What Do Faculty and Students Want from a Library?

This week we’ve been talking about academic libraries. We’re trying to define success and surface behaviors that impede success for libraries. Librarians have a loud voice in this conversation, but it’s not the only voice. One comment that came up yesterday was library staff and library administration having a shared vision. What happens when library leadership changes course without support? What happens when library staff feel they aren’t being listened to? Libraries have core missions. They preserve knowledge. They facilitate access to information. They respect privacy and support the needs of their users. In the digital age though, these broad concepts can be interpreted in ways that might lead toward differing views of strategy. Should a library focus on preserving physical items, born digital items, or both? What can the library afford to do or not do?

While a shared vision is important between administration and staff, the library needs to look toward the community it serves. Specifically, what do faculty and students want from a library? For some readers, this may seem like common sense, but there’s real tension here. What if the faculty and student vision of the library looks different than the librarian’s vision of the library? Does the library have a deeper role in society and do librarians know best? Or, do libraries become organizations that do not look like our current image of a library?

For me, this is the issue. If the library is not supporting faculty and student needs, then whose needs is it supporting? Academic libraries serve the institutional needs of the university or college. Those needs will always involve access to information and support for teaching and research. But, will they also involve mixed services like digital commons or UVA’s Scholars Lab? Can libraries be incubators for scholarship? Offer room for co-working and hackerspaces? If you’ve searched the stacks of a library, you’ve experienced the serendipity of discovery. By being a central, collaborative place on campus, perhaps libraries can still offer serendipity, but in the form of human interaction.

Looking at results from Ithaka’s 2009 faculty survey, one sees the library being left out of the discovery process and that faculty prefer to access digital information over print material. Ithaka’s 2012 survey is in progress and the data should be very informative. I haven’t seen any good survey results of what students want, but my opinion is that students are more interested in the place and having 24/7 access, and are less concerned about the physical books and journals.

If you are a faculty member or a student, what do you want the library to offer? Phrased another way, what does the library mean to you?

12 thoughts on “What Do Faculty and Students Want from a Library?”

  1. One additional point I would raise, being (sort of) outside of Academia – is the audience only on-campus? Should it be, or should the library be part of the college’s outreach to the community?

    1. I think there’s a tradition of community outreach with academic libraries. Whether it’s from allowing community members to use the resources or sponsoring community events to list a few.

      I wonder how aware faculty and students are of a library’s service to the community and what value they may place on it.

  2. A comment on Facebook brought up journal subscriptions. The absurd pricing of journals have hobbled libraries. Libraries need to offer access in order to support teaching and research, but how do they deal with skyrocketing prices?

    Libraries cut costs on personel. Cut innovation. Cut hours. Libraries cut their monograph collections and focus on journal titles they can’t do without.

    As suppliers of content to academic journals, do faculty members have a responsibility in this area?

  3. If you’re interested and have between $250 and $385, Library Journal has a new report focused on academic library patron’s opinions of libraries.

    A key point in Library Journal’s blog post that comes straight from the report states:

    “The findings suggest that efforts to design and develop academic library spaces should focus on the experience of place, including quiet and collaborative workspaces; stable, fast Wi-Fi, computing technology that supports creative activity; and research and technology support in close proximity to student study areas,” the report notes.

  4. As an Alumni of Asbury Theological Seminary (note: Alumni, not current student, not faculty), I have access to the library’s physical holdings mailed to my home (in a different state) for a usage period of 4 weeks. I also have access to JSTOR and EBSCOhost. In addition to that, I have limited access to inter-library loan. Just last week I requested a book chapter from a book that the library did not have, so they requested it, scanned it, and emailed me the chapter in .pdf form.

    This is only a fraction of the services offered to current students and faculty, but I feel that this is an example of an incredible library, fostering research not only among current students and faculty but also among alumni (including alumni no longer living in the same state as the institution!).

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  6. As a student, I would like a library to provide adequate study space. Most undergraduate students use the library because it offers a quiet study space, not because they need hard copies of a text for research.

    It needs to have librarians familiar with the search interfaces of all (or a significant portion) of the databases to which my University subscribes. User interfaces are sometimes quite different depending on the journal or collection of journals being searched.

    I would like a library to contain a prominently placed grouping of seminal works for each academic department, to provide a launching pad for undergraduate students without enough expertise in their field to know where to start their literature search. The wide variety of texts in a library is great, if one is familiar enough with a field of study to know what search terms will pull up relevant texts. Newcomers in the field hamper their use of the library catalog by failing to use precise academic terminology.

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