By Barbara Fister
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Librarians are likely to roll their eyes when they hear the old cliché, “the library is the heart of the institution,” not because it isn’t a valid sentiment but because it ignores the all-too-common benign neglect of library budgets and library accomplishments. As a profession, librarians are less skilled at self-promotion than they are at ironic eye-rolling, with which they get a lot of practice. Libraries are assumed to be necessary to college campuses, but many decision-makers don’t use them and therefore tend to view libraries through a personal historical lens, as places full of books and with technology that runs to nothing more novel than typewriters. They are traditional places, right? So probably they’re more of a nostalgic artifact than a current and relevant resource.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Not all administrators take this view, of course. According to a survey and set of interviews with chief academic officers (Fister, 2010), respondents were proud of their libraries and of the work librarians do to help students learn in multiple ways. They were aware that massive changes are underway in the ways we create and share knowledge, and while they faulted librarians for failing to advocate for themselves effectively, they largely saw librarians as a positive and responsive force on campus and the library as a prime site for learning. That perception appeared to be largely based on the ways that libraries have partnered with other campus constituents to create a space for synergy.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Perhaps the primary partnerships are between librarians and faculty in the disciplines. For decades, librarians have considered collaborations with faculty crucial for building collections that support the institution’s mission and to support students’ use of those collections in their learning. The interest in collaboration is asymmetrical (Christensen, Stombler, & Thaxton, 2004) – faculty have little incentive to tap librarians as experts, but librarians are highly motivated because faculty are key to reaching students in a context in which they are primed to care about how to find and use information. Librarians, as generalists, are often more able than faculty in the disciplines to help novice researchers get a handle on unfamiliar topics and research tools.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Students are a major constituent of academic libraries and are routinely consulted through surveys, focus groups, and other attempts to learn about their perspectives in order to improve library facilities, programs, and services. A recent survey of library directors (Long & Schonfeld, 2013) found that helping undergraduates learn how to develop information literacy skills and dispositions was perceived to be the most important of many critical library functions at all kinds of academic libraries but most strongly at baccalaureate institutions.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 A similar survey of faculty was less conclusive (Housewright, Schonfeld, & Wulfson, 2013). Only 20 percent of faculty believed it was librarians’ responsibility to help students learn how to locate and evaluate sources. Less than half felt librarians help students develop research skills. Responses varied significantly by discipline, with scientists least interested in involving librarians in their students’ learning and humanities faculty most receptive. The same survey suggests that faculty feel the library’s most important function is funding access to the research publications they need. Interestingly, this role, while still the most important to faculty, is less important than it was in previous faculty surveys. As it grows easier to share digital texts, interlibrary loan is often seen as less efficient than simply emailing a friend or taking to Twitter with the #icanhazpdf hashtag. Perhaps those workarounds have contributed to a decrease in library directors’ prioritization of meeting faculty research needs since the 2010 director’s survey, with significant drops at all types of institutions other than research institutions, where such support remains a strong priority.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 However, recent years have seen a strong and growing alignment of library organizations with offices supporting student learning. Collaborations have grown more common involving the first year experience, academic advising, tutoring, writing centers, and support for English language learners and students with disabilities. To some extent, the long-term association of libraries with academic programs is now being joined by growing connections with student life and non-curricular academic support units.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Interdisciplinary and emerging areas of research and inquiry are also finding support in many libraries. The library director survey points to growing interest in utilizing locally important and unique special collections and archives materials with researchers and students, with a concomitant decline in more traditional roles in acquisitions, cataloging, and reference services. In many cases, libraries are becoming hubs for interdisciplinary digital humanities initiatives, either through consultation, tiered service programs, or by establishing digital humanities labs with staffing provided by the library (Maron & Pickle, 2014). In other cases, such centers have a broader remit, offering digital scholarship centers designed to serve a wide range of information needs regardless of disciplinary affiliation (Lippincott, 2014). For many smaller libraries, inviting faculty to use local unique collections in their courses and supporting students as they learn to use primary sources in digital projects may be a manageable approach to supporting and promoting digital humanities when hiring new staff is out of the question.