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MIT Invites Global Community to “Hack Its Libraries”

by on January 12, 2017

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 2016 Commencement, MIT President L. Rafael Reif encouraged graduates to “hack the world.” With the recent release of MIT’s Preliminary Task Force on the Future of Libraries Report, the university has just encouraged its global community to “hack its libraries.”[1]

In October 2015, MIT Provost Martin A. Schmidt asked Chris Bourg, Director of MIT Libraries, to lead an Ad Hoc Task Force on the Future of Libraries. Faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students, and staff began a conversation among a diverse group of library stakeholders—some who had never entered the physical facility at all and others whose research and teaching depended on print materials.[2]

“The task force spent significant time imagining the kind of library we need at an institution that aims to improve the world,” said Bourg, who served as the task force chair.[3] The report, based on the Task Force’s year of work, sets forth recommendations for the future in creating a “a global library for a global community.”[4]

MIT’s Great Dome exposes the four pillars the Task Force chose to build their vision for the future:[5]

  • Community and Relationships—the university, the world of research outside the university—those who need to access information and those who can contribute information.
  • Discovery and Use—a commitment to radically enhancing the discovery, access, and use of information. The library as a point of access and dissemination.
  • Stewardship and Sustainability—a responsibility for leadership in the long-term stewardship and sustainability of the scholarly record as well as a stalwart of intellectual freedom.
  • Research and Development—a new initiative to convene interdisciplinary research and development in information science and scholarly communication.[6]
Photo Courtesy of MIT

Photo Courtesy of MIT

The university was asked to reimagine the library. How it will be used? How it will serve not only the university but the world? Who will use it? Where will it be used?

“I don’t think we need to save libraries, but I do think we might need libraries to save us.”[7]  Bourg said at the Educause Conference last month in California, assessing the value of the Task Force’s preliminary observations. Bourg and the Task Force envisioned the future library as an “open global platform”one where information, regardless of university affiliation, is accessible and where a free exchange of ideas and research permits global solutions such as “discovering new clean energy sources.”[8]

The MIT “Future of the Library Task Force Report” creates a world where collaboration precedes conflict.  Libraries have no borders and neither do ideas. As MIT embarks on A Campaign For a Better World, “for the MIT Libraries’s [role], the better world we seek is one in which there is abundant, equitable, meaningful access to knowledge and to the products of the full life cycle of research.”[9] MIT hopes other universities and libraries will read the preliminary report and join in this important conversation to reinvigorate their library landscape.

The Task Force will measure their success through the creative ways in which scholars and global users eventually “exploit” the open platform they have envisioned. “We tried to write the report as an invitation,” Bourg said. “If this is your vision for the future, too, come join us, help us build it.”[10]


[1] “Institute-Wide Task Force Report on the Future of Libraries: Preliminary Report” (executive summary, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2016), 4.

[2] MIT Ad Hoc Task Force on the Future of Libraries, “Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of Libraries,” PubPub, October 24, 2016.

[3] Peter Dizikes, “MIT task force releases preliminary ‘Future of Libraries’ report,” MIT News, October 24, 2016.

[4] Ibid.

[5] MIT Ad Hoc Task Force, “Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of Libraries.”

[6]Institute-Wide Task Force Report on the Future of Libraries: Preliminary Report,” 5.

[7] Carl Straumsheim, “A ‘Moon Shot’ for Libraries,” Inside Higher Education, November 23, 2016.

[8] Ibid.

[9] MIT Ad Hoc Task Force, “Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of Libraries.”

[10] Carl Straumsheim, “A ‘Moon Shot’ for Libraries.”

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