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?