Dean’s Update: Preparing for Giving Thanks
November 27, 2023
I was amused by a generative-AI solution that appeared in my morning’s emails to help me avoid the “drudgery and stress” of preparing for Thanksgiving. It directed me to click the “start planning” link to get customized advice on what menu items to serve to accommodate guests’ dietary restrictions and preferences, and what wines to pair with each course.
I wonder why it also didn’t offer to have a local delivery of the needed groceries, or better yet, on-time shipment of prepared food. Then perhaps it could fill in with ‘new friends’ to complement my selection of either diverse or like-minded conversations for the extra seats that could be added to the dinner table. Not to mention the apps that allow us to save ‘favorites’ on smart phones for online recipes and menu planning sites, replacing many personal libraries of those beautifully illustrated cookbooks collected across generations and geographies.
Tempting imagination for ways to make our lives easier and less demanding is fun. But it also makes some of us ask how generative-AI tools and other amazing technologies help us to engage in new ways to pursue our passions and purpose in what we chose to do in life. For me, the question makes me think about the future of libraries.
I write this Dean’s Update following the announcement that I will conclude my term as Dean of the Drexel University Libraries, effective January 2024. I take the opportunity to share a few reflections about what I learned during my tenure at Drexel, and over the 50+ years as an academic librarian working in five different research universities. Note that I have not turned to an AI-generator to come up with an answer or to think about the ramifications of such tools on university libraries.
In my experiences, I have seen how librarians have successfully tackled technological advances. Their professional intelligence and expert knowledge often have been ahead of popular applications to improve services and systems to deliver our core purpose: to connect people to knowledge and to build communities of support and creativity that enhance core human interactions and expressions. That involves communications, which is the exchange of ideas through recorded medium.
I recall how librarians successfully continued to ensure access to relevant and accurate information and data when the Internet’s arrival made it seem unnecessary to ‘come to the library.’ Librarians have worked hard to uphold freedom of information, navigating commercial and regulatory barriers for readers to connect to knowledge regardless of their resources or residence.
They have simplified ways to make the connection, for example during COVID shutdowns with contactless delivery of physical resources and continuing electronic access to licensed and acquired materials. They designed spaces for hybrid connections to be made. They developed tools and guidance to learn to use automated tools and to evaluate the results of the automated processing of immense quantities of information. Preserving, connecting, assessing, guiding, and accessing are functions that librarians continuously refine and improve in their commitment to connecting people to knowledge.
This issue of In Circulation highlights recent examples of the Libraries’ achievements in delivering what it does to meet expected core obligations and services to support the Drexel academic mission and community.
I leave you with this thought: Librarians have successfully adapted to profound changes in technologies. I am convinced that they will be equally successful in the future. Librarians constantly reinvent themselves—from being the person who seeks to keep a place quiet, to shelving books and answering any question, to leveraging technologies to connect people to knowledge and information that records it. In the end, no matter how the world evolves, nothing can replace human interaction totally and expect to achieve active learning behaviors.
I am thankful that librarians exist and for the those who have crossed my path. It is time for me to pass the torch to the next generation of library leaders and staff to address future challenges.
As my message is written on the eve of Thanksgiving, this is the first toast I will raise this holiday season—and one of my last as Dean of the Drexel Libraries.
With gratitude, and best wishes for the upcoming season of festivities!
Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries