Academic Libraries

the state of america's libraries 2011: a report from the american libary association

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Economic Challenges: The New Normal

Faced with continuing recessionary pressures, many academic libraries in the United States (and elsewhere) grappled with the “new normal” created by budget reductions and the restructuring that resulted from them. According to an international survey that appeared in The Journal of Academic Librarianship in September 2010, nearly 42 percent of U.S. university libraries reported budget cuts; many planned to reduce spending on information resources (69.1 percent) and staffing (30.5 percent).

Although the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in September that the increase in the Higher Education Price Index was lower than the inflation rate for the first time since 1995, many academic libraries expect budgets to stagnate in the face of declining state support and charitable donations to higher education, according to Giving USA. Federal stimulus money prevented major cuts to higher education in 2009 and 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (PDF).

On the other hand, although the Obama administration increased federal support for student aid, the National Center for Education Statistics (PDF) reported that Washington failed to deliver a $12 billion program that would “rebuild crumbling community-college facilities” at a time when more students than ever are turning to community colleges because of cost concerns. More than two-thirds of high school seniors said their families’ economic concerns “greatly” or “somewhat” influenced their choice of school.

Almost 47 percent of U.S. academic libraries are introducing or increasing user charges, while 40 percent are looking externally for new funding sources and 19 percent are advocating internally for a greater share of the institutional budget. Additionally, almost two-thirds of academic libraries are accelerating the shift from print to electronic resources, and many (29 percent) are increasingly directing users to free electronic resources. Even more significantly, 12 percent are pursuing “more effective benchmarking and performance indicators,” as well as trying to demonstrate value through better usage and outcomes pricing.

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Demonstrating Value: Reinvent, Reset, Reappraise

Pressure on the higher-education community to demonstrate value took on new urgency and importance in 2010. The federal government “has demanded results in exchange for federal dollars, requiring grant applicants to set benchmarks for improvement and threatening to withhold aid from programs that fail to prepare students for jobs,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education (Oct. 10, 2010). Accreditation commissions have been asked to develop a common set of standards “to use when assessing colleges’ quality to reassure the public that there is consistency in their approaches” ( Chronicle, Sept. 13). Boards of directors have been challenged to focus on student learning outcomes and educational quality. Colleges face renewed pressure to become more transparent by making information about student learning outcomes easily accessible and understandable on various parts of their websites.

It is in this environment that the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) published “ The Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report” in order to “provide academic librarians with a clearer understanding of what research about the performance of academic libraries already exists, where gaps in this research occur, and to identify the most promising best practices and measures correlated to performance.” Academic libraries are clearly seeking “a better understanding of the value proposition they offer their universities, and of the linkages between their inputs and the teaching, learning, and research outcomes that are achieved with their support,” David Nicholas and others wrote in the September 2010 issue of The Journal of Academic Librarianship.

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Academic libraries: Vital to student success

In the age of Google, students and faculty are using academic libraries more than ever. During a typical week, academic libraries had more than 31 million searches in electronic databases, answered more than 469,000 reference questions and made more than 12,000 group presentations attended by more than 219,000 students and faculty. Library websites received more than 722 million virtual visits from outside the physical library building, and visits to online library catalogs totaled more than 479 million.

However, new research shows that college students are clearly floundering in information overload, and helping them develop research fluency remains one of the most important roles for academic librarians. Students come to college thinking that “Google placed it number one, so of course it’s credible,” Eszter Hargittai and others wrote in the International Journal of Communication, so it is important for librarians and faculty to work more closely to improve student success (and demonstrate their contribution to that success). Publishers, too, agree that they must add more value by curating digital information and making it easier to discover.

Academic libraries continue to evolve from being storage spaces, becoming vital places to collaborate, connect and learn, as evidenced by the more than 20 new, renovated or expanded building projects that were completed during the first 11 months of 2010. “Students expect value for their money, and libraries are one of the most obvious things on their value-for-money tick list,” according to a September 2010 article in The Journal of Academic Librarianship. Heightened focus on the quality of student experience has led to increased support for some academic libraries.

The new and improved library spaces integrate information management, technology, and student-centered settings, according to an article in Inside Higher Ed , with some library areas “beginning to look like Apple Computer Stores” (often the most heavily used areas within the library). More and more academic libraries are designed to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certification. More than 300 U.S. academic libraries manage institutional repositories or participate in consortia to provide online repositories for materials produced by faculty, students and/or the campus community.

