Saturday, April 13, 2013

Feedback on the latest ITHAKA survey

Last week, ITHAKA, the non-profit "that helps the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways," released the results of its latest iteration of a wide-reaching survey of faculty about "tracking the attitudes and practices of
faculty members at US colleges and universities for more than a decade" (pg. 5).  You can download the report and read for yourself how faculty attitudes and practices have changed.  I'll be reporting, however, the reactions of others to these results.

The first reaction I read was actually in an email from a colleague - "Doesn't really inspire too much enthusiasm…", which itself was none-too-inspiring.  Essentially, attitudes of faculty towards the library haven't changed notably over time - the majority of faculty who responded still view libraries primarily as buying agents, gateways, and archives.  Depressingly, fewer than in 2009 agreed with the statement that the library helps their productivity in research & scholarship and that the library supports their teaching activities.  Finally, less than 60% believed the library helps undergraduates develop critical thinking, research, and information literacy skills.  <sigh>

Even more non-inspiring was the breakdown by broad disciplines - as expected, faculty in the humanities were most supportive of all of the library's roles asked in the survey.  And as suspected, faculty in the sciences primarily see libraries as a buying agent.  Fewer than half of science faculty considered the library important in their research or teaching activities, particularly (and depressingly) the latter.  Of course, faculty in the social sciences responded in between these extremes of "love" and "disinterest".  But only about half of them thought that the library supports their teaching activities.  Hrrmph.

Barbara Fister, in Library Babel Fish, is similarly uninspired by the results, although she brings up some interesting insights.  Given the lack of consideration of the library's role in supporting the development of critical thinking and information literacy skills, she suggests that maybe libraries redirect their attention:
(This makes me think we should stop writing so many articles about information literacy for other librarians and think about reaching the faculty. Just a thought.)
 William Badke notes in his comment to this post that information literacy is not on the radar of higher education, with few journals including articles on IL, citing a publisher whose reason for rejecting a manuscript was that there was "'no market for information literacy books among educators'".  A quick search of our discovery tool, Summon, and Google Scholar for peer-reviewed articles on "information literacy" and "higher education".  About 1/5th of the results were from higher-ed journals (e.g. College Teaching and Studies in Higher Education), and a smattering communications and educational technology journals (notably EDUCAUSE), but about 75% were from library journals.  A quick search of WorldCat retrieved over 400 titles (not limited by publication year), but many of the initial results were from traditional librarianship publishers (Neal-Schuman, Libraries Unlimited, ALA, Scarecrow Press, etc.).  So Badke's comment does bear out, at least on first glance.

Barbara brings up a point, though, that casts doubt on the validity of the report - the incredibly low response rate of 3.5%.  Of course, this 3.5% of the over 160,000 recipients to whom invitations were sent results in 5,261 respondents.  The question is, then, are the 5,261 representative of the sample population.  Once the data are deposited in the ICSPR, this can be determined.

Others, including Steven Harris of Collection=Connection, noted the vast disparity of opinions about the library's roles between library directors and other faculty.  This "disconnect" is apparent in the nearly 40% differences in responses of agreement to statements about the library's roles in supporting teaching activities and research productivity.  Harris suggests it may be a matter of lack of faculty awareness...maybe it's something else?

While Rick Anderson in the Scholarly Kitchen mentions the "less surprising results" (increasing use of search engines by faculty, faculty don't see the library as important as library directors, etc.), he does point out results that he found "more surprising".  These include a modest increase in the use of the catalog as the initial search tool (although I, like others, think this is an anomaly), and a "modest" decrease in comfort with the shift from print to online journals.

Carol Straumsheim looks at the use of technology in the classroom, or lack thereof.  A posting in the blog, Scholarly Workflow, focuses on the the issues of, well, scholarly workflows.  The poster notes the low percentages of faculty who value institutional support of research and publication process in such ways as providing Web pages of research outputs, assessing the impact of work, determining the most optimal venues for publication, etc.  The ranges of support were all below 50%, indicating that most faculty appear to prefer to go it alone.

Overall, the reception of the 2012 ITHAKA S+R Faculty Survey has been modest and less than enthusiastic.  Generally, the faculty have their own opinions about the value of technology and libraries, and they are very different from librarians.  How can we bridge this gap?  More food for thought...

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