The US-based ACRL Research, Planning and Review Committee has produced a valuable 2010 top ten trends in academic libraries report, with plenty of relevance for UK librarians, as well as interesting insights into the US higher education sector. The trends are identified via a rigorous methodology which incorporates a literature review (the report incorporates an impressive array of recent industry sources) and a limited survey “to clarify the trends”.
One key trend is the challenge of the constant rebalancing of library physical and virtual space, noting, interestingly, that “in-person reference desk statistics are declining in many academic libraries, while online reference statistics are increasing”. The report points to the expansion of library virtual presence through course management and other institutional systems as well as social networking tools, and reminds us of the overarching need to “support the teaching and instruction mission of the university”.
A sea change in collection development
The report makes the point that academic library collection growth is now driven by user demand, in other words we’ve shifted from a “just in case” to a “just in time” approach. Is “just in case” in fact integral to the library mission? Only time will tell how susceptible this makes the academic library to further disintermediation, facilitated by:
“… customized patron-driven acquisition programs from some major library book distributors, improved print-on-demand options for monographs, patron desire for new resource types, and resource sharing systems, such as RapidILL, offering 24-hour turnaround time for article requests.”
The report further acknowledges:
“Still to be determined are the long-term effects of this change on the ability of academic libraries to meet their clientele’s information needs, the stability of some of the new access methods, and implications for future scholarship
Digital data set management: a grower
A sub-set of this trend towards user-driven collection development is “the need to collect, preserve, and provide access to digital datasets”. A 2009 OCLC report is cited to make the point that libraries need to support discovery in this area, and notes that the 2010 Horizon Report identified visual data analysis tools as a technology trend on the 4-5 year horizon. Digitisation more generally is a trend in its own right and the report warns that this will require a larger share of resources in future. On the upside, the Coalition of Networked Information makes the point that the academic library has a real opportunity with the digitisation of special collections – “a nexus where technology and content are meeting to advance scholarship in extraordinary new ways”.
The explosive growth of mobile devices is a standalone trend, alongside a more general Technology section. Again, the report brings us back to the need to consider not only user needs and preferences but also “the relationship of services to the academic program of their institution”.
Accountability and assessment
A particularly significant trend, in my view, is the increasing need for accountability and assessment, i.e. the library demonstrating the value provided to users and the broader institution, specifically:
“… the library’s impact on student learning outcomes, student engagement, student recruitment and retention, successful grant applications, and faculty research productivity.”
Bad moon rising
The report makes the points that you would expect about budget challenges, but there are some interesting vignettes around the US higher education sector generally, notably this, sourced from Chronicle of Higher Education:
“… the average return for college and university endowments in the 2009 fiscal year was -18.7%, the worst since 1974.”
Importantly though, the report doesn’t dwell on this unfortunate reality, and really does accentuate the positive. One area of optimism highlighted was increased opportunities for collaboration, the epitome of the service orientation of librarianship, as the report correctly notes:
“Collaboration efforts will continue to diversify: collaborating with faculty to integrate library resources into the curriculum and to seek out information literacy instruction, and as an embedded librarian; working with scholars to provide access to their data sets, project notes, papers etc. in virtual research environments and digital repositories.”
And another real area of opportunity is scholarly communications:
“Recent developments illustrate a trend toward proactive efforts to educate faculty and students about authors’ rights and open access publishing options and to recruit content for institutional repositories (IRs).
The report urges academic librarians to provide value-added intellectual property services, and there are some really interesting US exemplars highlighted:
“Some libraries have created scholarly communication librarian or copyright officer positions. Others have taken a more distributed approach. The University of Minnesota, for example, has included scholarly communication responsibilities in the position descriptions of all of its liaison librarians.”
The ACRL Research, Planning and Review Committee is to be commended for such a lucid report that is concise enough for everyone to read in full.