Academic Libraries

Young woman at academic library

Juggling roles to handle print and digital resources and services

The economic downturn that started in 2008 is continuing at most institutions of higher learning, and academic librarians are working to transform programs and services by repurposing space, migrating collections, and redeploying staff in the digital resources environment, according to the University Leadership Council (PDF).

Recent expenditure data show how librarians juggle their historical role in managing print materials and new demands for digital resources and services. And the 2014 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers indicates that most new funds for academic programs are in fact coming from reallocation rather than new revenues.

Academic Libraries: 2012. First Look (PDF), released in January by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the U.S. Department of Education, provides a wealth of information about the state of college and university libraries, derived from a web-based survey of all 3,793 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the 50 states and the District of Columbia that had academic libraries in 2012. The response rate among these institutions was about 85%. A few highlights:

  • Academic libraries were actively adding ebooks—about 53 million of them in fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30, 2012, making their total ebook holdings more than 252 million units. And they spent some $2.8 billion for electronic books, serial back files, and other materials in fiscal 2012, about half of that for electronic current serial subscriptions.
  • To handle all those books, physical and virtual, and provide the many services that go with them, academic libraries reported 85,752 full-time equivalent staff during the fall of 2012; 30,819 other paid staff accounted for about 36% of the total paid staff in academic libraries. Still, staffing at academic libraries declined 9% in 2010–2012. In all, academic libraries spent about $3.4 billion on salaries and wages in fiscal 2012, representing almost half of total library expenditures.
  • Just over half of academic libraries, 2,023, had total expenditures of less than $500,000 in fiscal 2012, while 1,104 had total expenditures of $1 million or more. Academic libraries spent about $123.6 million in fiscal 2012 for bibliographic utilities, networks, and consortia.
  • Library expenditures for information resources decreased slightly more than one percent from 2010 when adjusted for inflation, from $2.82 billion to $2.79 billion. Associate degree-granting institutions decreased spending by 9%; baccalaureate schools decreased their spending for information resources by 6.4%; and comprehensive degree-granting institutions spent 3.6% less. Only doctoral degree-granting institutions spent more (0.7%) more than in 2010 when adjusted for inflation.
  • Many academic libraries kept long hours: 2,417 (63.7%) of them were open 60 to 99 hours during a typical week in the fall of 2012. Another 595 (15.7%) were open 100 or more hours per typical week, and only 67 (1.8%) were open less than 40 hours.
  • During fiscal 2012, about three quarters (75%) of academic libraries reported that they supported virtual reference services. A few more, 77%, reported providing library reference service by email or the web, but fewer than half (43%) reported library staff digitizing documents.
  • In the past year, 76% of all academic libraries reported using social media with Facebook, blogs, and Twitter being the three most frequently used resources. The chief three reasons for using social media include promotion of library services, marketing of events, and community building.

Starting salaries for new academic librarians increased from 2010 to 2012

The average starting salary for new academic librarians in 2012 rose 5% from 2010, to $42,599. About 10% of the graduates accepting jobs in academic institutions took positions in academic units outside the library; those working on campus technology initiatives or providing information services for academic departments such as music or medicine reported non-library salaries averaging $50,802. New graduates specializing in data curation commanded an average annual salary of $49,900. Minority graduates experienced the greatest improvement in salaries in academic libraries, with an 8% gain ($44,659 in 2011 to $48,174 in 2012). This was contrary to the general trend for academic libraries, which had an overall decrease of slightly more than 2%.

Academic librarian employment by Carnegie classification in 2012
Type of library No. of libraries % of all U.S. academic libraries % of librarians employed
Doctoral/research 285 7.5% 42.9%
Master’s I & II 638 16.8% 21.3%
Baccalaureate 566 14.9% 9.8%
Baccalaureate/associate’s 105 2.7% 1.3%
Associate’s 1,422 37.5% 17.0%
Specialized 647 17.1% 7.1%
Not classified 130 < 0.1% 0.6%

Source: NCES data. Proportions in the various categories changed by less than one percent from 2010 to 2012.

