Today’s academic libraries: a sharp new survey

Ithaka S+R logoImportant new research on American academic libraries appeared this month.   “US Library Survey 2013”, from Ithaka S+R, is essential reading for everyone in the library world, and for non-librarian academics as well.

It’s a rich, extensive study, so I’ll pull out several key points here, and recommend you dive in yourself.  For example, Ithaka surveyed a range of academic institutions (baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral), and broke out results accordingly.  Overall, it’s a picture of academic libraries in mid-transition to a very digital world.

Information literacy in the lead, but not with faculty This is a primary function for academic libraries, in the eyes of their directors. “With almost complete unanimity, library directors showed a very strong commitment to the role that their libraries play in research skills and information literacy education for undergraduate students.”

In fact, information literacy has grown in importance since the previous Ithaka library directors study, while every other function has dropped somewhat:

Relative importance of library services

And yet faculty members aren’t on the same page.  According to another Ithaka study, most instructors see themselves, not librarians, as information literacy teachers:Who owns information literacy, faculty or librarians?

Research support on the decline Library directors see supporting faculty research as less important than they once did.

Outside the doctoral universities, there was an especially steep decline [between the 2010 and 2013 Library Surveys] in the share of respondents invested in the research support role…
Most notably, the percentage of respondents who rated research support for faculty members as “very important” declined from 85% to 68%.

Difficulties in evolving to meet users’ new needs Directors think their libraries aren’t changing well enough to respond to changes in their users’ demands.  “As in 2010, only a minority of respondents agreed that their library has a well-developed strategy for serving the changing needs of users. ”

This isn’t a new problem: “As in 2010 [date of previous survey], only a minority of respondents agreed that their library has a well-developed strategy for serving the changing needs of users.”

The continued decline of print Library leaders are less excited about buying print books and print journals:

A minority of respondents, even at doctoral institutions, believes that purchasing print books to build research collections is important, while the large majority believes that building local print collections has declined in importance…

Library directors tend to be more comfortable than are faculty members with the print to electronic transition for scholarly journal…

ebooks slow to launch While library leaders push for more digital journals, they are less enamored of digital books.

A possible format shift from print books to ebooks appears to be occurring at a more measured pace, with relatively small projected increases in ebook spending… With respect to books, library directors may if anything be less aggressive in moving towards electronic formats than are faculty members.

Staffing challenges Directors describe some issues in staff hiring and development.  First, they’d like to make offers to new colleagues for new types of library work, not in the classic lines:

Many of their new hires are expected to be in emerging areas such as web services and digital preservation, rather than in more established areas such as reference, technical services, and print collections management…

In fact, these directors would like to cutback on some of those classic jobs:

There were three functions where there were substantially more respondents who predicted that they would decrease staffing than there were respondents who said that they would increase staffing: technical services, metadata, and
cataloging; access services (circulation, ILL, etc.); and print preservation and collections management.

Second, “[m]any directors are concerned about limited staff capacity and skills”.  “[L]ack of staff skills in key areas,” was a major complaint, which “point[s] to the related issue of staff shortages and limitations”.  When these libraries support distance learning, staff challenges occur there as well: “At those institutions that provide some form of academic instruction online, a substantial share of directors do not feel that their libraries are fully prepared to provide support students in online courses.”

Outside the doctoral universities, there was an especially steep decline in the
share of respondents invested in the research support role.

…and that’s where I’ll stop.  Like I said earlier, there’s a lot more in this rich study.  The items about information discovery, print collections, and inter-library loan are important.  Dive in.

In the meantime, what do you make of this survey?

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