Weathering the perfect storm: Librarians as partners in teaching, learning and scholarship

For National Library Week Anne Goulding, editor of the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, speaks here about the key influences which are transforming the library: from technology, and data management, to user experience, and developing student success. Goulding ultimately calls for librarians to showcase their integral role in utilizing these transformations within their institutions.

In recent times, academic libraries have been weathering a “perfect storm” of technological innovation and financial pressures. Advances in digital technologies mean that academics and students have a wealth of resources for learning and scholarship available at their fingertips via their device of choice. This disintermediation, combined with the need for universities to make efficiencies following the global financial crisis, has prompted questions about the role of the library and librarians in learning and scholarship and the budgetary resources devoted to them. Now, librarians would be the first to admit that technology and digital information have altered many of their roles and tasks irrevocably but rather than lamenting the loss of the power that came with being gatekeepers to temples of knowledge, they have turned their attention to providing value-added services that align with institutional goals related to research and learning. In doing so, libraries and librarians are becoming partners in, rather than just supporters of, teaching, learning and scholarship.

The growth of the strategic importance of a university’s research ranking and profile has opened new doors for the institution’s library in managing the research outputs of academic staff. Institutional repositories are considered central to universities’ research information management strategies and systems and librarians took the initiative early to carve a role for themselves in initiating, hosting and managing these online archives of academics’ published work. In this way, librarians have become key players in the open access movement and are increasingly taking this further by facilitating the discoverability of academics’ outputs and helping promote their institution’s research and scholarship outside its walls as well as for internal audit and compliance purposes. Libraries are becoming embedded in institutions’ research information management systems and librarians’ roles in research data management are expanding as their skills in areas such as controlled vocabulary, ontologies, digital curation, metadata, bibliometrics and the like are recognised and valued. Managing and planning the institution’s research data and information assets and infrastructure earns the library respect and credibility as it aligns with and facilitates the institution’s research strategy and goals.

Alongside research-related goals, universities’ other main preoccupation is enhancing students’ learning experiences and achievement. Here, again, libraries have been adapting their services and approaches in response to the assumption that technologically savvy Generation X or Millennials will learn differently, alongside developments in university teaching pedagogies and practices such as blended learning and the flipped classroom. Although students now rely increasingly on the Internet and technology for learning and communication, paradoxically university libraries are busier than ever before. A rise in peer and collaborative learning practices have led to an increase in open group work spaces and configurations. Seeking to meet undergraduate needs for flexible, sociable work spaces where they can integrate technology easily with library resources to facilitate their learning, Learning Commons have become a prominent feature of library services for undergraduate students in particular. Some have questioned, though, how much learning actually takes place in the Learning Commons and library managers now need to consider how to design and arrange their spaces to accommodate a range of diverse learning approaches. The demand for quiet, individual study space remains high and libraries need to think through how to manage the tensions inherent in the competing demands of the lone scholar versus collaborative learning.

With all these developments, we can identify a move away from services being essentially collection-centred towards a more user-sensitive approach. In this context, the concept of User Experience or UX is increasingly high on the agenda for university libraries. UX focuses on the totality of users’ experiences of a product of service and academic libraries, aware that they are facing increasing competition and scrutiny from many quarters, are seeking new ways to understand the complex needs of their community of users and engage them in the design of services and facilities with the ultimate aim of making services more responsive and their users’ work and life easier. With student success a key focus for universities, libraries are focusing on improving student experience so that they have a story to tell about how they contribute to academic progress and, once again, align with institutional goals. Similarly, opportunities to show how the academic library plays a part in enhancing the university’s research reputation through services, collections and research data management will tie the strategies of the library directly to that of the parent institution. Evidence suggests that academic library planning and reporting continues to focus on collections and transactions rather than outcomes but to weather the “perfect storm” noted at the beginning of this post, libraries must make their contributions to institutional priorities evident to all stakeholders.

Anne Goulding is Professor of Library and Information Management in the School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She teaches and researches in the area of library management and is editor of the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science.






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