Academic libraries provided one-third of all jobs for new library school graduates in 2012, up from 26% in 2011, according to 2013 reports in Library Journal.

Academic libraries reported 85,752 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff working in 3,793 academic libraries during the fall of 2012, a decrease of 3.6% (3,191 positions) from 2010. The number of academic librarians decreased only 0.4% since 2010 to a total of 26,606 FTE positions. At the same time, FTE student enrollments have increased by 2.6% since 2010 to 24.2 million. Librarians accounted for 31% of the total number of FTE staff in academic libraries.

Data curation, digital resource management and preservation, assessment, scholarly communication, and improved services for graduate students are growth areas for academic libraries. New technologies and digital materials are creating more new jobs in academic libraries including digital content management, electronic resources, emerging technology specialists, scholarly communication, user experience designer, and web services librarians.

Academic libraries may become even more active participants in the knowledge creation cycle in their institution, and academic librarians are exploring ways to help campuses build infrastructures and service programs that will preserve their institutions’ intellectual assets and make them available for use by others. Libraries are also taking on the role of publisher; a new directory (PDF) lists more than 115 libraries providing full publishing services to help their faculty and students disseminate their research. A 2012 white paper (PDF) by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) highlighted the need for research data services in colleges and universities, which is leading to a growing demand for library professionals with data management and analysis skills. While some academic libraries are already engaged in these activities, many others are examining ways they can best provide a range of research data services.

Asserting the value of academic libraries

In a year when Moody’s Investment Service declared the near-term outlook for all of higher education to be negative, pressure on the higher education community to demonstrate value continued unabated and remained the top issue facing academic and research libraries.

Libraries are seen as key players as institutions increase their emphasis on funding programs based on how those programs align with their institutional mission. An  Inside Higher Ed survey of college and university business officers revealed that 64% of chief academic officers rated library resources and services “very effective” in this regard, and libraries at doctoral institutions were also rated as “very effective”  by 76% of chief academic officers, according to the 2014 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College & University Chief Academic Officers.

Indeed, one cornerstone of the modern university library is “an awareness of institutional context,” says Matthew Conner, instruction/reference librarian at the Peter J. Shields Library, University of California, Davis. “There is so much variety and richness in a given institution that it would be a mistake to apply general principles in a direct literal way, or copy directly from another institution. . . . Libraries should look inward rather than outward to solve their problems with a due awareness of professional developments and judicious application of new knowledge.”

ACRL is helping librarians demonstrate their libraries’ contributions to advancing institutional mission and strategic goals. In September 2012, the Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the ACRL a three-year grant of $249,330 for the program “Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success.” This grant takes a “campus team” approach to bringing librarians, faculty, and administrators together to examine the impact of the library on student learning outcomes.

Libraries also contribute to student retention

Retaining current students is another key revenue strategy for post-secondary institutions, according to the survey of college and business officers, making the contributions of academic librarians to student learning more important than ever. A recent NCES report noted that 71% of all U.S. postsecondary institutions had articulated student learning/student success outcomes, and that 55% had incorporated information literacy into student learning/student success outcomes.

Academic librarians can see their contributions to student learning reflected in the new National Survey of Student Engagement “Experiences with Information Literacyy (PDF)” module. The module debuted in 2013 and is designed to assess exposure to courses and assignments that require students 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.

A recent study analyzed the NCES data sets (including the Academic Library Survey and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) and found that academic libraries at four-year colleges and universities can make a broad, empirically grounded claim of providing value to their institutions. Numerous library variables showed positive associations with retention and graduation rates, with serial expenditures and library hours being especially significant.

A new study, aptly tagged Learning the Ropes (PDF), finds that academic librarians have a role to play in student retention. Because a third of first-year students will not return to school the following year, student retention could be strengthened by improving how first-year students are taught, coached, advised, and guided through learning the college-level research process. The demise of many high school libraries means that most first-year students are entirely new to library research and have a limited understanding of what the research process entails and how librarians could help them, the study found.

