Academic libraries

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Thriving in the Age of Google

Even in the age of Google, academic libraries are being used more than ever. During a typical week in fiscal 2008, academic libraries in the United States had more than 20.3 million visits, answered more than 1.1 million reference questions, and made more than 498,000 presentations to groups attended by more than 8.9 million students and faculty, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Faculty, students, and researchers made 1.5 million more visits to academic libraries in fiscal 2008 than in fiscal 2006, and the number of presentations to groups increased by about 27,000. The number of instructional presentations increased 10.2 percent from 2002, and 72 percent of academic libraries reported providing library reference service by e-mail or the Web.

A new study on students and technology by the Educause Center for Applied Research found that 94.6 percent of students use the library’s website at least once a week. The percentage of students who reported using the library’s website daily increased from 7.1 percent in 2006 to 16.9 percent in 2009. Project Information Literacy found that nine out of 10 college students surveyed turned to libraries “for online scholarly research databases . . . for conducting course-related research, valuing the resources for credible content, in-depth information, and the ability to meet instructors’ expectations.”

Embedding information literacy across the postsecondary curriculum continues to receive support from granting agencies. This year, for example, the Council of Independent Colleges received funding to provide workshops for librarians and faculty to develop information fluency in humanities majors. Deborah Jakubs, Duke University librarian, commented in a letter to alumni in May 2009 that that students found the “collaborative energy” of the university “more visible in the Libraries than anywhere else on campus.”


More and more resources start with an ‘e-’

Although in 2008 academic libraries added 24 million books, serial back files, and other paper materials including government documents, 3.4 million current serial subscriptions, and 3.4 million audiovisual materials units, the shift to e-resources continues to accelerate. Academic libraries added 20 million e-books in 2008, bringing the total to about 102.5 million—a breathtaking two-year increase of 59.4 percent from the 64.3 million held in fiscal 2006, according to the NCES. Electronic reference sources and aggregation services also rose sharply . . . as did expenses: Academic libraries’ expenditures for electronic current serial subscriptions increased to $1 billion in fiscal 2008 from $691.6 million in fiscal 2006, according to a report by the ALA Office of Research and Statistics (ORS).

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Staffing trends

Academic libraries reported 93,438 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff working in 3,827 academic libraries during the fall of 2008, according to the NCES’s Academic Libraries: 2008 First Look. The number of academic librarians increased 5.4 percent from the 2002 level, for a total of 27,030 FTE positions—but during the same period, FTE student enrollments increased by 66 percent, to 18.7 million, according to a report by the ALA’s ORS.

Academic libraries provided 29.3 percent of all jobs for new library school graduates in 2009, an increase of 13.4 percent from fiscal 2007, according to an October 2009 article in Library Journal. During fiscal 2008, academic libraries spent about $3.3 billion on salaries and wages, representing about 49 percent of total library expenditures, according to the NCES. Staff expenditures increased 7.2 percent from 2006 and 37 percent from 2002, according to “Overview of Library Trends, 1999-2009,” an unpublished report by the ALA’s ORS.

In the face of budget reductions, academic libraries have reduced spending on resources to protect staff, operations, and services, according to the Library Journal, and many libraries have frozen recruitment and are leaving vacancies unfilled.


Advocacy matters . . .

Academic libraries continued to monitor potential legislation that would either enhance or hinder their ability to provide access to information (see also the “Federal legislation” section of this report). Issues of critical interest in 2009 included:

  • Community college libraries as potential grant recipients. An amendment to include community college libraries was added to the text of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, passed by the House of Representatives in September. The bill, H.R. 3221, would establish two new competitive grant programs providing states and junior and community colleges the opportunity to apply for funds to launch initiatives to improve graduation and employment-related outcomes. The original bill language did not explicitly include community college libraries as potential recipients of the grants, and the added language highlights the role libraries play in preparing students to obtain and retain employment and encourages community colleges pursuing the grants to invest in their libraries and the services and resources they offer. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
  • Public access to archived publications. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a Request for Information on Dec. 10, 2009, inviting input on “enhancing public access to archived publications resulting from research funded by federal science and technology agencies.” An executive order, if issued, could extend public access policies, like the NIH, to other federal agencies. This would, in effect, accomplish what S. 1373 the Federal Research Public Access act proposes to do through legislation. The Association of College & Research Libraries submitted comments by the Jan. 21, 2010, deadline and encouraged academic libraries to submit their own comments.
  • Google book search settlement. Members of the academic library community closely watched progress on a Google book search settlement. Under the proposed settlement agreement, Google and the American Association of Publishers and Authors Guild would resolve their legal dispute over the scanning of millions of books provided by research libraries. Many librarians have raised questions about the settlement’s impact because of the complexity of the agreement, its potential long-term impact on libraries and users, and the enormity of the book collection involved. (For more on this issue, see the “Copyright and licensing” section of this report).

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