CLIR Annual Report, 2012-2013
Annual reports published since 2007–2008 are available in electronic form only.
A Rational Exuberance
“What does CLIR do?” A succinct question, a typical formulation asked by those who encounter CLIR’s name or logo on one of our programs, publications, or websites. There are many ways to respond; an equally succinct reply is that CLIR’s research, institutes, fellowships, and sponsored projects bring coherence to the often disruptive and always complex milieu of higher education. CLIR’s contributions help make this environment better organized and understood, more manageable and, not the least, more interesting.
CLIR’s focus on higher education builds on decades of leadership provided for academic libraries. One term that characterizes the early years of the twenty-first century is boundary event. Drawn from geology, a boundary event is an often traumatic, decisive period in which a major ecological shift occurs, usually involving some degree of extinction and the emergence of different life forms in a significantly altered climate. Our contemporary analog/digital boundary event is virtual and empirical, but it is nonetheless real: it will likely favor a breathtaking florescence of digital resources and applications along with a decisive waning of analog communication.
CLIR’s research, programs, projects, and other methods of engaging our constituency reflect our convictions that the future of higher education will not consist of a digitized printed book, or a research library reconstituted as an electronic database, or a classroom skyped. For scholarship and its communication, the digital environment almost insists on new intellectual strategies, new methodologies for research and discovery, and new pathways for preservation and access. With ease, digital technologies disaggregate, reform, and reuse information, allowing for multivalent forms of scholarship that cannot fit in a book or printed journal. It allows the “distant reading” of thousands of texts or images across centuries, linked to often vast research data, all the while creating more porous, loosely bounded formats of intellectual expression while engaging wider communities in the research process. It is not just information that is roiled and reconstituted. Our traditional methods and procedures for self-valuation and promotion, whether as a lone scholar, a team, a department, a library, or a university, must be rethought.
Given the scope and complexity of rethinking so many aspects of higher education, one of the most important contributions CLIR can make is to create a trusted structure in which administrators and other leaders can meet and develop strategies that more rigorously manage the transition from analog to digital: a virtual space wherein the boundary event can evolve programmatically, concertedly, and efficiently. The Committee on Coherence at Scale has been created to help assure the coherent development of the various parts of the emerging digital environment in such a way that benefits higher education—in a way that improves scholarly productivity and teaching, and that is cost effective and sustainable.
Executing an eventual strategy will be a national effort requiring sophisticated collaboration and coordinated activity, adopting a systems approach for which we are poorly trained. To this end, CLIR will inculcate partnerships with selected institutions that can provide leadership and appropriate infrastructure for the intertwined facets of knowledge organization and scholarly communication. CLIR will continue to exercise leadership, taking advantage of our connections and pool of expertise. For the design and development of this new environment, CLIR will additionally provide continuity, consistency, and management.
CLIR’s work can be characterized by an analogy to constellations: ordering the night skies by aligning the stars into coherent patterns. Seemingly random points of light become an array of easily recognized and culturally shared images. Individually a constellation can invoke a mythological narrative, a poignant story of the origins of a terrestrial phenomenon that can also convey insight into the human condition. Collectively they provide, and have for millennia, an elegant map for navigating the uncharted forays of body and mind in pursuit of new discovery.