“Libraries are doing everything under the sun to reach college students,” says Conner, the UC-Davis librarian. He says the prominent forms of outreach appear to be:

  • The Learning Commons building space and associated services.
  • Digital access to collections.
  • Technological outreach to include such diverse initiatives as remote instruction through videos and LibGuides; access to the library through small, mobile devices; participation in online learning; and redesigned, more accessible web pages.

Four libraries with particular impact on students cited . . .

Conner, in his book, The New University Library: Four Case Studies, cites these university libraries as having a particular impact on students and what they are doing:

  • The University of California at Davis is challenging the dichotomy between the traditional local print collection and the systemwide, digitized repository of the sort being pioneered by the UC system. The university-wide open-access policy is making research articles freely available to the public through eScholarship, California’s open digital repository.
  • UC Merced, the first academic library built in the 21st century, is pioneering a high-speed approach that attempts to meet the challenges of librarianship with a smaller footprint than was thought possible. The collection is heavily digital with a greater-than-usual reliance on ebooks. All librarians are managers who supervise students and staff and have interlocked roles, and their building is set up to enhance the user experience in creative new ways.
  • The University of Hawaii at Manoa has drawn on the unique multicultural history of the islands to craft a library culture in some ways decades in advance of the profession. Where other libraries struggle with definitions of liaisons, UHM has disciplinary centers which integrate faculty across department lines and on which library subject specialists serve in powerful executive capacities, some crossing international lines to work with national libraries throughout Asia and the Pacific. The special collections work at this library has transcended traditional notions of collection to embrace vast multicultural programming and academic engagement.
  • The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is carrying its pre-eminence in collections and services into the new endeavors of the profession. Their achievements, Conner says, “are too many to name.” Highlights include a vast reorganization of the traditional decentralized departmental research library into a new organization based on “hubs” of activity; managerial methods for bringing change to a vast, complex organization in an extremely short time that can serve as a model for any library reorganization; radical new advances on the learning commons idea that has evolved into a media commons in the undergraduate library and a scholarly commons serving advanced researchers in the main library.

. . . and three others receive Excellence in Academic Libraries Award

And the ACRL continued its tradition early this year of honoring three libraries with its 2014 Excellence in Academic Libraries Award:

  • The Illinois Central College Library, winner in the community college category, was chosen for its emphasis on disadvantaged students and staff development. “Illinois Central is being recognized for an emphasis on . . . finding approaches to raise the students’ odds of success by getting them to read,” said Joyce Ogburn, chair of the 2014 Excellence in Academic Libraries Committee and dean of the libraries at Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina. “The library also believes in staff development and supports a robust Library Tech training program in the evening and encourages participation in leadership training on campus.”
  • Skillman Library of Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, winner of the award in the college category, impressed the selection committee with its digital scholarship experimentation as well as its pioneering in acquisition models. “Lafayette College seeks to be a model for other colleges and has been in the forefront on getting grants and experimenting with digital scholarship in the liberal arts setting,” Ogburn said. “The library implemented new models of acquisitions for journals by combining strategic cancellations with article-by-article purchase. They led the way for other liberal arts colleges by developing consortial approaches to patron driven acquisitions for ebooks, joining HathiTrust and implementing the Ithaka faculty survey on their campus.”
  • The Robert E. Kennedy Library at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, winner in the university category, was selected for its innovations in student engagement. “Cal Poly State University library uses a thematic approach in their application, documenting their emphasis on being open, inclusive and connected,” Ogburn said. “Their ideas are fresh and appealing across the three areas. The committee noted the level of student engagement and partnerships across campus. We were taken by the LibRATs program, or Library Research Assistance Technicians, where highly trained students provide instruction and help other students with research.”

“All three achieved excellence without the benefit of a new or greatly renovated library,” Ogburn said. “Each made the most of the resources at hand and capitalized on their staffs energies and talents to blaze new territory or to serve their users in new ways.”

And ACRL Executive Director Mary Ellen Davis commented: “These deserving recipients demonstrate the commitment to student learning, campus outreach, and digital scholarship, with a focus on continuous innovation and integration with the campus community that exemplify today’s best academic and research libraries.”


The State of America's Libraries 2014