Academic Library Study Released

Guest post by Sarah Steers, WPLLA Treasurer

I’m willing to bet that every person reading this post has, at one point in his or her adult life, used the phrase “eds and meds” to describe Pittsburgh’s economic comeback story.  We live in a city with a number of amazing colleges and universities, expanding the minds of tens of thousands of students and encouraging academic breakthroughs and technological innovation.  In fact, many of WPLLA’s members are academic law librarians, working at the Barco Law Library at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and the Center for Legal Information at the Duquesne University School of Law.

While some of our law librarians are familiar with life behind-the-scenes at academic libraries, other members might be interested to find out a bit more.  A recently released study sheds some light on the major issues.

In the fall of 2016, Ithaka S+R  sent emails to 1,488 library deans and directors at non-for-profit four-year academic institutions in the United States looking for some answers.

Ithaka S+R is a not-for-profit company that specifically collaborates with and consults for the academic community, offering guidance on a wide range of economic and technological topics.  According to its website, library surveys are among its core competencies.


After sending out those 1,488 survey emails, they received 722 responses; the final report is available here: US Library Survey 2016.

The study compares the 2016 responses against responses received for previous studies completed in 2010 and 2013.   It asked questions related to:

  • Leadership, Management, and Organizational Direction;
  • Discovery;
  • Collections;
  • and Services.

At the very least, however, the “Key Findings” of the report articulated many of the thoughts, hopes, and fears felt within our own law librarian community:

  • Nearly 80% of respondents stated that the “most important priority” for their library is student success – but only half of the respondents could “clearly articulate” how the library itself contributes to that goal.
  • Respondents also discussed digital media versus print materials.  Academic library directors agree that the trend towards e-resources isn’t slowing down (meaning that libraries will continue to increase spending on digital formats while decreasing spending on print materials).  But is that “market” saturated?  Some academic library deans suggested that “dependence on e-resources has potentially peaked” – because libraries and its users are already so dependent of those types of resources.  Beyond traditional print materials and electronic media, academic library directors are working to identify new learning materials.
  • Only 20% of the respondent academic library directors felt that the annual budget allocation “demonstrate[d] recognition of the value of the library.”  There was an overall downward trend in feelings of satisfaction, value, or appreciation, especially by other academic leadership in the university system.

I’m personally choosing not to think of that last item as a reason to get upset.  Rather, it’s a reason to strongly advocate for libraries (public, academic, law, whatever – take your pick).  We can’t just sit back and assume that the powers-that-be understand how valuable libraries are and how much they give back to our communities, schools, other academic institutions, or even workplaces.  We have to show, with incontrovertible numbers and a few adorable, folksy anecdotes, what libraries mean to the people who use them (and what they could mean to people who have yet to discover the library).

We’re also lucky to have WPLLA.  It’s a strong professional organizations made up of dozens of librarians with decades of institutional knowledge.  We have an avenue to reach out to others in the same predicament; we can learn from each other, share what works, make changes, adapt.

If you have any thoughts on the full study, or think WPLLA should present these findings in a program next fall, feel free to write us an email and let WPLLA know what you think!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: