Academic Library Organization

Lorcan 2 min read

One of the reasons I liked Key Perspectives’ report on Researchers’ Use of Academic Libraries and their Services [pdf] is that it highlights a variety of important questions for libraries, and for the institutions which they serve. I hope to come back to some of the specifics of this report, but here is a note on two structural and systemic issues it raises, related by a consideration of value.
From the executive summary:

This is an important moment in the relationship between researchers and research libraries in the UK. The foundations of the relationship are beginning to be tested by shifts in the way that researchers work. The rise of e-research, interdisciplinary work, cross-institutional collaborations, and the expectation of massive increases in the quantity of research output in digital form all pose new challenges. these challenges are about how libraries should serve the needs of researchers as users of information sources of many different kinds, but also about how to deal with the information outputs that researchers are creating.

Currently, the majority of researchers think that their institutions’ libraries are doing an effective job in providing the information they need to do their work, but it is time to consider the future roles and responsibilities of all those involved in the research cycle – researchers, research institutions and national bodies, as well as libraries – in meeting the challenges that are coming.

This certainly chimes with my sense of issues as I talk to folks in research libraries. As research and learning behaviors change, so do the ways in which the library needs to create value. This is precisely the time to focus on providing information services which are available in the workflow, to explore appropriate support for personal collection management and other productivity tools, and, in a point emphasized above, to decide roles in relation to management of institutional research and learning outputs. Libraries need to find ways of investing more in these areas, yet are still not well placed to deliver their current core services. Rather than fading into the background as part of routine enterprise capacity, the ILS has emerged as a major issue. And, the existing library resource is still fragmented and difficult to use. These things have to get simpler as additional roles emerge.
And a little later:

Researchers are eager for more digital content and libraries are eager to provide it. But while nearly all researchers think funding the library should be a high or top priority for their institution, librarians indicate that it is not always easy to secure top-level support. Hence academic libraries receive a relatively modest proportion of their institutions’ budgets and cannot deliver all they would wish to.

Support depends on perceived value, which relates to the subject matter of the last quote.
This paragraph touches on another issue, an organizational one which I have mentioned before. In the UK many research libraries are part of a merged service (with different combinations of IT, media, management information systems, and so on). They also often report up through an administrative officer of the University: they are aligned with administrative support units. In US research universities, the merged service is less common or exists in different forms, and the library typically reports up through an academic officer, the provost.
This report does not really explore whether this organizational context has an effect on the issues it raises. I think that RIN, who commissioned the report, might find some further comparative investigation rewarding. What impact on perception, and support, does the organizational context of the library have? And here I am thinking of two issues, the extent to which the library is managed as part of a merged service and whether it is managed on the academic or the administrative side of the house.
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