Academic journal article Journal of Library Innovation

Academic Libraries and Innovation: A Literature Review

Academic journal article Journal of Library Innovation

Academic Libraries and Innovation: A Literature Review

Article excerpt


Academic libraries are facing times of unprecedented challenge and unparalleled change. Innovation has moved from a consideration to a necessity. And yet, academic libraries continue to operate in a climate of declining budgets and increasing costs. In such a resource-scarce environment, academic library leaders are under pressure to make wise decisions in regards to how innovations are adopted and implemented in their libraries. To help inform these decisions and to highlight areas of future research, this study reviews the literature on academic libraries and innovation. The information presented will assist library leaders in making decisions that affect innovation and it will highlight areas for further research. While there has been an uptick in the number of high quality studies on this topic since 2010, significant research remains to be done if the literature is going to help chart the direction for innovation in academic libraries.

There is little risk of controversy in stating that academic libraries are under great pressure to innovate. It should also yield little disagreement to say that all academic libraries, no matter their size, mission, or wealth, feel this pressure. The urgency to innovate affects both academic libraries that support research and those that support teaching. And it affects libraries that serve communities of 500 as well as those that serve communities of 50,000.

For the purpose of this review, innovation is defined broadly to be an idea, object, or practice that is perceived as new by an individual or organizational unit, as according to Rogers (2003). Perhaps the two most powerful forces pressing innovation on academic libraries are declining finances and changes in technology. But there are no doubt many others. Examining the declining share that academic library expenditures represent of total university expenditures provides a visualization of the financial pressure faced by academic libraries today. The Association of Research Libraries (2014) found that for 40 of their member libraries, the group's average percentage of total university expenditures declined from just under 3.7% in 1982 to 1.8% in 2011. The research libraries included in this average were both wealthy privates (Harvard and Yale) and their less affluent public counterparts (Michigan State and the University of Washington). The trend in declining academic library budgets is expedited by external economic calamities such as the financial crisis in 2007-2008 that led to significant budget cuts for many libraries (Lowry, 2011).

Beyond the challenging financial environments within which most academic libraries operate is the unrelenting, pervasive impact of technology on library services and collections. Such is the nature of technology-driven change in libraries, and the discussion, debates, and hand-wringing it engenders, that an angle of approach to this topic is hard to find that does not feel trite. And yet the pace of technological innovation shows no signs of slowing (University of Berkeley, Commission on the Future of the Library, 2013), leaving little choice but to continue the discussion, debate, and hand-wringing.

Since academic libraries face the daunting challenge of innovating in the face of static and declining budgets and a shifting and unpredictable technological landscape, it seems timely to find out what the literature has to offer on the subject. The purpose of this paper is to review the literature on academic libraries and innovation. The information it contains should prove of value to those initiating innovation in academic libraries and to those interested in pursuing additional research on the topic.

Materials and Methods

Citations were located using a combination of database searching, cited reference searching, and manual searching of reference lists from relevant articles. Searches were conducted in Google Scholar, Library Information Science and Technology Abstracts, and Proquest Dissertations and Theses. …

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