Dean of the Faculty

III. Expanding Our Reach in Ideas

3.7 Broadening Our Information Resources

Amherst’s ability to innovate and lead in higher education will rely at every step on the depth and currency of our information resources, which range from an extraordinary million-volume library to data bases, networks, laptops, and, most important, the talented librarians and IT specialists who guide students and professors through the shifting knowledge landscape. A hallmark of new pedagogies is the increasing reliance on IT specialists and librarians, as well as escalating expectations about the information resources to which they give access. Recent years have seen the promising development of both archives-based and Web-based courses at Amherst. Through the Web, the campus and the larger Amherst family are linked together as never before, and we have scarcely begun to explore the possibilities for interaction.

With the rapid adoption of new technologies, what we understand as mastery of a field of study is changing. A twenty-first century graduate must know how to find, evaluate, and contextualize information in numerous formats—text, audio, video, graphic, and numerical–and to function within a worldwide cohort of students, faculty, alumni, and content-area experts. Activities such as developing and using spatial databases, simulations, models, and virtual reality environments are essential forms of literacy for our time. The instructional mission of librarians and IT specialists grows rapidly, including guidance to what numerous types of tools can and cannot do for users and what constitutes legal and academically honest use of information. Given the rate of technological change, “learning how to learn” is a fundamental survival skill. We cannot have a first-rank college with second-rate information resources.

We welcome the current, broadly consultative planning initiatives of both the Library and the Department of Information Technology and their active participation in the larger process of setting academic priorities. We recognize that additional staffing resources in this area may well be needed to ensure that Amherst can achieve its goals; the facilities needs of the Library and the Department of Information Technology are addressed below in Section VI.