholarly communications, developments in information technology, changed needs and roles for library facilities, competition for resources, varied communications objectives, and the imperative of continued assessment.

A common feature to all the challenges is the value of managing change, through continued professional development of library personnel, frequent reexamination of library organizational structures and policies, and strategic reallocation of resources.

The combined challenges have pushed librarians to assume new roles, or expand traditional roles, as editors, publishers, educators, policy advocates, researchers and developers, entrepreneurs, and intermediaries. Through these roles, and others that may emerge in the years ahead, the Libraries look to address proactively the many changes at Rutgers and in higher education.

In afternoon breakout sessions led by SCILS Professor Dan O'Connor and Dana Library Director Lynn Mullins, small groups discussed the issues raised by the speakers. Discussion participants considered how the Libraries could leverage digital projects to serve Rutgers programs of distinction, build upon its strengths in cross institutional collaboration, work more effectively with academic departments, and other topics.

Dr. Furmanski speaks to the symposium participants as Marianne Gaunt, seated, listens.

Libraries system staff person Bob Warwick speaks during one of the afternoon breakout sessions.

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From RUL Report, Fall 2004
written by Harry Glazer
July 29, 2004
742 words

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