June 7, 2012

The challenges facing academic libraries in the 21st century


Academic and research libraries are taking stock, providing a list of 2012’s most pressing trends. Here’s a rundown for those interested, which surely includes not only publishers, but anyone concerned with the values placed on disseminating literature across the wings of higher education.

This introduction comes from the ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee ….

The ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee is responsible for creating and updating a continuous and dynamic environmental scan for the association that encompasses trends in academic librarianship, higher education, and the broader environment, e.g., economic, demographic, political; providing an annual environmental scan “snapshot.” The committee also is responsible for identifying the ACRL “top ten trends” for release every two years.

In order to identify the trends, the committee members review the literature, attend conferences, and contact experts who are familiar with current trends in higher education. One of the largest groups of experts is the ACRL membership; therefore, the committee organized a discussion forum at the 2012 ALA Midwinter Meeting to provide an opportunity for ACRL members to meet and discuss the trends and issues affecting academic libraries and higher education.

Three leaders in academic librarianship were the catalysts for this discussion: Martin Halbert, dean of libraries at University of North Texas; Joan Lippincott, associate director of Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), and Mark Puente, director of diversity and leadership programs, Association of Research Libraries (ARL). This discussion forum augmented the trends identified by the committee.

These top trends are listed alphabetically. Each trend includes a brief discussion and references to the literature. The committee also compiled additional resources that may be of interest.

Vague though the following headings may seem, they do provide insight into the broad scope of issues facing university libraries, and how the research committee has decided to address them …

+ Communicating value — Academic libraries must prove the value they provide to the academic enterprise

+ Data curation — Data curation challenges are increasing as standards for all types of data continue to evolve; more repositories, many of them cloud-based, will emerge; librarians and other information workers will collaborate with their research communities to facilitate this process.

+ Digital preservation — As digital collections mature, concerns grow about the general lack of long-term planning for their preservation. No strategic leadership for establishing architecture, policy, or standards for creating, accessing, and preserving digital content is likely to emerge in the near term.

+ Higher education — Higher education institutions are entering a period of flux, and potentially even turmoil. Trends to watch for are the rise of online instruction and degree programs, globalization, and an increased skepticism of the “return on investment” in a college degree.

+ Information technology — Technology continues to drive much of the futuristic thinking within academic libraries.

+ Mobile environments — Mobile devices are changing the way information is delivered and accessed.

+ Patron driven e-book acquisition — Patron-Driven Acquisition (PDA) of e-books is poised to become the norm. For this to occur, licensing options and models for library lending of e-books must become more sustainable.

+ Scholarly communication — New scholarly communication and publishing models are developing at an ever-faster pace, requiring libraries to be actively involved or be left behind.

+ Staffing — Academic libraries must develop the staff needed to meet new challenges through creative approaches to hiring new personnel and deploying/retraining existing staff.

+ User behaviors and expectations — Convenience affects all aspects of information seeking—the selection, accessibility, and use of sources.

More from the notice can be found here: ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee


Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.