Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Report on Value of Academic Libraries

A new report released by SAGE and Loughborourgh University describes results of research conducted at academic libraries in 3 countries (USA, UK and Scandinavia) regarding the value of academic libraries for the research and teaching faculty and staff.  The central focus of this study was not on economic value but rather on "the value of academic libraries to academic departments."  Their research questions were about the depth of understanding librarians had of the academic and research staff needs, and the extent librarians promote their resources and services and how this may influence the perception of the academic staff. This qualitative study involved case studies at 8 universities and included interviews with library professionals, academic staff, and institutional stakeholders, as well as a survey of other librarians to confirm the experiences of those in the case studies.  I wanted to highlight a few points that I thought were most interesting.

The first point is that librarians believe they are valued differently by different stakeholder or user groups.  Interestingly, librarians in the United States believed that students valued the library less than faculty, and less than the value from the same group perceived by librarians in the UK or Scandinavia.  This is actually more difficult to describe, so here's the graph of librarians' perceptions of value displayed by different groups:

Mind you, this is how librarians perceived the value that these groups had of libraries and services.  The point is, American librarians thought that the management valued libraries more, but the faculty and students valued libraries less than their European counterparts.  The former aspect may be due to a closer working relationship of libraries to management than in Europe (this is just a supposition not based on any evidence).  The latter aspect, however, is harder to explain.  Why do American librarians think students think of the library being less valuable to them than European librarians?  Is this a reflection of librarians' concerns that the resources and services are not reaching them?  Or is it merely the presumption that American students are more detached from the libraries and the resources and services that are available to them?  This is a difficult issue to study because it is about perceptions of somebody else's perceptions of value.  There are the attitudes of both the target group as well as the librarians themselves that could explain these results.  It's disappointing that there was not a check of these perceptions with the target groups themselves, which could point to gaps or misunderstandings.

Another key difference between the countries was regarding the services considered most valuable to the teaching or the research staff.  In the case of services aimed at instruction or teaching, the Scandinavian librarians placed more importance on embedded information literacy training than librarians in the UK or the US.  Not to say these were not considered valued by teaching faculty there either, just not by as many librarians.  Conversely, more librarians in the US than elsewhere considered group information literacy training more valued by the teaching staff.  But again, this is perceptions of perceptions.  It is frustrating that no evidence of the perceptions of the teaching staff themselves were not investigated.  

The perceptions of services valued by research staff did not vary by country nearly as much as those for teaching faculty.  Generally, more American librarians thought promotion of new resources was important than in the UK or Scandinavia, whereas fewer American librarians thought one-on-one information literacy training was valued by research staff.  My thoughts on the former is a more advertising-based culture, while the latter is based on a perception of research faculty being more independent and too busy.

Perhaps the most interesting part was the recommendation to "uphold the status of librarians and information professionals".  Essentially, they report that:
[T]hose libraries where staff had an equivalent status to teaching and research staff found it easier to promote their services, as they were seen by those staff as partners in the teaching and research process.  In turn, this resulted in better perception of the value of the library - communication was facilitated and library services were more highly valued.  Where libraries were seen as a service department, responding to the curriculum, they appeared to be less highly valued by teaching and research staff.
But, again, the evidence they base their recommendation on was perception of the libraries of the perceptions of others.  Perhaps this was because the librarians who were service staff perceived themselves to be less valuable or on a lower level than the faculty they served.  This appears to be a point needing further research.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My latest obsession: Demand-driven acquisitions

This article on the Inside Higher Ed site spurred me to write about what in which I'm currently deeply involved - evaluation of our pilot of demand- or patron-driven acquisitions (DDA or PDA, which ever your preference).  Given the posting's source, it is no surprise that the focus is about the potential impact of DDA on university presses.
But how PDA stands to affect university presses -- the subject of Esposito’s Mellon-funded research, which he plans to release in full next month -- is harder to predict. If academic libraries pay only for what their patrons use, will university presses still be able to afford to publish obscure monographs that nobody reads?
Nobody truly knows the extent to which academic libraries prop up university presses that dutifully churn out hyper-specialized monographs and adapted dissertations in addition to their more popular titles, said Esposito...
But based on what little information he was able to glean through his research, Esposito did some admittedly rough accounting and estimated that ... university presses could be looking at a $32 million loss, or about 10 percent of total sales. "So a big enough number to be concerned, but it's not going to topple the business," said Esposito in an e-mail after the panel. He added that this was an extreme scenario in which libraries buy absolutely none of the titles that never get checked out of the stacks.
The point is that university presses might stand to take a hit if they do not adapt cleverly, said Esposito. “The challenge is for the libraries’ gain not to be the presses’ loss,” he said,
Well, that would be an interesting aspect to look at as I examine our own data from our pilot.  So far, I've looked at purchases by week (they appear to fluctuate similarly to circulations and e-resource usage), as well as purchases and usage by fund or discipline (there is extreme variation, with one field dominating both purchases and usage at 12%, and some having fewer than 1 percent of purchases).  I've also looked at different purchasing models we could have chosen to see which would have been more effective use of limited funds; it appears the model of "renting" the books up to 3 times before purchasing would have been a better fit, given how many books have been used less than four times.  I hope to present my results at a few conferences this year, but now I have a different aspect to examine - number of items purchased that were published by university presses.  Finally, I want to find out how well our users' selections stand against the test of time - will their selections continue to be used by others?  How does usage compare with those selected by our subject librarians?  That, I think, will be the deciding factor in the future of DDA.

