Academic libraries are straddling two eras, experiencing declining demand for the services they were built to provide and increasing demand for next-generation digital resources few are fully equipped to deliver.
Innovative approaches to managing books, journals, space, and staff are increasingly necessary, but change within each area of investment is difficult.
Several factors stand in the way of transformation:
1. The growth of electronic book formats and radically different acquisition models has been slower than many anticipated, and resistance by both publishers and purchasers has made large investments in ebooks infeasible.
2. Rising journal prices are catalyzing increased interest in alternative publishing venues and more flexible licensing arrangements, but many are skeptical of the capacity of libraries to alter the publishing behavior of faculty.
3. Large print collections make sweeping library renovations expensive, politically sensitive, and labor-intensive.
4. Many library staff spend most of their time managing aging, less relevant resources and lack the expertise needed to adapt to radically different user needs.
New opportunities will require a reformulation of the library's conventional structure.
What role do provosts play?
Provosts have a central and critical role to play in guiding the library toward the flexible end state that defines information services in the future. Without strategic engagement from the chief academic officer, no library will be able to bring together the vision, political will, funding, and buy-in from both faculty and students required to navigate such a daunting transition.
“Administrators can no longer afford to be disengaged with their libraries, which are becoming more and more marginalized as the pace of technological change accelerates. Any provost who wants to just wait and see is missing the opportunity of a lifetime.”
—Charles Henry, President of the Council on Library and Information Resources
Next steps for institutions
Our research suggests that in the next five to 10 years, successful academic libraries will have moved aggressively in the following directions:
- Emphasizing access to—not individual ownership of—resources
- Calibrating acquisition strategy to patron needs based on detailed usage data
- Incentivizing and incubating low-cost and open-access venues for scholarly research
- Shifting staff focus from managing collections to embedding support services within courses and faculty research teams
- Opening library space to accommodate patrons, rather than physical volumes