Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Entrepreneurship in the University Library

by Daniel Bennett

A story in the Chronicle this morning casts a ray of light on future of higher education. Johns Hopkins University is displaying a rare sign of innovation by renting out its extensive library and services, to colleges without the financial means (or necessity) to assemble a large collection of literary works.

One such college making use of the service is Excelsior College, a distance-learning institution with some 33,000 spread across the country. Excelsior pays Johns Hopkins an annual service fee, based on enrollment, for access to its online materials and library service. In 2008, the fee amounted to $1 million, which is most likely, a substantial savings over building, staffing and maintaining its own library, as well as the cost of newspaper, magazine, journal subscriptions and books. With students scattered across the country, a bricks & mortar library wouldn't be a sensible policy.

George Timmons, the dean of online education at Excelsior, states:
The relationship, part of Johns Hopkins’ Entrepreneurial Library Program, has found favor with both students and accrediting agencies. It’s a student-friendly, student-centered environment.
Excelsior is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which is a sign that the accreditation agencies, which require a college to have a library of a certain size, support this sort of arrangement. This appears to be a positive sign for higher education. Maintaining a library is expensive and is certainly a driver of cost for colleges, especially those who are unable to take advantage of economies of scale due to small student populations. This also presents an opportunity for an additional revenue stream for large universities with extensive library services.

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