Libraries have key role in expanding digital learning
CLOSING THE BOOK: Hedi Ben- Aicha, vice president and dean of library and electronic course materials with the American Public University System, ran the RIC library for nearly six years. He said the library he arrived at in 2008 was not “the library [he] left in 2014.”
Born in Tunisia, Hedi BenAicha studied history broadly, with a focus on the Middle East, before turning to library science in the United States in 1984. In mid-2008, he began ramping up Rhode Island College’s online offerings at its school library.
BenAicha took his current position at the American Public University System, based in Charles Town, W.Va., on March 17, because he is committed to the future of online learning and development of online library resources. APUS has a physical, administrative campus that supports a completely online accredited system for both the American Public University and the American Military University.
PBN: At 62, you are not a digital native. Yet, your new role embraces digital learning. How did you develop the interest and drive to build skills in this area?
BENAICHA: I [have] always espoused and embraced change, took challenges seriously and learned from them, as well as taught others what I learned. Being in the States enhanced that idea of entrepreneurship and ways of seeking out other venues of learning. Librarianship itself is at the forefront of change, because in academia, for example, or public libraries, the essence of the library is to provide access to its citizens. With automation and computers, librarians and libraries embraced that change because they found automation would facilitate access and spread resources even further.
PBN: What made you take the leap to join the American Public University System, a global online educational system?
BENAICHA: Even in the traditional setting, my colleagues and I were among the first to push forward the idea of online access because I wanted to recast traditional librarianship, enhancing the role and relevance of the library with online systems. For example, traditional librarianship relied heavily on hard-copy collections. The digital native and specifically the Googlization of the world has an impact on getting information now, not later, anywhere in the library. And when I say anywhere and anytime, that means using the online platform. Since I was a proponent and champion of this online application, when this opportunity presented itself I said, “This is what I want, because this is the cutting edge, because this is the trend in our country.”