Campus libraries diversify to survive

Faculty members see libraries as more valuable than they did several years ago

Many college and university faculty view campus libraries as central to research and communication services, according to a new survey from consulting and research company Ithaka S+R, Carl Straumsheim reports for Inside Higher Ed.

Every three years since 2000, Ithaka S+R has surveyed faculty members on their opinions about information usage and scholarly communication. This year's survey includes responses from 9,203 faculty members representing all arts and sciences and most professional fields at four-year institutions.

Respondents in 2015 rated all functions that libraries carry out as more important than they did in 2012. Support for serving undergraduates saw the biggest increase, from nearly 60% in 2012 to about 75% in 2015.

About two-thirds of faculty members reported improving undergraduate research skills as an important goal for the courses they teach, while about half said librarians are key to students' discovery and use of primary sources in their coursework, marking "substantial increases" from 2012.

"We have a number of findings that show faculty members are paying more attention to students' skills and that they're looking at the library as a partner," says Roger Schonfeld, report co-author and director of Ithaka S+R's libraries and scholarly communication program. "It suggests real opportunities for universities that wouldn't necessarily be possible if it was just an administrative initiative rather than a set of perception changes."

Historically, faculty members have ranked research-related services, such as archiving information and serving as a starting point for research, as the highest priorities of a library. While those functions are still considered important, respondents instead ranked acquisitions and undergraduate support as the two most important roles for a library in 2015.

Library websites and general search engines have also captured a greater share of the market from databases such as JSTOR. About one-quarter of faculty starting their research on the library's website, up from about 20% in 2012.

Also see: How collaborative collection management can help optimize library space

However, few respondents said they use libraries for preserving research. More than 80% of faculty reported preserving, organizing, and managing their own data, compared with less than 10% of faculty who rely on libraries to do so. Once they are finished with their projects, about two-thirds of faculty said they take responsibility for preserving data, with most of them using freely available software. Only about 10% of respondents said libraries and publishers are should be responsible for preservation (Straumsheim, Inside Higher Ed, 4/4).

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