Open Syllabus Explorer & Dynamic Resource Clustering in Libraries of the Future

Today we’d like to call your attention to Open Syllabus Explorer, a database compilation and searchable visualization of readings assigned in 6,059,459 syllabi drawn from leading college and universities around the world.

This dataset is the perfect starting point in seeding the libraries of our University of the Future. I say libraries, because the real value of any collection lies in its ready accessibility. On far too many campuses, key volumes are buried in one or two monumental repository structures that are on the opposite side of the campus (or on a different campus entirely) from where researchers are actually working. This makes it decidedly less likely that they will be consulted with an optimal frequency.

Instead, it strikes us as more sensible to cluster “working collection” titles in quasi-departmental libraries co-located with time shared office, study, and seminar space. Titles with high relevance to more than one of these sub-libraries ought to be duplicated in each cluster.

We can then take low access titles and organize them in “shelf blocks” within a low use research collection in one or two main library/archive buildings. As topics become “hot” these shelving units can be “hot swapped” into the “working collection”.

For example, our Working Design Collection would have a core set of titles used globally for survey courses in architecture and interior design at leading universities, while the main library’s Research Design Collection might hold several shelves of obscure titles on classroom, lab, and lecture hall layout and fixtures. However, if a graduate seminar was addressing this topic, those shelving units would be transferred to the departmental library for ready access while dynamic signage in the main library would redirect other researchers to their temporary location. These local mini working libraries could be staffed by expert subject matter librarians and/or students in their respective fields to provide more nuanced reference assistance than what one might find in a general main library.

This division would reduce foot traffic in the archival stacks making it easier to re-architect those spaces as general quiet reading areas where one might lounge and read when not seeking new materials. While the working collections could be structured as more social and collaborative spaces.

Memorial Day

We hope you enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend and perhaps took a moment to reflect on the countless contributions of the students in our nation’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to our academic life. The ROTC’s social compact of offering scholarships as a reward for service has enriched our armed services and helped generations of officers to build successful careers after their tours of duty.

Of course the ROTC has not been welcomed with open arms by all Universities, some of which condemn the armed services as a matter of social and political conscience. But military history has demonstrated that it is a lack of preparedness and willingness to defend our civilization that invites aggression from bad actors.

Unfortunately, such history is commonly given short shrift in most academic institutions, which suggests that. at the very least, a military history and science elective deserves a place in our future curriculum.

Campus: An American Planning Tradition

As we think about a physical form for our future university there is no better text to start with than the revised paperback edition of Campus: An American Planning Tradition (ISBN: 978-0-262-70032-0).​1​

It provides a comprehensive survey of American Campus design from colonial days to the start of the ’90’s and contains many striking anecdotes along with a fascinating overview of shifting patterns of thought about the roles of culture and curriculum.

  1. 1.
    Venable Turner P. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. Mit Press; 1990.