I'm also interested in NISO's announcement of an initiative to develop recommended practices for DDA.  A couple of people have suggested I participate in this working group, so I think I'll look into that.  I like being involved in bigger-picture things.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Interesting reads today

Some of the more interesting or intriguing postings and news stories relevant to higher education librarianship:

Pew Presentation: Libraries in 2020

I found this Pew Presentation on Libraries in 2020 posted on iLibrarian.  The first half of the slides is focused on the rise of use of the internet, mobile, and social networking among different population groups.  Intriguing results include:

  • Much higher use of mobile computing among African-American and Hispanics than European Americans.
  • 85% of those who do not own an e-reader have no intention of buying one in the near future.
  • 64% of 18-29 year-olds have used their phones to "get information they needed right away" [Disturbingly, 30% of this group admitted to "pretending to be using the phone to avoid interacting with those around them."]
  • App downloading is highest among the 18-29 y.o. and 64% of apps were to "learn about something [they're] interested in" and 53% were to "get info about a destination [they're] visiting"
  • Over half of users of search engines consider the information they find to be fair and unbiased, as well as mostly accurate.
Regarding reading habits, the Pew groups found that 19% of respondents did not read a book (of any format) in the last year.  Interestingly, reading declined with age, with 86% of 16-17 year olds reading and 68% of 65+ year olds reading.  I'm wondering if that is due in no small part to declining eye sight.  Ebook readership is growing, with a corresponding decline in print-book use.  But e-book readers are more likely to be over 50 years of age, college educated and with household earnings greater than $50,000.  This is no real surprise.  Nor is it a surprise that most e-book readers look first to the online vendors for ebooks and only 12% look to their public library.  I'm wondering, though, if this would be any different in this demographic group for print books.  Something that is hopeful for the librarian (and the pro-reading advocate) - of those who purchased tablet PCs or ebook readers, 41% and 35% (respectively) say they are reading more.  

Finally, the presentation focuses on how all of these aspects of internet, mobile, SNS, and ebook usage will impact libraries in the near future.  First, they stress the importance of quality of information to individuals - notably regarding the "3 V's" - volume, valence (relavence), and velocity.  Next they describe the "operating system of the learning environment" which is "anytime, anywhere, any device".  Actually, this is not new - library Web developers have been working on this issue for over ten years now.  Finally, they provide a list of roles of the librarian in the near future, including:
  • Sentry
  • Evaluator
  • Filter
  • Certifier
  • Aggregator/Synthesizer
  • Organizer
  • Network Node
  • Facilitator
Hmmmm, doesn't this sound familiar?  Haven't these always been the roles of librarians?  All in all, it sounds like we should keep doing what we've always been doing.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What's Right With Publishing

What's Right With Publishing | Inside Higher Ed

I get so tired of the "doom and gloom" of the Chicken Littles who repeatedly predict the end of the world as we know it.  It is nice to read a more balanced yet optimistic look at the industry that is at the heart of librarianship.  As I've been reviewing the issues of this field, especially those of the last 3 years and those of 100 years ago, I find that we have had the same worries for some time.  People aren't reading, publishing is too competitive and libraries are on their way out.  Barbara Fister provides a bit of backdrop to bring the publishing industry down to earth, and she provides some important developments that should enable us to tune out or at least tone down both the librarian- and publisher-CLs out there.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Exploring the Library-blog world

One of the changes that I noticed when I (temporarily) switched to the clinical research/public health field was a surprising lack of online community.  As a Web developer librarian, I was very aware of the many Web sites, blogs, and news feeds relating to library and information science.  Some of the more popular Nings (the then latest online community-building tools) were developed by librarians (Library 2.0), and I was looking forward to discovering the blogs, Nings, Web sites, and discussion forums relating to biostatistics, clinical research, and public health.  Unfortunately, the landscape was more barren than I expected.  Not surprisingly, there were a number of resources relating to global public health, but precious little directly related to what I was doing.

