Radical Collaboration: Jim Neal


At The Future of Academic Libraries Symposium a few weeks ago held at McMaster University & sponsored by Library Journal Jim Neal spoke about The Need for Systemic Changes Across Higher Education Libraries. As the Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian at Columbia University in New York, Jim is known for being progressive; some hear his approaches as somewhat ‘irritating’, but I hear his approaches as refreshing – as a rallying cry – as provocative pokes to keep us, or get us, moving towards the future we design – not a future that just happens to us or is designed for us.

Jim began with definitions for academic libraries for the last several decades:

1950’s Exclusitivity 1950 – 1970 Popularization 1970 – 1990 Discord 1990 – 2010 Decadence 2010 – 2020 Parabiosis…..the natural or surgical union of two, or possibly more, organisms — or organizations 2020 + will be Particularism….”what will define academic libraries will be the particularism we bring to our contexts”

He spoke of an academic library as an infrastructure of facilities and expertise, providing stable, reliable information, and as an enterprise working with faculty to build research. He then asked, ‘do we have the capabilities to do this?‘ Not alone. Not as separate institutional-bound entities. But, as true collaborators, “radical collaborators” that finally go beyond cooperation (you do this & I do that) to working together to create new structures, services and breakthroughs, then yes.

He then listed the trends defining this age of parabiosis,

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