Libraries

What Does a Successful Academic Library Look Like?

I considered a lot of different titles for this post. There are the popular phrases like “re-imagining the library,”  “re-envisioning the library,” or “the future of libraries;” but, librarians and library advocates have been throwing those words around for years. Then, there was the edge-of-the-cliff approach. Something like, “take the library off life support,” or “is an academic library necessary.” While it might draw readers, it’s not the tone I’m going for. Those two viewpoints though offer a perspective of how libraries are viewed. People either want to save/transform libraries or kill them. You’ll notice there are no posts or articles that say libraries are fine and should just keep on keeping on.

A great jumping off point is the report, “Redefining the Academic Library: Managing the Migration to Digital Information Services,” published by the Education Advisory Board. You may read the concise, slide-version of the report or the more in-depth report.

 So, if libraries are in crisis, what does a successful academic library look like? What do you want your library to look like and how do you define successful? Does successful mean growing and transforming or merely open for business?

7 Comments

Tim

I’ve also been thinking about the trend toward access over ownership in people’s personal lives. Services like Netflix and Spotify supplant the need for a DVD or CD collection. If ownership is still important, it’s less apparent as objects are no longer displayed on shelves in a home, but stored on disk.

Libraries also play into that role of service provider in terms of access, but another consideration is ease of access.

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rampantprint

This is from an internal perspective.

A successful academic library:

-Focuses on unique collections, but does not let collections alone define value.
-Does not assume that faculty and students understand the value libraries provide.
-Invests in collaborative software projects instead of licensing commercial products when appropriate, especially software that facilitates discovery and access.
-Clearly states services provided.
-Reduces complex public service policies.
-Understands that all researchers are also consumers, but not all consumers are researchers.
-Accepts that partnerships outside the library can be more important than protecting old services that are strictly controlled by the library.
-Employs staff who provide a balance between traditional skills and skills that were previously not acknowledged as relevant to library services.
-Recruits employees from across geographical areas, balancing internal promotions with diverse cultures.
-Creates a culture of creativity and productivity: for employees and patrons.
-Is not afraid to let go of the past in order to succeed in the future.

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Jeffrey M

A few thoughts: it grows, promotes itself, anticipates needs. It’s creative, flexible, and embraces change. It finds gaps in services and strives to address them. It addresses the philosophy of information science, the logic and reasoning as well as the mechanics of access. It supports the mission of the institution, and goes beyond to support the general public.

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Roger Hawcroft

How long is a piece of string?

Any library, academic or otherwise, should (in my opinion) provide the services that best support the aims of its host organisation and the client group which it is intended to serve.

By definition, one would expect that an academic library exist to primarily support the teaching and learning activities of the institution and, if appropriate, research and other relevant activities.Just as all institutions are different, so should be their libraries so whilst there may be some aspects of academic libraries that are common or shared, there will be others that are unique or particular to a specific library.

It would seem that this question arises out of the current climate change from focus on collection to focus on access. However, in my opinion, focus on access has always been that of the effective library and nothing has changed but the technology through which we provide it, and clearly, that technology includes physical containers and rows of shelving as compared with cd/dvd media through to online and ‘cloud’ storage.

Commonly, the skills of librarianship have been poorly regarded and librarians have been seen more as custodians and obstacles to access than of allies in providing it. It is also unfortunately the case that many pedestrian librarians and man poorly managed libraries have contributed to the ubiquity of that view.

Today we have a conflict not unlike that of the fundamental contradiction in effective searching – that of needing, on the one hand to garner all we can of relevance, not missing anything that may be of significance, and on the other to limit our results to only what is relevant and not include results which are of little use or significance. Today’s climate is one of exponential increase in data and information which is managed by increasingly complex digital technology, whilst at the same time, interfaces become more friendly and accessible. The problem here is that the user expects that finding what they need will be as simple as it is to click the mouse button. As librarians, we know that is not the case.

So, the academic library needs to be a hub – a place of contact both physically and virtually. It needs staff who can see the gaps between common understanding and reality such as the belief that all young people are now conversant with computer and other digital technology and able to fend for themselves in finding what they need. We know that not to be true. The staff need to be proactive in bridging that gap – this will generally mean a new and differently trained type of librarian. Academic librarians need to be educators, themselves. They need to be forward thinking and collaborative in the teaching / learning process. They and the library hub need to mediate, select, filter, teach and advise.

For far too long academic librarians have acted more as couriers or messengers and their libraries as repositories or store-houses of collected and recorded data, information and knowledge. That has to change. It should have changed long ago. Because it didn’t the technologists were able to poach the ‘information’ component from the librarian’s resume and libraries, including academic libraries, are under serious threat of extinction or, at best, severely reduced support and status. It needn’t be that way but to prevent it we have to stop being baggage handlers and start driving the train.

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