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Discovery & User Experience

The Future of Academic Libraries: Our Role


In a recent piece published on the Huffington Post College Blog, librarians Jane Carlin (University of Puget Sound) and Barb Macke (University of Cincinnati), tackled one of the biggest questions facing the future of academic libraries: Do they need to keep collecting books?

Although these two librarians admit their bias (as most of us in the library world foster) toward the physicality of actual books, they examine the situations that are consistently facing academic libraries in the 21st Century.  These center on the lack of usage for physical books by student patrons and the new demands for library spaces.  They also focus on the “Three C’s” of academic library services as dictated by student visitors.

These include Collaboration (creating collaborative spaces in academic libraries for students and faculty), Creation (making the academic library the center of knowledge creation on campus), and Contemplation (creating that “awe” moment in reading rooms or library facilities that enriches academic programs).  In addition to these three criteria, the authors encourage academic libraries to look to the future of academic models, shifting from collection-based experiences to engagement-based experiences with an emphasis on advanced technology, special collections and flexible environments.

This engagement-based path of academic libraries, in lieu of massive print collections, has also been under scrutiny due to unclear, and often unfair, copyright laws that govern the ways in which academic libraries can share and utilize subscriptions to ebooks.  A recent effort led by library directors from 66 small academic libraries, known as the “Oberlin Group,” has attempted to fight back against publisher restrictions on sharing ebooks between institutions.  The ability to utilize inter-library loan allows smaller academic libraries to build competitive collections without spending the same amounts of money as large research universities.

So what does this mean for DRS?  As students and academic libraries begin to shift away from collection-based attraction, online environments become much more important.  If the interactions that students and faculty are having with resources are increasingly online, then it is up to people like us to make sure that finding and using resources online is just as intuitive as taking something off of a shelf.  It is important for everyone involved in academic libraries to understand the foundational changes that are going on in our industry.  Here at IU, these changes are becoming more apparent with the creation of the Scholars’ Commons, which is currently undergoing construction.

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