Sliding off the Bandwagon: Academic Libraries and Isomorphism

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Earlier this summer, I had a couple of moments when I wondered what had happened to a trend that was really hot for awhile but seems to have died down. One was as I read through the ACRL Environmental Scans for 2015 and 2013. In 2013, MOOCs were seen as a phenomenon that would have an impact on every college and research library whereas in the 2015 report, they were only mentioned in passing as a market-based alternative to “traditional place-based programs” (p. 2) without mention of impact on library services.

The other was as I was reading an article that mentioned using Second Life for service learning, online reference, and information literacy instruction. While it is still possible to find popular articles about how virtual reality environments will transform higher education, the pressure for libraries to jump on the Second Life bandwagon quietly subsided when Linden Lab changed their business model.

Analyzing what has happened to MOOCs and to Second Life would be interesting. What is really intriguing is the apparent lack of reflection as we slide off these bandwagons. Why did we think we needed to jump on them in the first place?

In Redefining Academic Libraries: How Trends in Higher Education are Driving Change, a talk she gave at the ACRL President’s Program at the American Library Association conference in San Francisco in June, Constance Malpas of OCLC Research talked about isomorphism, a phenomenon whereby organizations of a certain type become more similar to one another.

Ms. Malpas focused her remarks on normative isomorphism–the force professionalism exerts on organizational change (or the lack of it), approaches to problem solving, etc. Mimetic isomorphism is the tendency of organizations to jump on (and off) a bandwagon during uncertain times. Perhaps developing an awareness of these isomorphic tendencies would help us, as a profession, develop more thoughtful responses to environmental changes.

To that end, I would love to hear about people/libraries that are still actively experimenting with producing and/or supporting MOOCs or that are using virtual reality spaces for research support, information literacy instruction, exhibits, etc. How did you think about and plan for integrating MOOCs into your work? For people/libraries that were once involved in MOOCs or Second Life but have disengaged, what was your thinking when you decided to get involved? What made you decide to give it up?

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