Thus, when I returned to academic librarianship, I prepared myself to explore, once again, the dense jungle of the professional online resources in the field.  I cleaned out my Google reader and Delicious accounts, updated my LibraryThing, reorganized my CiteULike, and started this blog.  Once geared-up, I felt ready to set out on my first expedition.  Not really knowing enough about what I would be doing and in what I would be involved, I kept my eye out for the more general, librarianship-oriented blogs, and for the most part, my initial selections have been quite useful.  While over time, I've added a few others here and there, I feel that I now know the issues, ideas, and concerns that are most relevant to my position, and I'm ready to embark on a second expedition.  For this trip, I will use as my initial home based the Salem Press Library Blog Awards nominees.  Here are a few that have caught my eye:

  • In the Library with a Lead Pipe - this is not your typical library blog because it is not only open to a variety of contributors, but it is also peer reviewed.  As I am trying to re-establish myself in the field, I am attracted to opportunities for publication that have established standards but are within easier reach than traditional forms.
  • iLibrarian - this is more oriented to the technical aspects of online librarianship than what I need now (it would have been perfect for my last librarian position), but there are a number of posts about ebooks that would be relevant to our collection.
  • Stephen's Lighthouse - A staple that I somehow missed in my first run.  Perhaps I was just trying to limit my collection...
  • No Shelf Required ® - Sue Polanka's blog that was created to accompany her monograph on e-books in libraries, but which has taken on a life of its own.  
  • Agnostic, Maybe - While I don't always agree with Andy's viewpoints, the scope and breadth of his blog entries are interesting enough to keep me reading.
A few others that I have added that I think are noteworthy include:
  • Library Impact Data - this blog communicates info about the title project that is part of the JISC Activity Data program. Although this is focused on British institutions, I find the results quite fascinating and applicable to other environments.
  • Library Data - some very interesting graphs of publicly-available data on libraries and library services.
  • Musings about Librarianship - This blog from Aaron Tay in Singapore includes some interesting articles and, well, musings on issues relevant this my environment halfway around the world.
I updated the "Blogs I follow" list in my Blogger Profile. I look forward to the new items that I will be reading.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Gaining and maintaining momentum is key to student completion (essay)

Gaining and maintaining momentum is key to student completion (essay)

This essay describes one method of measuring and improving a key measure of academic institutions - student completion.  By focusing on the milestones, the theory is that students will gain momentum towards their (and the institution's) ultimate goal of graduation.  Now, this idea of having student completion as a measure of quality has its supporters and detractors.  But, let's assume that it should be at least considered as an important component of student success.

As a way to demonstrate the library's value to the institution's goals, library administrators and librarians have been interested in participating in the conversation of improving student continuations and completions.  So, based on this essay, I've wondered how, specifically, librarians and their libraries could be useful in these efforts. Here are some ideas I had on ways librarians could help improve students' abilities to reach the following key milestones:

    • Completion of developmental coursework - involvement with the instructors of these courses to ensure that resources are available and instruction is provided to the students.
    • Timely declaration of a major - libraries should provide extensive occupational information to help students make the best decision for themselves. Nothing can hurt the chances of completion, let alone timely completion than changing your major.
    • Completion of sufficient credit hours in a timely manner - this requires students to take a greater density of courses.  Libraries should focus their attention on efficiency of finding and using information and resources.  This may mean implementing a Discovery service that enables students to find appropriate resources through one interface.  It can be very time-consuming to search databases, review and select the more optimal articles or books, download or checkout the items, and import into a reference citation database (or even worse, manually manage your citations).  Resources should be developed or selected based in no small part on the ability to increase this research efficiency.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Most interesting reads today

Here are a few of the more interesting things I've read today:

  • MLA Shift on Copyright - Modern Language Association changing its agreements with authors to allow the authors to keep the copyright.
  • Paying for Performance - McGraw-Hill agreeing with the Western Governors University to base the fees for its textbooks on the outcomes of the students who use them.  This may be a sweetheart deal, because it enables the publisher access to outcomes data (properly anonymized, of course), which it can use to modify the content.  This suggests an interesting shift in the publisher-institution relationship.
  • Not Just Degrees - a summary of a report on the growth of college-based certificates and their impact on workers' incomes.  This represents an under-explored function of higher education (not only in the community colleges, but also the 4-year institutions).  What's interesting is that the impact of the certificates were greatest in the male-dominated fields.  With the decline of male enrollments, this may represent an adjustment to the market of higher education.
  • What Should a Year of College Cost? - from Confessions of a Community College Dean, this post poses problems with all the potential bases on which the cost of higher education could be based.  
  • Intellectual Freedom and the Library as a Workplace - from Library Babel Fish, an attempt to understand how librarians can straddle the faculty/administration divide, proclaiming to support intellectual freedom while toting the admin line.  
  • and of course, Ray Bradbury's death - note that he wrote his "only true science fiction" work at the UCLA library's typewriter.

