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August 26, 2008

Scholars View of Libraries as Portals Shows Marked Decline

from The Chronicle of Higher Education

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Scholars' View of Libraries as Portals Shows Marked Decline


Scholars' View of Libraries as Portals Shows Marked Decline

Know your library user—and worry about who's not using the library. That's the main advice to librarians in a new white paper that notes "a growing ambivalence about the campus library" among faculty members as more and more knowledge goes digital.

The report was released last week by Ithaka, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of technology in higher education. The paper probes the relationship between libraries and the faculty at institutions of all sizes, and how the digital shift is altering that relationship.

The authors, Roger Schonfeld and Ross Housewright, pulled together the highlights from two surveys conducted in 2006: one of American faculty members and another of librarians in charge of collection development. Mr. Schonfeld is Ithaka's manager of research; Mr. Housewright is a research analyst. Ithaka conducted similar faculty surveys in 2000 and 2003, so the new report is able to examine trends over a six-year period.

The report confirms what everyone already knows—that electronic resources are ever more central to scholarly activity. It emphasizes that scholars still value libraries as buyers and archivers of scholarship, and many still use them as gateways to scholarly information. However, it also confirms that researchers increasingly find what they need through Google Scholar and other online resources, a trend the report's authors anticipate will accelerate as more and more knowledge goes digital.

Since 2003, faculty members across the disciplines have shown a marked decline in how devoted they are to libraries as information portals. Eighty percent of humanities scholars are still devoted to library research—although that may be not because they're traditionalists but because they can't yet get what they need in digital form. But only 48 percent of economists and 50 percent of scientists value libraries as gateways.

That should worry librarians whose budgets are eaten up by high-priced science journals. What if the designated users of those materials are sidestepping the library altogether?

Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of librarians still consider the gateway function of libraries as essential. "Obviously there is a mismatch in perception here"—one that librarians need to confront if they want to stay relevant to campus intellectual life, Mr. Schonfeld and Mr. Housewright caution.

In an interview, the report's authors said that they hoped the report would get librarians talking about whether libraries should "ambitiously redirect resources" toward new and better ways to serve scholars operating in a digital environment.

"Right now we're seeing a library community that doesn't seem to be sure and isn't staking a claim to the gateway function," Mr. Schonfeld said. Perhaps some traditional functions, like the gateway role, "are things that libraries can safely retreat from."

In an interview, Steven J. Bell, an associate university librarian at Temple University, described the report as "required reading for academic librarians." Mr. Bell posted about the report on ACRLog, a blog run by the Association of College and Research Libraries. In his post, he urged librarians to think past libraries' traditional roles of gateway, archive, and buyer of scholarly material.

"We could really carve out a much more significant role" as instructional partners, Mr. Bell said.

"The good news is that faculty members still believe that libraries are working well for them," he told The Chronicle. "The bad news is that we're working so well that they may not need us any more."

The report, "Ithaka's 2006 Studies of Key Stakeholders in the Digital Transformation in Higher

Posted by schnitzr at August 26, 2008 07:15 AM


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