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Top ten trends in academic libraries

Catching up with reading after a few days away led me (via a RT from @benshowers) to ACRL’s latest article on ‘2012 top ten trends in academic libraries’.  (ACRL  are the US Association of College and Research Libraries and part of the American Library Association).   It’s an interesting list:

Communicating value; Data curation; Digital preservation; Higher education; Information technology; mobile environments; Patron driven e-book acquisition; Scholarly communication; Staffing; and, User behaviors and expectations.

Some are obvious, IT, mobiles, the changing nature of higher education.  But I find it quite interesting that user behavior and expectations is flagged up as a top ten trend.  Driven in part maybe by increased expectations as the cost of higher education to the student continues to rise, but also by our students being better informed consumers of online information.  Their experience of library search (for example here in this blog post by @carolgauld) contrasts markedly with their experiences of the web, through online shopping and social networking.  And it’s a big challenge for libraries and publishers.  All too often it seems that library systems are built with librarians or researchers in mind rather than users.

I also find it interesting that getting across library value is a top trend and that seems again to be something that libraries always struggle with.  It’s timely that ACRL have their White Paper ‘Connect, Collaborate and Communicate: A report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summits’ out now.  That includes material from Carol Tenopir’s work that I was fortunate to hear about first hand last year.  Top of the recommendations is about ensuring that librarians understand how libraries contribute to student learning and success.  Work such as Huddersfield’s Library Impact Data Project are demonstrating that there is a connection between library usage and attainment and it’s important that libraries get involved within their institution to make sure that library data is contributed to ‘data warehouses’ and other management information systems so library use is taken account of when measuring student achievement.

Two further things in the list stand out for me: Data curation and Digital Preservation.  Mainly because it’s an area I’m becoming more involved with as we plan and build our new Digital Library ( , but also because it seems to me that a lot of library time is being spent (and going to be spent) in this area of work.  Although there’s clearly a step between managing collections of physical items (books and documents) to managing collections of digital items, there’s a sense to me that curation of stuff the library owns, is a more ‘comforting’ space for libraries to operate in.  Handling access to stuff we license (the subscribed resources world) starts to seem like a different type of activity maybe, a ‘blip’ on the landscape of libraries as curators of collections of stuff the library owns?

Library performance metrics screenshotAfter blogging about Carol Tenopir’s fascinating library value seminar the other week I was interested to see a view about how librarians are struggling with library value metrics in this slideshow ‘Refining the Academic Library’ (courtesy of a Google+ post from Ben Showers). The slides are from the Education Advisory Board in the US. The Education Advisory Board ‘provides best practice research and practical advice to academic, business, and student affairs leaders at the nation’s leading universities.’

The slides themselves cover the challenges facing libraries and talk through the transformation steps involved in changing the model of delivery from a face-to-face, print-based, ‘just-in-case’ business model, to a digital, ‘just-in-time’ model.  Ranging through the issues of the rising costs of journals and how libraries are increasingly being disintermediated (although interestingly that view contradicts a comment from Carol Tenopir that academics may not read journals in the library but still the majority were using library resources as their main source for journal articles), through to looking at the power of Google’s digitisation potential compared with a typical academic library, the slides are a really good summary of the issues facing academic libraries and how academic libraries might move forward.

A lot of the content covers the challenges facing institutions with large physical collections and a building that is the focus of many of their traditional services, so some of that isn’t relevant to my particular interest.  But many of the challenges and solutions around eresources, ebooks and support services are very relevant. Going Where students areOne of the slides advocates ‘Going Where the Students Are’ which is something that we try to do as much as possible.  So we have Library Resources embedded and linked within the Virtual Learning Environment and links to various library websites.  We also have information literacy activities and have the goal of embedding as much as possible into VLE courses.

But that isn’t without issue.  By closely intergrating the library so students can follow a link to resources directly from their course materials you can easily make the library invisible to users.  The value of the physical library is that it makes it clear to students that when they go through the door, the resources within are provided by the ‘Library’  Replicating that feeling when in a virtual environment is quite a challenge and something that library portals have tried to address.  A ‘brought to you by the Library’ pop-up message is feasible to do but potentially intrusive and irritiating to users when it pops-up on every single library resource link.

The slides give a really good run through the challenges and issues for libraries with lots of useful material that are going to be quite helpful in telling the sort of stories that we will need to put across over the next few years.  As a final thought it’s also interesting to see the NCSU mobile services being mentioned in the slides, as they have been something that we have looked at quite a lot when planning the new mobile library website that we now have made available here

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July 2020

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