Friday, April 23, 2010

faculty perceptions of academic libraries

There were a few things that I found interesting in this recent ITHAKA report by Schonfeld and Housewright on faculty views of academic libraries. First was the delineation of five library roles:
  1. Gateway
  2. Archive
  3. Buyer
  4. Research support
  5. Teaching support
The buyer role continues to be perceived as the most important. These roles are fuzzy, of course. One could say that a library fulfills its archive role when it buys services such as JSTOR or Portico that effectively archives materials.

They find that the library's role as a gateway to information is continuing to decrease in importance in the eyes of faculty.
Helping users “locate information for their research” has become a far more competitive endeavor than it was in the days of print, and the library now competes with Google, publishers, aggregators, and other network-level services to serve its constituents. The fact that the perceived value of the gateway role has declined is a point that must be factored into libraries‟ resource allocation decisions;
Does this mean that we should invest less energy in discovery tools because Google has it covered, or does it mean that we should invest more in them? I think the conventional wisdom has been that libraries need to invest more, but this is perhaps worth rethinking. My view has been that the gateways that we do manage (our catalog, our website, and more distantly, research databases) provide unique functionality and we need to invest more resources in them to meet user expectations even though they are becoming less important on a relative basis.

The two new roles in our most recent survey, teaching support and research support, suggest unique opportunities for libraries to further develop campus relationships. But notwithstanding noteworthy library investments in everything from the information commons to data curation services, faculty members across disciplines do not yet value the teaching and research support roles nearly as highly as they do the “infrastructural” roles.
I think that it's possible that the new teaching and research support roles of libraries will by their very nature unevenly benefit faculty constituencies. Whereas traditional library services tend to focus on the provision of broadly beneficial, transactional services such as access to books and journal articles, these new roles are more consultative in nature. They may benefit a smaller percentage of faculty who's teaching and research needs align themselves well with new library teaching and research support services.
On one hand, the fields whose practices are most traditional also appear to contain the library‟s greatest supporters; therefore, if the library shapes its roles and activities based on what is currently most highly appreciated by faculty, it may lose a valuable opportunity to innovate and position itself as relevant in the future. On the other hand, if the library develops new and innovative roles and services that address unmet needs, becoming newly relevant and even essential to those scholars who have moved farthest away from it, in the near term it may lose the support of its most ardent supporters.
I find this to be a relevant question. Should libraries simply give up on the scientists who seem to be more self sufficient and concentrate our services on the humanists who continue to regard the library as their 'laboratory'?