Value of Academic Libraries Summit White Paper

Value of Academic Libraries Summit White Paper

The Connect, Collaborate and Communicate is the report from the VAL's recent summit of "representatives from twenty-two post-secondary institutions, including senior librarians, chief academic administrators, and institutional researchers, for discussions about library impact."  Here's an excerpt from the blog entry that summarizes the key points (emphasis added):

The report – co-authored by Karen Brown, associate professor at Dominican University, and ACRL Senior Strategist for Special Initiatives Kara Malenfant – summarizes broad themes about the dynamic nature of higher education assessment that emerged from the summits. From these themes, the report presents five recommendations for the library profession:
  • Increase librarians’ understanding of library value and impact in relation to various dimensions of student learning and success.
  • Articulate and promote the importance of assessment competencies necessary for documenting and communicating library impact on student learning and success.
  • Create professional development opportunities for librarians to learn how to initiate and design assessment that demonstrates the library’s contributions to advancing institutional mission and strategic goals.
  • Expand partnerships for assessment activities with higher education constituent groups and related stakeholders.
  • Integrate the use of existing ACRL resources with library value initiatives.

The audio presentation of this report was interesting, as well. Here are a few points that deserve some highlighting:

  • Megan relating a response from Charles Blaich to her summary of the VAL guidelines: "Assessment data and reports are not useful unless somebody does something with them..." and that following guidelines is "not enough if you're following the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law."
  • Megan pointing out what (emphasis added) "we, as librarians need to learn about assessment and research design, more about using data and evidence, and learn more about higher education assessment and accountability in general and the ways in which librarians fit into the larger picture, namely in the national dialogue on the value of higher education."
Megan mentioned the invitational meeting that will occur at the national ACRL conference, the purpose of which is to develop a research agenda on the VAL guidelines.  I'm looking forward to the release of this research agenda, because that could enable me to focus my research interests on issues that not only are relevant to the my library's issues, but also to the national dialogue of value of libraries in higher education (and thus, more opportunities for funding).

Monday, June 4, 2012

Comparing academic library expenditures to sports subsidies

Last week, I read this post in the Chronicle of Higher Education comparing the ratios of sports subsides to library expenditures at ARL institutions.  Not being terribly familiar with academic micro-economics, I found this paragraph educational (emphasis added):
Sports expenses are funded from earned revenue (tickets, television, sales, gifts and similar revenue generated by the athletic activity itself), and from institutional revenue available for any purpose (student fees and university funds). The institutional revenue is a subsidy for an enterprise that in the best of all possible worlds should earn its own way in much the same fashion as other university nonacademic. 
All but a few universities, however, subsidize athletics from student fees and general university revenue. We should ask how significant that subsidy is within the general framework of the university's academic activities. With some sense of the relationship between subsidy and academics, we can assess when sports consume too much of our academic resources.
The author, John V. Lombardi, attempted to get this sense by comparing the ratios of sports subsidies to library expenditures of the ARL institutions.  These ratios ranged from a low of 0 (those whose athletic programs do not need subsidizing) to a high of 1.52.  From what I could tell, those institutions with high ratios either have (economically) weak sports programs but an institutional desire to promote them (UC Riverside, SUNY Stony Brook) or are placing a higher emphasis on promoting their sports programs over the library (Houston, Ohio).  Almost all institutions with low ratios have very strong sports programs (A&M, Oklahoma, UT) that don't need support, although I'm not very up on the college sports rankings.  I found a ranking of the football teams and a few of these institutions were in the "middlin'" range (Tennesse: 57th; Purdue: 65th; UCLA: 66th), so maybe an argument could be made that some with low ratios place lower emphasis on sports.  But that's a correlation that would need more data.

Lombardi suggests that institutions limit these subsidies to less than one-third of the library expenditures.  This appears to be based merely on a subjective view of the data, but it can be supported objectively.  While the average ratio was 0.44, the median (another valid measure of central tendency) was 0.325, very close to one-third.  Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how the University of North Texas performed in this measure.  Over the last several years, there has been a push to increase the visibility of the university in both the academic and sports arenas.  The institution has been pushing to hire research-oriented faculty and increase grants.  In addition, a new football stadium was built and the university has just committed to joining a more rigorous athletic league.  It was not surprising then that the ratio of library expenditures (for the same year used by Lombardi) to sports subsidy was 0.35, just a tad north of the one-third median.

Now, comparing our ratio with that of our peers is also interesting.  Because Lombardi only examined ARL institutions, this is very limited.  We are matched, however, with University of Alabama.  Kent State, meanwhile, has a very high ratio of 1.33 (in the 90th percentile).  It appears that, in the battle between promoting sports and promoting academics, UNT has chosen the middle road.