Academic Libraries

Academic library

Pressure on higher education is keenly felt in the campus library

The pressure on higher education to demonstrate value continued in 2012—and remains the top issue facing academic and research libraries. National accrediting agencies have expanded their criteria by almost 50 percent since 2008, with more focus on outcomes, including assessing student learning and graduation rates, Eric Kelderman wrote in December 2012 in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The message for academic librarians is that students need to be able to analyze information and apply it to new contexts, reflect on what they know, identify what they still need to learn, and sort through contradictory arguments.

Librarians have their work cut out for them. John H. Pryor of the Higher Education Research Institute surveyed incoming first-year college students in the fall of 2011 and found that 60 percent do not evaluate the quality or reliability of information, 75 percent do not know how to find research articles and resources, and 44 percent do not know how to integrate knowledge from different sources. (“The American Freshman: National Norms, Fall 2011 PDF)

In fact, most students in higher education don’t consider the campus library website a must for success. The Educause Center for Applied Research collaborated with 195 institutions in 2012 to ask more than 100,000 students a range of questions, including: “When it comes to your success as an undergraduate, what is the one website or online resource you couldn’t live without?” The most frequently cited sources were Google (33 percent) and Blackboard (16 percent), while only 5 percent went with the college or university library website. (“ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and InformationTechnology, 2012” PDF)

Employers feel differently. According to a Project Information Literacy research report, employers are less than satisfied with the information-seeking behavior of today’s college graduates. Unlike college, a sense of urgency often pervades the workplace, where personal contacts often reap more useful results than online searches. Employers are dissatisfied with graduates who settle for finding answers quickly online rather than using both online and traditional methods to conduct comprehensive research. (“Learning Curve: How College Graduates Solve Information Problems OnceThey Join the Workplace" PDF)

Academic libraries clearly have an important role to play. A study by David Schwieder and Lisa Hinchliffe that analyzed National Center for Education Statistics datasets found that academic libraries at four-year colleges and universities can make a broad, empirically grounded claim of providing value to their institutions. High retention and graduation rates were positively linked to a number of library variables, especially library hours and the amount spent on serial publications.  (“NCES Datasets and Library Value: An Exploratory Study of 2008 Data”)

Academic libraries rise to the challenge by embracing transformation

Academic libraries are rising to the challenge, working to transform services by minimizing physical collection space, moving to collaborative and patron-driven collections, setting up virtual reference and automated circulation services, and embedding library staff in online courses and discussions, according to a report by the Education Advisory Board. Serials costs are rising faster than academic library budgets, with 30 percent of operating costs devoted to serials in 2009, compared to 21 percent in 1989. Not surprisingly, a 2012 Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) survey showed that the top challenge for the profession is redefining the role of libraries and librarians in an environment in which Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, and HathiTrust, a collaborative repository of more than 10 million volumes of digital content, provide easier access and richer collections.

Use of academic libraries is up due to increased enrollments at colleges and universities, and the end is not in sight: Enrollments are expected to increase by 14 percent by fall 2019 compared with fall 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Meanwhile, the salary picture at academic libraries was mixed in 2012. Salaries generally increased or held steady from 2010 to 2012, with the exception of beginning librarians, who lost ground. (“NCES Digest of Education Statistics 2009” PDF)

Mean salaries paid, academic libraries, 2010 and 2012
Job title (s) 2010 2012 Change N
Director/dean/chief officer $97,767 $100,852 + 3.20% 255
Deputy/associate/assistant director $81,897 $90,934 + 11.0% 355
Dept. head/branch manager/coordinator/senior manager $65,320 $66,895 + 2.4% 237
Manager/supervisor of support staff $57,079 $56,734 - 0.01% 363
Librarian who does not supervise $55,732 $58,209 + 4.4% 1,739
Beginning librarian $47,000 $45,560 - 3.1% 119
Total       3,068
Source:2012 ALA-APA Salary Survey, Librarian—Public and Academic,” p. 58.


Academic libraries assume new roles in growth areas

Data curation, digital resource management and preservation, assessment, scholarly communication, and improved services for graduate students are growth areas for academic libraries, according to an ACRL review of trends and issues affecting academic libraries. Understanding and preparing for these roles are key to the future of academic libraries. Three crucial areas:

  • Publishing. More academic libraries are entering the world of scholarly publishing by creating or expanding services. Amherst (Mass.) College, for example, plans to relaunch its university press this year in a project described as a new “economic model” for libraries. The plan is to initially publish 15 peer-reviewed, edited titles in the liberal arts exclusively in freely accessible, digital formats. The project suggests a model that significantly alters the role of libraries in the information economy. “If enough libraries begin doing [this], at some point there is going to be a critical mass of freely available scholarly literature—literature that libraries don’t have to purchase,” Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, wrote in December 2012. “And if they use those savings to publish more material, you reach a tipping point."
  • Data curation. Funding agencies including the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) now have requirements that promote open access to the underlying data gathered during grant-funded research projects. P. Bryan Heidorn of the University of Arizona predicts that there will be a growing demand for library professionals with data-curation, data-mining, and analytical skills, and a recent report from the ACRL highlighted the need and imperative for research data services in colleges and universities. In short, academic librarians will play a pivotal role in the description, management, storage, access, and reuse of data.
  • Staffing. Academic libraries provided 26.2 percent of all jobs for new library school graduates in 2012, according to an October 2012 article in Library Journal , up from 17.7 percent in 2011. The average starting salary for new academic librarians was $45,654, up from $40,500 in 2011. Jobs in academic libraries in particular offered unique opportunities to work with emerging technologies, digital repositories, and instructional design. Not surprisingly, nearly half (47.1 percent) of the new reference librarians were hired by academic libraries in 2011.

