Academic Libraries

academic library

Academic libraries provide resources and services to support the learning, teaching, and research needs of students, faculty, and staff. Surveys show that students and faculty value academic libraries for their success in demonstrating research techniques, increasing student information literacy, and managing course reserves. Academic libraries are finding creative ways to encourage student success through technology spaces and digital scholarship centers.

Asserting the value of academic libraries

In a year when nearly half of chief academic officers at US colleges and universities believe their institutions have not yet recovered from the 2008 economic downturn, pressure on higher education to demonstrate value remained the top issue (PDF) facing academic libraries.

The Association of College and Research Libraries Assessment in Action program, funded by an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, lends support to the growing body of evidence demonstrating the positive contributions of academic libraries to student learning and success in five key areas:

  • improved information literacy competencies for first-year students
  • increased student success in connection with library usage
  • documented student retention with library instruction
  • demonstrated library contributions to collaborative academic student support
  • enhanced student learning with library research consultation services

Fifty-seven percent of chief academic officers rated academic library resources and services “very effective”—more effective than on-campus teaching and instruction, online courses and programs, academic support services, research and scholarship, administrative information systems and operations, and data analysis and organizational analytics. Faculty rated academic libraries most highly in educating students one-on-one in conducting research, instructing students in information literacy, and managing course reserves.

Although only 44.8% of entering first-year students have had experience evaluating the quality or reliability of information, and even fewer (29.3%) have looked up scientific research articles and resources, academic librarians can see their impact on student learning reflected in the results of the 2015 National Survey of Student Engagement Summary (PDF). The survey shows that 34% of the first-year students who participated agreed that their experiences at their institution contributed “very much” to their knowledge, skills, and personal development in using information effectively. More impressively, 47% of seniors agreed with the same statement.

Enhancing space and support for creation-based learningProviding space for collaboration is a high priority for academic institutions.

Learning commons are being designed to provide integrated approaches and programming that foster holistic student success. Providing space for student collaboration was a high priority (PDF) for nearly 90% of academic institutions. Spaces are being designed to allow users to engage with a range of technologies. Many libraries offer multimedia production facilities and technology tools that support media-enriched content creation. Digital scholarship centers that provide equipment, expertise, and services are increasingly found in all types of academic institutions.

The Princeton Review’s top 10 best academic libraries for 2016 are: Yale University, University of Chicago, US Military Academy (West Point), Vassar College, Columbia University, Middlebury College, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, Princeton University, and Colgate University.

Staffing and salaries


Doctoral/research institutions employed an average of 49.58 professional library staff; comprehensive institutions employed an average of 10.8 professional staff; baccalaureate schools employed an average of 6 professional staff; and associate degree–granting institutions employed an average of 5.24 professional staff, according to a 2014 ACRL survey.

Academic libraries provided 26.7% of all jobs for new library school graduates in 2015, up from 26.3% in 2013. The average starting salary for academic librarians was $42,000. New job responsibilituies include data management and data analytics, digital archives, information security, and geospatial information.

Library expenditures for salaries and wages accounted for 57.3% of total library expenditures, on average constituting 77.9% of total library expenditures for associate degree–granting institutions, 52.7% for baccalaureate, 54.7% for comprehensive schools, and 44% for doctoral and research institutions.