September 23, 2014

Ithaka Survey Reports Rising Faculty 'Ambivalence'; Toward Campus Libraries

By Andrew Albanese

  • Report compares library expectations and habits of librarians and faculty
  • Data suggests faculty and librarians perceptions differ
  • What about role as learning center?

In a report measuring faculty the perceptions of libraries and their value on campus, there is a “growing ambivalence about the campus library” in the digital age, according to researchers at Ithaka, an independent not-for-profit organization that aims "to accelerate the productive uses of information technologies for the benefit of higher education worldwide."

 Ithaka Survey Reports Rising Faculty 'Ambivalence'; Toward Campus LibrariesFurther, the survey, Ithaka’s 2006 Studies of Key Stakeholders in the Digital Transformation in Higher Education, reveals an emerging disconnect between librarians’ perceptions of their roles and the expectations and habits of the faculty they serve. “Although the importance of the library’s role as a gateway to faculty is decreasing, rather dramatically in certain fields,” the report notes, “over 90 percent of librarians list this role as very important, and almost as many expect it to remain very important in five years. Obviously there is a mismatch in perception here.”

Victim of success?

The report suggests that, ironically, conflicting perceptions of the library may in fact be a sign of success. “One can argue that the library is serving faculty well, providing them with a less mediated research workflow and greater ability to perform their work more quickly and effectively,” researchers note. 

However, as libraries embed themselves more upstream in the research process, their critical roles—not the least of which is managing and paying for resources—may be going unnoticed. “In short, although librarians may still be providing significant value to their constituency, the value of their brand is decreasing.”

The report—sure to generate significant discussion in the field—is a deep trend analysis, comparing and analyzing survey data collected in the group’s 2006, 2003, and 2000 faculty surveys, and a 2006 survey of academic librarians. The 2006 faculty survey generated 4100 responses, while the librarian study, which targeted collection development directors, generated 350 responses.

Limits of the study
Librarian reaction to the report has been somewhat muted so far, as many are surely still digesting the significant amount of data in the just-released report. On the ACRL blog, however, Steven Bell noted a key limitation. “Where this study seems dated to me is that it focuses on the academic library’s traditional role as collector, organizer and gateway provider,” Bell observed.

“I would argue this report needs to add a new dimension for faculty to consider: the academic library’s role as learning center and instruction partner,” he added. That prompted a response from the report’s authors, Roger Schonfeld and Ross Housewright, who said they would both examine the current data to address the question, as well as consider adding a question for the 2009 survey.

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