Major Trends in Academic Libraries

March 26th, 2014 by Lydia Wasylenko

Major Trends in Academic Libraries

The academic strategic consulting and research service Ithaka S+R has just issued US Library Survey 2013 compiled by Matthew P. Long and Roger C. Schonfeld. (Like the JSTOR digital library and the Portico digital preservation service, Ithaka S+R is affiliated with ITHAKA, “a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways.”)

US Library Survey 2013 is the outcome of the second cycle of a multi-year project; the first cycle of the survey was completed in 2010, and the next cycle is planned for 2016. Focusing this time on the “leadership dynamics” of the libraries at not-for-profit academic institutions other than community colleges, US Library Survey 2013 used a sample drawn from the Carnegie Foundation’s database of higher education institutions. Nine “basic” Carnegie classifications were covered, including “Doctoral/Research Universities;” “Research Universities (high research activity);” and “Research Universities (very high research activity).”

The overall response rate for the 2013 survey was 33%. Within the subcategory of doctoral/research universities into which Syracuse University falls, 276 institutions were invited to participate and 123 (44.6%) responded to the survey.

The goals of US Library Survey 2013 were to track “the strategic direction and leadership dynamics of academic library leaders” and to “understand the strategies they are pursuing and the opportunities and constraints that they face” within a rapidly-changing higher education environment that is characterized by:

  • “loss of primacy” of library print collections.
  • increasing importance of remotely accessed online library resources.
  • new discovery services affecting the  library “gateway” role.
  • emphasis on computational research methods and the concomitant demand for new and customized support services.
  • development of “online and hybrid pedagogies.”
  • “cost-of-education sensitivity” that is causing college/university educational outcomes to be scrutinized more intensely.

To learn about academic library directors’ priorities and about their perceptions of the role of academic libraries, respondents were asked to rate the importance of six basic library functions:

  • serving as a faculty starting point/“gateway” when seeking information for research.
  • paying for resources needed by faculty members, including academic journals, books, and digital resources.
  • serving as a repository, i.e., archiving, preserving, and keeping track of resources.
  • supporting and facilitating faculty teaching activities.
  • providing active support to contribute to the productivity of faculty research and scholarship.
  • helping undergraduates to develop information literacy, critical analysis, and research skills.

Some key findings of the US Library Survey 2013:

  •  At all types of institutions, library directors are overwhelmingly dedicated to promoting undergraduate information literacy:  “97% of respondents reported that helping undergraduates to ‘develop research, critical analysis, and information literacy skills’ is very important at their institutions.” In a significant shift within the doctoral institutions category, the proportion of library directors rating the “information literacy” function as highly important rose from 86% in 2010 to 94% in 2013. But whereas library directors expressed “confidence that it is principally the library’s responsibility” to foster undergraduate research skills and information literacy, faculty members may “have a more mixed view of where this principal responsibility may reside.”
  •  “Providing reference instruction to undergraduate classes” and “providing a physical space for student collaboration” were identified as two core services of great importance.
  •  At institutions offering some online academic instruction, a substantial share of survey respondents lack confidence in their libraries’ abilities to provide support to the students in online courses.
  •  A very large majority of library directors believes that the expansion of local print collections is becoming less important. Even among doctoral institutions, only a minority focus heavily on acquisition of print materials in building collections.
  •  With respect to journal holdings, “the shift from print to electronic collections has been, from a budget allocation perspective, nearly completed.” Not all faculty members are as comfortable with this transition as are library directors. With respect to book holdings, a shift from print to electronic format is “occurring at a more measured pace.” And in a reversal of the positions that prevail with respect to scholarly e-journals, faculty members may be more “aggressive” in moving to e-books than library directors.
  •  Only a minority of library directors are confident that their libraries have well-developed strategies for serving library users’ changing needs. The minority of respondents who did express confidence in this area were directors of libraries that had established formal assessment programs.
  •  The “vast majority” of survey respondents strongly believes in the importance of inter-library resource-sharing and collaborative approaches to serving user needs.
  •  Library directors at larger institutions are the most likely to feel as if they are part of the senior academic administration at their universities. However, at doctoral institutions, library directors tend to feel that they have less institutional support to allocate library resources to fulfilling undergraduate library needs.
  •  Not surprisingly, all library directors are very concerned about budget constraints. Many agree that they would allocate new financial resources to increasing staff and to acquiring more online/digital content (both journals and e-books). Additional funding priorities at doctoral institutions are special collections and repository-related or publishing-related services for faculty members.
  •  Library directors are very concerned about funding for both new staff positions and for salary increases for existing staff. There is an expectation that new positions will be allocated primarily to emerging/growing areas such as web services, digital preservation, and instruction, instructional design, and information literacy services, while fewer staff members will be concentrated in traditional areas such as reference, technical services, and print collection management.