At the ALA Annual Meeting this past weekend, I participated in two workshops that, while on very different topics, provide an interesting snapshot of how libraries are changing today.

ACRL is continuing its interest in analyzing the value of academic libraries by hosting a workshop with library leaders to develop a future research agenda for this area of work. Spearheaded with Megan Oakleaf’s major literature review on the value of academic libraries and continuing more recently with summit meetings of librarians, academic administrators, and institutional researchers. At the workshop, in which my colleague Jennifer Rutner and I participated, we were asked to propose possible research areas that would analyze the value of the academic library for three types of outcomes related to undergraduate students: learning outcomes, student retention, and career success.

My group was tasked with examining the effects of libraries on student learning outcomes, which resonated in particular for me given Ithaka S+R’s recent work comparing learning outcomes associated with different types of instructional methods. Our group discussed the efficacy of different approaches academic libraries take to support instruction and learning for undergraduates. For example, in comparing support services libraries can provide for academic programs’ curriculum development vs. support services they can provide directly to help student learners improve their critical thinking and information literacy skills, which has a stronger impact in learning outcomes? We did not generate a single recommended research study but rather hoped that a research framework could grow out of this type of question that would allow individual institutions, as well as groups of them together, to examine the value that the library offers and thereby to further improve the services that it offers.

Later at ALA, I participated in the Print Archives Network meeting, which brings together libraries and consortia interested in access to and preservation of print collections in an increasingly interdependent, digital environment. The Center for Research Libraries hosts this meeting, with Bob Kieft of Occidental as convener, and the topic this time was business models for preserving print resources. The talks were fascinating:

  • Amy Wood spoke about CRL’s new PAPR database,
  • Lizanne Payne talked about ReCAP’s shift from shared space to shared collection,
  • Randy Dykhuis spoke about Michigan Shared Print deselection project,
  • Mark Sandler spoke about CIC’s government document digitization initiative,
  • John Burger spoke about ASERL’s cooperative journal retention program,
  • Lizanne Payne provided an update about WEST’s continued development,
  • Kathleen Richman described the links between access and preservation in the LLMC’s work, and finally
  • Marie Waltz provided some fascinating details about CRL’s partnership with Linda Hall Library to divide up responsibilities for print preservation and access.

These are among the most significant initiatives underway today to reshape the management of tangible collections from an institution-specific exercise to one that is deeply shared via trust networks across individual institutions. I was asked to provide a brief synopsis to spark discussion, and I highlighted several themes and questions:

  • How long is print required for access following digitization? If not for reader access, how long is it required for other purposes such as redigitization?
  • Are some of these programs ultimately designed as bridges to a new environment, or are they planning for long-term sustainability? For the long term, is print preservation and access sustainable on the regional basis that many of these initiatives are planning?
  • Are some of the new initiatives around government documents building up new functions and infrastructure in parallel with the existing Federal Depository Library Program in ways that may one day come to supplant it?

The meeting attendees and participants engaged in discussion to explore both the basic preservation objectives and characteristics of some of these initiatives, as well as the organization and business models that support and sustain them. While the programs that are furthest along today tend to focus on serials, it is clear that attention is beginning to turn, at least for many organizations, to questions about how collections of monographs will be managed in the future.

Academic and research libraries transform themselves to concentrate on activities that provide greatest benefit and value to today’s users, both for collections and services. It was heartening to have two such vivid examples of the care with which community leaders are ensuring that traditional values and new priorities are appropriately balanced to maximize the value and ensure the sustainability of these institutions.