Twenty-First-Century Access Services: On the Front Line of Academic Librarianship, Second Edition

ACRL announces the publication of Twenty-First-Century Access Services: On the Front Line of Academic Librarianship, Second Edition, edited by Michael J. Krasulski and Trevor A. Dawes. This thoroughly revised and expanded edition captures the new and broadened roles of these departments, updated skills they need, and the myriad ways they contribute to institutional success.

Learn more about Twenty-First-Century Access Services in this Introduction by the editors, licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Access services is the administrative umbrella typically found in academic libraries where the circulation, reserves, interlibrary loan, stacks maintenance, and related functions reside. Access services’ functions are central to the daily operations of the academic library, and the staff are often seen as “the face” of the library. Those unfamiliar with the development of access services may assume that access services departments have always been a part of the academic library. It is not an erroneous assumption, of course, because the functions that comprise access services have been a part of the academic library, in some instances, since at least the late nineteenth century. However, the first combined access services departments began to appear in academic libraries in the 1970s. Although the origins of access services as a concept are unclear, the creation of access services departments signaled an important shift in thinking about our interactions with our users. Users can come to the access services staff for assistance at any part of the access and retrieval process from locating misshelved books to acquiring articles from international libraries.

Access services is a sum of many disparate parts and its encompassed operations impact every user of the academic library. Several access services functions are unseen and often go unnoticed. This volume will explore how access services staff contribute vital functions within the academic library and the roles access services plays in the evolving academic library. The services provided by access services departments in academic libraries to users (students, faculty, staff, and other members of the academic and broader scholarly community) have continued to increase over the last few decades. In this monograph, the contributors will highlight the expanded roles of access services departments and discuss the role these services will continue to play in the success of the library and its users as well as the relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for one to be successful in managing these areas. In the process the editors hope to fill a major void in the professional literature. Further, this work is geared toward access services practitioners as well as those curious about access services including library and information science graduate students and faculty. This monograph may also be viewed as an independent study course taught by a group of dedicated and experienced access services professionals.

The most significant contemporary look at access services was produced in 2005 by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). In its second SPEC KIT on access services (the first was produced in 1991), ARL revealed many significant themes in libraries, as it has moved from a circulation model of service to access services. One theme that emerged from the SPEC Kit survey was that libraries are doing more with less. This phrase rings especially true as this volume is being finalized while the world is continuing to face the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Library services are expanding while staffing may not have kept pace with this expansion. Another trend is the flattening of library organizations. As academic libraries have reduced departmental organizational levels, the visibility of access services in the libraries organizational scheme has been raised. Furthermore, many access services departments have taken on services that were traditionally in other departments. Examples include the staffing of general information desks, copyright clearance, computer labs, and group study room support as well as expanded customer self-service functions. In turn, these changes have significantly influenced the staffing and reporting requirements of access services departments.

Another theme that emerged from the SPEC Kit survey was the increasing need of libraries to evaluate their services. This trend has led to increased assessment and benchmarking of all services, including those within the access services units. In addition to measuring traditional circulation and access services’ effectiveness, more recent assessment tools to measure the impact of access services are the ARL LibQual+ instrument or locally developed variants of this instrument.

There is no single definition of an access services department. Each library has and will continue to organize itself and evolve to meet local needs. However, many share a similar background, having been organized around traditional circulation services. Access services builds on this core set of services by adding combinations of related functions. The SPEC Kit themes were used as the building blocks for the development of this volume. As demonstrated by this volume, the roles of access services in academic libraries have expanded since 2005. In some ways, this volume is a continuation of the work begun in the 2005 SPEC Kit.

The editors also took a long look back through the historical literature of access services and its antecedents. We were immediately drawn to Harvey Brown and Humphrey Gambler Bousfield’s 1933 work titled Circulation Work in College and University Libraries. Circulation Work was the first monograph on the topic (about ten years earlier a volume was written on circulation work in public libraries). They were the first to consider the importance of circulation and its related activities to the success of the academic library. Brown and Bousfield predicted a glorious future for circulation. The administrative unit which oversaw circulation work, which they called, the “loan department,” “should be the center of the activities of the library.”[1] The terrific future envisioned by Brown and Bousfield never transpired as evidenced by the summer 1957 issue of Library Trends titled “Current Trends in Circulation Services.” This issue attempted to explain the key roles of the circulation area in its broadest form, including reserves, interlibrary loan, and stacks management to their other academic library colleagues who had little interest, knowledge, or regard for these service areas.

This volume will not only demonstrate access services’ value but will also go beyond by defining access services’ responsibilities and providing perspectives on how access services departments are evolving to provide additional services and place these services in the context of supporting the academic mission of the institutions of which the libraries are a part. Some of these new and expanding services include electronic reserves (e-reserves), increased cooperative and shared services, facilities management, assessment initiatives, e-book lending initiatives and copyright management.

The book is organized into four sections. Part 1 explores circulation, course reserves, resource sharing, stacks management—which are traditionally access services’ core functions—and those other duties as assigned, which ensures there are no two access services units alike. Part 2 examines leading access services through two different lenses. Chapter 7 considers the organizational implications of the newish A Framework for Access Services Librarianship: An Initiative Sponsored by the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Access Services Interest Group, which was approved by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) in 2020. While chapter 8 applies user experience (UX) thinking to organizing access services and the delivery of access services functions. Part 3 considers the ways access services units contribute to the continued success of the academic library and explains the importance of assessment and benchmarking access services functions. And finally, part 4 considers the educational needs of access services practitioners and provides the various resources needed by any access services professional to remain current with access services and, to some extent, general academic library developments.

These chapters are written by contributors who bring a breadth of access services experience in a variety of academic libraries: to small liberal arts colleges to large research institutions. Several contributors are key leaders and pioneers within the access services community, for example, by creating professional standards, editing professional journals, and organizing conferences. The contributors were invited to contribute based upon their unique perspective on the latest developments and trends in access services. The editors are eternally grateful for their willingness to participate in this project.


[1] Charles Harvey Brown and Humphrey Gambler Bousfield, Circulation Work in College and University Libraries (Chicago: American Library Association, 1933), 11.