Magazine article Information Outlook

Academic Librarians: Adding Value beyond the Library: By Helping Make College More Affordable for Students and Helping Faculty Gain New Insights from Humanistic Research, Academic Librarians Can Showcase the Skills and Value They Provide

Magazine article Information Outlook

Academic Librarians: Adding Value beyond the Library: By Helping Make College More Affordable for Students and Helping Faculty Gain New Insights from Humanistic Research, Academic Librarians Can Showcase the Skills and Value They Provide

Article excerpt

There has been a lot of media coverage lately about the state of higher education--that it's going to be the next "bubble" to burst, that it is ripe for disruption, that it's changing rapidly and yet not changing quickly enough. Amid all of this speculation, there are a few things with which most of us can agree--that universities are under pressure to lower the cost of education, better prepare students for jobs, produce better research, and increase enrollment.

Some universities haven't been able to withstand these pressures and have closed their doors. More are expected to follow suit, according to a 2015 report from Moody's Investor Service (2015) that predicts the closure rates of small colleges and universities will triple in the coming years, while mergers will double.

But the news for colleges and universities is not all bad. The challenges facing academic institutions also present opportunities for academic librarians to become more involved with campus initiatives and help support the central mission of their university.

Although academic libraries generally are viewed as centers of independent thought and learning, academic librarians increasingly are interested in understanding the key business drivers of their universities. As a result, academic librarians are becoming more involved in areas that tie directly to university goals and drivers--specifically, enhancing digital scholarship and affordability.

It Starts with Collaboration

Academic librarians bring many essential skills to university communities beyond cataloging and research, but making their expertise known to colleagues and administrators is among their biggest challenges. There are actual and perceived divides between academic librarians and faculty/administrators.

A study conducted by Gale and Library Journal magazine (Albers-Smith 2015) identified large gaps in communication and the perceived need for closer collaboration among librarians and faculty. The 2015 survey of roughly 500 faculty and 500 librarians revealed that roughly one-quarter of faculty think there is no need for campus librarians and faculty to consult with one another. Fewer than half of faculty (45 percent) want better communication with librarians, but nearly all librarians desire better communication with faculty.

This gap in librarian-faculty interest in cross-collaboration is exacerbated by the fact that about 20 percent of faculty are unaware of how the library can even support them. As one academic librarian noted, "Campus culture is that librarians are not 'officially' part of any one of the four colleges in the university."

A similar perception gap was highlighted by a 2013 report, The Evolving Value of Information Management, published jointly by the Special Libraries Association and the Financial Times. The report identified five "essential attributes" of modern information professionals, one of which is understanding the drivers of the organization. One business executive interviewed for the report said, "The classic view of a knowledge manager is that they have insufficient knowledge on issues concerning clients and they are therefore not in the ball game."

Overcoming this perception of "not [being] in the ball game" is critical if academic librarians are to become more involved with faculty and administrators. As it happens, there are emerging areas of scholarship that present opportunities to close the faculty-librarian gap.

Opportunities in the Digital Humanities

One of these emerging areas is digital humanities (DH), or digital scholarship, as it is often called. Digital scholarship is a growing area of focus on college and university campuses around the world.

It's difficult to nail down a universally accepted definition of digital scholarship, but in the most general sense, it's the use of technology to aid in humanistic inquiry. Other terms often used in conjunction with digital scholarship are data mining and textual analysis, which refer to the process by which text or datasets are "crawled" by software that recognizes entities, relationships, and actions and helps researchers draw new conclusions. …

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