2010 top ten trends in academic libraries
Posted by Editor on June 17, 2011
A review of the current literature from the ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee in C&RL News
The ACRL Research, Planning and Review Committee, a component of the Research Coordinating Committee, is responsible for creating and updating a continuous and dynamic environmental scan for the association that encompasses trends in academic librarianship, higher education, and the broader environment. As a part of this effort, the committee develops a list of the top ten trends that are affecting academic libraries now and in the near future. This list was compiled based on an extensive review of current literature (see selected bibliography at the end of this article). The committee also developed an e-mail survey that was sent to 9,812 ACRL members in February 2010. Although the response rate was small (about five percent), it helped to clarify the trends.
The trends are listed in alphabetical order.
- Academic library collection growth is driven by patron demand and will include new resource types. Budget reductions, user preferences for electronic access to materials, limited physical space, and the inability to financially sustain comprehensive collections have led many academic libraries to shift from a “just-in-case” to a “just-in-time” philosophy. This change has been facilitated by customized patron-driven acquisitions programs from some major library book distributors, improved print-on-demand options for monographs, patron desire for new resource types, and resource sharing systems, such as RapidILL, offering 24-hour turnaround time for article requests. Still to be determined are the long-term effects of this change on the ability of academic libraries to meet their clientele’s information needs, the stability of some of the new access methods, and implications for future scholarship. Increasingly, libraries are acquiring local collections and unique materials and, when possible, digitizing them to provide immediate, full-text online access to increase visibility and use. Access to full-text sources, not the discovery of the sources, is a major issue for scholars.1
- These materials may include special collections, university archives, and/or the scholarly output of faculty and students. Libraries also recognize the need to collect, preserve, and provide access to digital datasets.
- According to a 2009 OCLC report, datasets are beginning to be made available online for “collecting,” but libraries still need to learn how to support discovery.2 The 2010 Horizon Report identified visual data analysis tools as one of the emerging technologies most likely to enter mainstream use on campuses within the next four-to-five years.3 Additional collection development trends noted by survey respondents include the effect of Google Books on library collections, the monopolization of content resulting from consolidation in the publishing industry and the demise of a number of smaller publishers and publications, and a growth in shared collection development.
- According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the average return for college and university endowments in the 2009 fiscal year was −18.7 percent, the worst since 1974. In addition, federal stimulus dollars for education are running out, with only 14.2 percent of the stimulus money set aside for states’ education budget remaining for the 2011 fiscal year and 20 states with nothing left to spend; the proportion of state budgets spent on public colleges and the proportion of college budgets that come from the state were already declining, with the recession exacerbating a trend whereby state spending on higher education failed to keep up with enrollment growth and inflation; even when the economy improves, state revenues typically lag in their recovery by at least two years.4 Survey respondents are concerned about the effect of budget pressures on their ability to attract and retain staff, build collections, provide access to resources and services, and develop and implement innovative services.
- A recent OCLC report calls for academic libraries to “reassess all library job descriptions and qualifications to ensure that training and hiring encompass the skills, education, and experience needed to support new modes of research.”5 The impending retirement of many library directors will also create changes. Are associate deans/directors ready for new roles? What about the middle managers who might step into higher-level administrative roles? Leadership training and mentoring, both formal and informal, are critical to a smooth transition. Survey respondents fear that positions will be eliminated as individuals retire and that widespread retirements will result in a leadership gap and loss of institutional memory. They also worry that older librarians are delaying retirement for economic reasons, thereby reducing opportunities for newer librarians.
- In the current economic climate, competition for limited funds has intensified with some institutions revisiting funding formulas for libraries. It is increasingly important to demonstrate the library’s impact on student learning outcomes, student engagement, student recruitment and retention, successful grant applications, and faculty research productivity. Several studies are underway that will help academic libraries document the value of their services and collections, using both qualitative and quantitative data. Of particular interest are ACRL’s value of academic libraries research project and “Value, Outcomes, and Return on Investment of Academic Libraries (Lib-Value),” a three-year grant-funded study led by researchers at the University of Tennessee, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Association of Research Libraries.6
- Many digital projects have been funded in part by grants from sources such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Mellon Foundation, while others are supported in total by institutional funds. Collaborative digitization opportunities abound: member libraries of the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries are creating a digital shared collection of 5,000 items from their rare and special collections that will help explain the intellectual underpinnings of the American Civil War. The University of California Digital Library used IMLS funds for the California Local History Digital Resources Project, to which more than 65 institutions contributed. Because of the staffing, equipment, and storage costs associated with digital projects, libraries often must reallocate fiscal resources to support these projects. Like other library collections and services, digitization efforts may be affected by stagnant or reduced budgets.
- Librarians will need to think creatively about developing services for users of mobile devices and take into account both user needs and preferences and the relationship of services to the academic program of their institution.9 Regardless of the services a library chooses to offer, there will be staffing, training, budgeting, marketing, and instruction implications.
- The HathiTrust shared digital repository and 2CUL are two examples of recent, large-scale collaborations.10 Partnership in HathiTrust is open to research institutions worldwide who share its vision of collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge. The Cornell and Columbia University Libraries have formed an innovative partnership called 2CUL that will result in a pooling of resources and broad integration on a number of fronts, such as cataloging, e-resource management, collaborative collection development, and digital preservation. Collaboration epitomizes the service orientation of librarianship and will continue to help maximize the efficient use of resources. Librarians are making use of Google Docs, Doodle, wikis, and other tools that facilitate collaboration regardless of physical proximity.
- Recruiting content for IRs provides a natural entrée for conversations about scholarly communication issues. This also illustrates the need for libraries to provide guidance and user education on copyright law, and, in particular, the need to obtain permission to use copyrighted material in one’s work if the use is not covered by the fair use exception. Libraries are addressing the need to provide value-added scholarly communication services in a variety of ways. Some libraries have created scholarly communication librarian or copyright officer positions. Others have taken a more distributed approach. The University of Minnesota, for example, has included scholarly communication responsibilities in the position descriptions of all of its liaison librarians.
- Other trends, including growing use of open source products, creation of more locally created digital collections, the increasing complexity of licensing issues, and litigation involving the use of materials in course e-reserves and course management systems, reinforce the need for academic libraries to provide value-added intellectual property services.
- While social networking tools can help libraries go where their users are, many librarians see challenges in determining which tools to use, how many resources to devote, and how to assess effectiveness. Librarians also will be monitoring the success of open source integrated library systems software and the RDA: Resource Description and Access standard.
- Finding a balance that serves all clientele continues to be a challenge. These changes are coming at the same time that in-person reference desk statistics are declining at many academic libraries, while online reference statistics are increasing. In some instances, this is tied to a growth in distance or online courses offered by the institution; in others, it may simply be due to user preference and convenience: “It is clear that regardless of age or experience, academic discipline, or context of the information need, speed and convenience are important to users and are factors when selecting discovery tools and resources.”14
- Librarians are also expanding the library’s virtual presence through involvement in course management systems and online social networking sites, the creation of online tutorials and other instruction aids, and more vibrant and interactive Web sites. How to convey the value of the complementary nature of the physical and online services to support the teaching and instruction mission of the university to campus administrators presents an ongoing challenge.
There were a number of other trends that the committee considered but that did not yet rise to this level. Sustainability, in particular, was an issue that the committee sees as a growing trend that will probably be included is this list in coming years.
The committee welcomes your comments and feedback on the trends. A virtual session will be held on July 7 as a part of the ALA Annual Virtual Conference to allow for a more in-depth discussion of this report.