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What Matters to Academic-Library Directors? Information Literacy

Whether they work at a big research university, a small four-year college, or something in between, academic-library directors share a “resounding dedication” to teaching information literacy to undergraduates. Beyond that, the priorities they set for their libraries depend on the size and nature of their institutions and how many (or few) resources they have to work with.

Those findings come out of a 2013 survey of American library directors, released on Tuesday by Ithaka S+R US. That’s the consulting and research arm of the nonprofit Ithaka group, which works on “transformative uses of new technologies in higher education.”

The survey went out to heads of academic libraries at all four-year colleges and universities in the United States; 499, or 33 percent, responded, according to the survey report’s authors, Matthew P. Long and Roger C. Schonfeld.

“Our aim in this project was to learn about chief librarians’ visions and the opportunities and constraints they face in leading their organizations,” the authors write. The 2013 survey follows a similar survey Ithaka conducted in 2010.

In an interview, Mr. Schonfeld said that the 2013 survey respondents were “nearly unanimous” in their emphasis on teaching research skills to undergraduates; 97 percent of library heads rated that part of their mission as very important. “Everyone’s committed to undergraduates,” he said.

That emphasis carries over into staffing plans. Forty-two percent of respondents at baccalaureate colleges said they planned to expand staffing in instruction, instructional design, and information-literacy services over the next five years, as did 44 percent at doctoral universities and 53 percent at master’s-level institutions.

Mr. Schonfeld pointed out one interesting change from the 2010 to the 2013 findings: “a modest but noticeable decline” in the percentage of head librarians who described their library’s role in supporting faculty research as “very important.”

That percentage fell from 85 percent in the 2010 survey to about 70 percent in 2013. More baccalaureate institutions responded to the 2013 survey, he said, which could explain some of the decline; doctoral institutions are more likely to put resources into institutional repositories, data management and preservation, and other kinds of research support. (Mr. Schonfeld cautioned, though, that survey averages mask differences in individual colleges’ and universities’ priorities and research-support strategies.)

The 2013 Ithaka survey of library directors is meant to complement the group’s periodic surveys of faculty attitudes, which include questions about how scholars view and use library and research materials. Ithaka began that survey project in 2000, and the most recent installment came out last year.

Put together, the library and faculty surveys show some intriguing disconnections between the two groups. For instance, the findings from the 2012 faculty survey and the 2013 library survey reveal that library directors are far more comfortable than researchers are with the idea of replacing print-journal collections with electronic versions. More than 70 percent of librarians at doctoral institutions said they would be happy to see that happen; only 40 percent of faculty members agreed.

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