Nearly any conversation about higher education includes the need for global engagement. Some universities have addressed this by building international campuses; others have recruited heavily to bring international students to their American campuses. All have focused on adding global perspectives to the curriculum.

How are university libraries assisting in these globalization efforts? Anne Kenney and Xin Li of Cornell University Libraries in their issue brief “Rethinking Research Libraries in the Era of Global Universities” look at the kinds of services these libraries have traditionally offered in support of global programs and international students and then expand the discussion by suggesting key performance indicators that libraries can use to evaluate existing efforts and to plan for emerging needs.

Kenney and Li begin with a survey conducted by the Association of Research Libraries in 2008 on library support for study abroad. At that time, the 53 libraries that responded to the survey offered support to their study-abroad students by providing electronic access to library materials. Strong collections made it possible to provide materials from all quarters of the globe.

This collections-centric approach to providing support is no longer sufficient. The authors argue that an engagement-centered structure is needed to support the dramatic rise of the internationalization of American Universities. They use the example of the traditional East Asian library that, in the past, focused on building collections where language and cultural expertise have been the dominant factors. Now, in an engagement-centered environment, the East Asian librarian joins forces with the disciplinary expert in business or engineering to provide support needed by Chinese MBA or engineering students.

This new approach requires that the area studies librarian move from the bibliographer role to become an active participant in the study and research agendas of international students. It also requires the librarian to become a partner with other academic and administrative entities on campus that are involved with international students. This new approach also requires the entire library staff to take responsibility for the success of the international students, not leaving this to the area studies divisions.

Globalization is now a primary goal for most research universities. Anne Kenney and Xin Li urge research libraries to help their universities advance this goal with their thoughtful, provocative, and highly practical suggestions. Please read the issue brief and add your own suggestions for other things research libraries might do to help in this cause.