CAUT's 1999 Librarians' Conference held in Banff last month provided the more than 60 attendees with the opportunity to discuss challenges facing academic librarians and libraries on the eve of the millennium. The word "challenge" is one which can have both negative and positive connotations: to bring charges against, to call into question, to dispute, to demand, but also something exciting or stimulating.
The keynote address on Thursday evening set the stage. Joanne Matthews from the University of Northern British Columbia examined three key political and economic forces confronting academic librarians: the inroads of academic capitalism, the growing demands of distance education, and the demographics of the profession.
On Friday morning, Joyce Thompson from Saint Mary's University led a plenary session prepared by Art Rhyno from the University of Windsor dealing with changes brought about by new technologies. Like the telephone a hundred years ago, the computer has revolutionized the ways in which librarians communicate and perform their duties. However, the pace at which technological change is taking place today would no doubt shock our counterparts at the end of the last century, and keeping up is probably the single most challenging aspect of the job for most of us.
Technological and organizational changes have had a profound impact on librarians' responsibilities. At the second plenary session on Friday morning, Ken Field from Trent University and Elena Romaniuk from the University of Victoria addressed various issues related to workload, and reviewed workload expectations as described in collective agreements.
On Friday afternoon, law professor Anne Stalker from the University of Calgary focused on partnerships between academic librarians and faculty. All academic staff have a role to play in furthering both the teaching and research missions of the university, and a number of suggestions for encouraging increased collaboration were brought forward.
The Friday afternoon plenary presented by Doug Kariel and Christine Nelson from Athabasca University considered the question "Does Library Service Conflict with the University Business Model?" They presented the possibility of a positive view of the business model, as a strategic plan with clearly defined outcomes, and participants were invited to think about ways in which this model applied in individual library settings. In discussion which followed, however, it was clear that the profit-driven agendas of private interests are beginning to have an increasingly negative impact on many campuses.
Saturday morning's agenda included two sets of concurrent sessions. Norma Godivari from the University of Manitoba explored various aspects of job security. This issue has a number of facets, including program redundancy, financial exigency, training and transfers. A review of provisions in collective agreements suggested that some provide reasonably good protection for members, but others are sadly lacking.
Leona Jacobs from the University of Lethbridge returned to the issue of faculty-librarian relations, focusing on faculty perceptions of librarians. Her review of the literature suggested that self-confidence as librarians is the most significant factor in achieving faculty respect. Rather than striving to compete with faculty or become more like them, librarians should make the most of their library skills to work with faculty in furthering the mission of the university.
Concurrent with the above were two sessions on leadership. The first, led by Liz Bishop from Ryerson, considered various organizational and managerial models in place at academic libraries. The follow-up discussion, led by Marilyn Rennick from the University of Ottawa, compared corporate/hierarchical organizational models and collegial participatory structures.
The conference concluded with an open forum led by CAUT staff member Bob Moore, where discussion centred on the impacts of library reorganization.
Diane Peters is chair of CAUT's Librarians' Committee.