Back to school special: The changing role of academic libraries

In previous posts, we’ve taken a look at sustainability trends and ways libraries can prepare for the future. This month, in the spirit of back to school, we’re focusing on academic libraries. It’s no secret that the way people find information and conduct research has drastically changed in the past few years. Still, academic libraries have a vital role to play for the students, faculty and communities they serve. Research has shown a positive correlation between undergraduate library usage and both GPA and student retention. What’s more, libraries have a critical role to play in engendering an enthusiasm for information in their communities, helping students develop crucial skills, and supporting faculty research.

At PressReader, we’ve helped thousands of libraries around the world transform the way they deliver newspapers and magazines to their patrons. We know it’s a challenge to provide current, high-quality, searchable content to students and faculty, and the need for a greater and greater selection of international publications representing a variety of languages, countries and points of view is increasingly important. At the same time, downward pressure on budgets and the challenge of working with limited resources mean that it’s not always easy to procure and adequately distribute the content you need. Thankfully, plenty of research has been conducted that can help librarians navigate these complex waters, and some new technologies make it easy to adapt and support the use of innovative digital research tools.

Academic research now…
A recent study by McMaster University explores the current state of academic libraries and how they might be effectively redefined in the future. One prediction they explore is the ‘disintermediation’ of academic libraries. So in the same way that Amazon replaced the physical bookstore, Netflix replaced the video rental store, iTunes replaced the record store,PressReader, Google and other digital tools may very well replace the need for physical newspapers and books. It probably comes as no surprise that that 83% of post-secondary students start their academic research on a search engine. Another study of undergraduate students found that more than two-thirds of students used their smartphones and tablets for academic purposes, and a quarter used them to access library resources. But even faculty are increasingly turning to digital tools. Over a six year period, the percentage of faculty who started their research in a physical library declined from 13% to a mere 4%, while those who started by searching an online catalog went up 10%. What does this tell us? Even those audiences with ingrained, established research practices are rapidly abandoning traditional methods in favour of using digital content, which is now as reliable (and often more so thanks to real-time updates) than printed materials.

…and in the future
To adapt to these changes, the authors of the McMaster study recommend increasing use of digital resources in order to free up space in the physical library for collaboration and other academic support services. Not only does this meet the needs of students and faculty who want efficient access to the information they need, but it also allows the library to operate more efficiently in terms of both space and cost. A Cornell study found that 65% of books purchased had not circulated at all eight years later, and 55% of those purchased since 20 years earlier hadn’t circulated either. The opportunities to use square footage more effectively by offering an increasingly digitally hosted collection are obvious.

The authors of another report, ‘Library Use and Undergraduate Student Outcomes,’ recommend that academic librarians start collecting more and more usage data to better understand the research habits and needs of their students and faculty. Doing so can only serve to better assist in the efficient allocation of their resources in the future. Fortunately, the more digital tools librarians implement, the more usage data they’re able to collect.

A simple step in the right direction
Newspapers and magazines are an easy place to start. With PressReader, librarians can provide unlimited digital access to over 3,000 publications from around the world to their patrons. Students and faculty will have access to the full catalog on their own smartphones, laptops and tablets. All content is current and easy to search by topic, language, country of origin or keyword. What’s more, users can download full publications to their devices for later viewing, and can even translate foreign publications into other languages.

To learn more or to try PressReader at your library, click here.