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Rethinking the future

In short, both American academic libraries and the institutions of higher education they serve are under increasing pressure to adapt so that they will be able to continue to thrive in the future. James J. Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan, is quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education (June 21, 2010) as saying that higher education could be among the next economic sectors to “undergo a massive restructuring” like the one contemplated for the banking industry. Given the significant economic, political, social and educational challenges facing higher education, it is not surprising that serious planning was the watchword for the year. Studies from a number of groups, such as the ACRL’s “ Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians (PDF)” report, explored scenarios and outlined methodologies available to academic librarians to “build capacity to engage in strategic thinking and planning, supporting librarians in making better decisions now that can address a variety of possible futures.”

The future of e-books and their impact on higher education and libraries was another major topic of discussion during the year. Nicholas Negroponte, chairman emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, predicted that printed books will soon be rare luxury items and e-books the norm, according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education . Inside Higher Ed reported that the California State University system had begun a pilot program in which professors in 32 course sections would require their students to buy e-textbooks. The American Council of Learned Societies “tested the use of digital scholarly monographs for research purposes on various handheld reading devices.”

E-books currently represent 27 percent of academic library holdings, and content in electronic formats accounts for 57 percent of library resource budgets, according to The Journal of Academic Librarianship. Digital content offers big benefits for higher education and academic libraries; faculty and students rate cost savings to students as the top benefit of digital content, followed by instant access to content, access to current content and ease of note-taking.

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Advocacy matters

In order to help shape the future of higher education, academic libraries and librarians continued to monitor legislation and litigation that would either enhance or hinder their ability to provide access to information and pave the way for innovation. Issues of critical interest in 2010 included:

  • Google book search settlement. A federal judge in March ruled against a proposed Google book search (GBS) settlement that the company had hammered out in years of negotiations with the American Association of Publishers and the Authors Guild, which had sued Google over the project in 2005. Members of the academic library community had closely monitored progress on the GBS, which would have resolved a legal dispute over the scanning of millions of books provided by research libraries. But Judge Denny Chin threw Google’s plan to create the world’s largest digital library and bookstore into legal limbo when he ruled that the GBS would have granted the company a “de facto monopoly.” Judge Chin did seem to suggest that a substantially revised agreement could pass legal muster, so it was left to the author and publisher groups to decide whether to resume their copyright case against Google, drop it or try to negotiate a new settlement. To facilitate understanding of the complex GBS, the ALA, the ACRL and the ARL had released “ A Guide for the Perplexed Part III: The Amended Settlement Agreement (PDF),” which emphasized aspects of the proposed settlement that were relevant to libraries. “ A Guide for the Perplexed Part IV: The Rejection of the Google Books Settlement (PDF),” which contains an analysis of Judge Chin’s recent ruling, is now available.
  • Expanded public access to taxpayer-funded research. The ACRL joined the ALA in submitting comments to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy supporting increased public access to research funded by federal science and technology agencies. The recommendations include which agencies should be covered, that policies should be mandatory, that earlier access is better, version and format recommendations, how to keep implementation costs reasonable and the importance of supporting emerging scholarly practice. View text of the comments.
  • Federal Research Public Access Act. The academic library community continued its long-standing support of H.R. 5037, the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA). As organizations and through grassroots advocacy efforts, the ALA and the ACRL were active in calling for an open hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Information Policy, the Census and National Archives. The hearing was held in July 2010, an important step in seeing the bill move forward. The legislation expand a mandate by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that all research funded by NIH grants be made freely available in PubMed Central within one year of publication.
  • Access to information in the digital environment. The Library Copyright Alliance, consisting of the ALA, the ACRL and the ARL, works toward a unified voice and common strategy for the library community in responding to and developing proposals to amend national and international copyright law and policy for the digital environment. In 2010, the group filed comments on a World Intellectual Property Organization draft proposal to facilitate access to copyrighted works for people who are blind or have visual impairments and other reading disabilities; it also issued briefs and comments on a number of other current topics relating to international copyright and libraries. The alliance also filed briefs on cases dealing with consumers’ rights and the first sale doctrine in a battle over an Internet auction of used computer software, as well as the right of Internet service providers not to be held liable for copyright infringement by third-party users. Complete details on LCA activities are available on the alliance website

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Staying afloat in the academic job pool

There has never been a more challenging time to find a position as an academic librarian, especially for those who have recently completed their library education, according to a new publication from ALA Editions. In “How to Stay Afloat in the Academic Library Job Pool,” editor Teresa Y. Neely and a team of experts offer advice on how the job-search process works, including the how-tos of reading between the lines of a job listing and assembling a compelling application packet; keys to understanding how search committees work; and what criteria may be used to choose successful candidates. “How to Stay Afloat” is available at the ALA Store.

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