There is a good deal of overlap between this list and what the ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee identified as the top 10 trends in academic and research librarianship. These are based on a review of the literature, information gleaned at conferences, the opinions of those who are familiar with current trends in higher education, and, in 2012, a discussion held among ACRL members at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. The top 10 for 2012, listed in alphabetical order, are:

  • Communicating value. Academic libraries must prove the value they provide to the academic enterprise.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Higher education. Institutions of higher education are entering a period of flux and even turmoil. Trends to watch for are the rise of online instruction and degree programs, globalization, and an increased skepticism about the “return on investment” in a college degree.
  • Information technology. Technology continues to drive much of the futuristic thinking within academic libraries.
  • Mobile environments. Mobile devices are changing the way information is delivered and accessed.
  • Patron-driven ebook acquisition (PDA). PDA of ebooks is poised to become the norm. For this to occur, licensing options and models for library lending of ebooks must become more sustainable.
  • 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.
  • Staffing. Academic libraries must develop the staff needed to meet new challenges through creative approaches to hiring new personnel and deploying or retraining existing staff.
  • User behaviors and expectations. Convenience affects all aspects of information seeking—the selection, accessibility, and use of sources.

Occasionally, academic and public libraries join forces and manage to adjust cultures and expectations so that the marriage works. Case in point: The city of San José, Calif., and San José State University survived an uproar from faculty (and other obstacles) and eventually achieved a successful merger.

And perhaps setting another new trend, the libraries at Columbia University and Cornell University announced in January 2013 that they will integrate their technical services departments—which buy and license library materials such as books, ebooks, e-journals, and databases—and provide the data that users need to find and use those materials. The project is supported by a three-year, $350,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Top 10–rated institutions of higher education, library-wise

The Princeton Review released its ranking of colleges and universities in 62 categories, including “Best College Library.” (The rankings do not take into account number of volumes, circulation, or any other metrics.) Based on about 122,000 students’ answers to the survey question: “How do you rate your school’s library facilities?” the top 10–rated institutions of higher education for 2013 are Harvard College, the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), Columbia University, Stanford University, Emory University, Yale University, Hampden-Sydney (Va.) College, the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and Middlebury (Vt.) College.


Librarians keep an eye on legislation, court cases

In order to help shape the future of higher education, academic libraries and librarians continued to monitor legislation and court cases that would either enhance or hinder their ability to provide access to information and pave the way for innovation. Issues of critical interest in 2012 included:

  • Expanded public access to taxpayer-funded research. ACRL supported increased public access to digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research; joined other library, publishing, and advocacy organizations in successfully opposing the Research Works Act, which would have prevented agencies of the federal government from requiring public access to federally subsidized research; worked with the library community in promoting new legislation that would support public access; and encouraged members to sign a White House petition on open access to research.
  • Mass digitization. Members of the academic library community in 2012 continued to closely watch progress on the long-running litigation over Google’s project to scan and index millions of books from research library collections. The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), comprising ALA, ACRL, and the Association of Research Libraries, filed an amicus curiae brief (PDF) concerning an Authors Guild lawsuit against Google, in which authors allege that Google violated copyright by scanning books to create Google Books. The LCA also joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation in two other briefs (“Brief Amici Curiae in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgement” PDF, “Brief Amici Curiae in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Judgement on the Pleadings” PDF) in the Authors Guild suit against the HathiTrust; the HathiTrust Digital Library, operated by a consortium of universities, contains many of the 10 million digital volumes that Google provided in exchange for the universities’ allowing the company to scan books in their collections for its Google Books Library Project. (See also the Ebooks and Copyright Issues section).
  • Access to information. The LCA worked toward developing 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. In 2012, LCA members submitted a statement (PDF) and comments (PDF) to the World Intellectual Property Organization regarding copyright exceptions and limitations relating to libraries and archives, and an LCA representative attended WIPO meetings in Geneva to further consider an international treaty concerning access to copyrighted works by individuals with print disabilities.
  • Right to lend. LCA members also filed a brief (PDF) with the Supreme Court in support of the petitioner in Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons, believing an adverse decision in this case could affect libraries’ right to lend books and other materials manufactured abroad. At the heart of this case is the “first sale doctrine,” the principle that books, records, movies, and other copyrighted works should be treated like all other property; that is, when you buy a copy, you own that copy, and you can give it away, resell it, or (as is vital for libraries) lend it. When the Supreme Court ruled on March 19, 2013, that Americans and U.S. businesses have the right to sell, lend, or give away the things they own that were made overseas, the LCA issued a statement that it was “gratifying that Justice Breyer’s majority opinion focused on the considerable harm that the Second Circuit’s opinion would have caused libraries.” More on LCA activities is available at the LCA website.


The State of America's Libraries 2013