Trends in academic libraries

Trends in academic libraries

A review of the trends and issues affecting academic libraries in higher education

  1. ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee

Communicating value

Academic libraries must prove the value they provide to the academic enterprise. In a recent editorial, Rick Anderson stated that “unless we give our funding bodies better and more compelling reasons to support libraries, they will be forced by economic reality to stop doing so.” Librarians must be able to convert the general feelings of goodwill towards the library to effective communication to all stakeholders that clearly articulate its value to the academic community.


Data curation

Data curation challenges are increasing as standards for all types of data continue to evolve; more repositories, many of them cloud-based, will emerge; librarians and other information workers will collaborate with their research communities to facilitate this process.

Data curation presents opportunities for “finding new ways to communicate the value of the skills librarians already possess and in developing roles that were previously not associated with librarians.” Librarians and information workers have a vital role to play in helping their research communities design and implement a plan for data description, efficient storage, management, and reuse. Several discipline data repositories already exist, and include librarians as principal collaborators.


Digital preservation

As digital collections mature, concerns grow about the general lack of long-term planning for their preservation. No strategic leadership for establishing architecture, policy, or standards for creating, accessing, and preserving digital content is likely to emerge in the near term.

Academic libraries will “increasingly focus on distinctive and unique collections in service to regional and national scholarly audiences.” Many of these collections, particularly those that include rare or unique content or institution-specific materials such as university records and grey literature, are or will be digitized. However, local digital collections are at risk when the individual institution lacks a comprehensive preservation plan.


Higher education

Higher education institutions are entering a period of flux, and potentially even turmoil. Trends to watch for are the rise of online instruction and degree programs, globalization, and an increased skepticism of the “return on investment” in a college degree.

Shifts in the higher education surround will have an impact on libraries in terms of expectations for development of collections, delivery of collections and services for both old and new audiences, and in terms of how libraries continue to demonstrate value to parent institutions.


Information technology

Technology continues to drive much of the futuristic thinking within academic libraries. The key trends driving educational technology identified in the 2012 Horizon Report are equally applicable to academic libraries: people’s desire for information and access to social media and networks anytime/anywhere; acceptance and adoption of cloud-based technologies; more value placed on collaboration; challenges to the role of higher education in a world where information is ubiquitous and alternate forms of credentialing are available; new education paradigms that include online and hybrid learning; and a new emphasis on challenge-based and active learning. The report cautions that social networks and new publishing paradigms, such as open content, challenge the library’s role as curator and place libraries under pressure to evolve new ways of supporting and curating scholarship. These may include helping students develop digital media literacy skills and creating appropriate metrics for evaluating new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching.


Mobile environments

Mobile devices are changing the way information is delivered and accessed. An increasing number of libraries provide services and content delivery to mobile devices.

Scholarly communication

New scholarly communication and publishing models are developing at an ever-faster pace, requiring libraries to be actively involved or be left behind. New publishing models are being explored for journals, scholarly monographs, textbooks, and digital materials, as stakeholders try to establish sustainable models. Developments relevant to journals include open access to historical content, author-funded open access to new content, and uncertainty of the future of “Big Deals” (agreements or subscriptions with the large, usually expensive, publishers).

Some academic libraries have taken an active role in changing the scholarly communication environment by creating or expanding publishing services. The libraries commonly provided digital repository services, author copyright advice, digitization services, and management of research datasets, as well as metadata creation, cataloging, and digital preservation.


Academic libraries must develop the staff needed to meet new challenges through creative approaches to hiring new personnel and deploying/retraining existing staff. Staff development and personnel are the top work place issues for academic librarians, according to a 2011 ACRL survey.  Continuing education, professional development, strategic and creative approaches to hiring for vacant or new positions, retooling existing positions, and retraining the staff currently in those positions are some of the ways libraries can “grow” the staff they need. Data curation, digital resource management and preservation, assessment, scholarly communication, and support for faculty instruction and student learning are growth areas where new skill sets are needed.


User behaviors and expectations

Convenience affects all aspects of information seeking—the selection, accessibility, and use of sources. Libraries usually are not the first source for finding information. When queried, respondents describe the library as “hard to use,” “the last resort,” and “inconvenient.” Convenience is a significant factor in both academic and everyday-life information-seeking situations.

With the widespread use of the Internet and search engines such as Google, individuals have little or no problem finding sources. Since libraries are now competing for user attention, the current challenge is to provide immediate, seamless access to sources and information in order to remain in the game. Steven Escar Smith and Carmelita Pickett stated, “The new library should be based on the just-in-time model, where access is more important than vast quantities of nearby inventory.”

Not only is immediate access to electronic sources a critical component of meeting the information needs of students and faculty, but access to human sources also is important. Why? Convenience. These sources immediately can be reached by texting, voice calling, IMing, or e-mailing, with an often instantaneous response. Librarians, too, are making themselves available to students and faculty through a number of channels, including social media, chat, IM, and text reference, as well as making themselves physically available or embedded within academic departments, student unions, and cafeterias.


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