Over the past 20 years, the organization of academic health sciences libraries (AHSL) has changed markedly. While once medical librariesas well as libraries supporting schools of nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and public healthwere separate entities, many are now consolidated under a larger university library. Have these consolidations and mergers improved the accessibility of health sciences information and other AHSL services? Have they impacted cost or service quality? What new structures have emerged and how well do they meet researchers’ and clinicians’ needs? To address these research questions, Ithaka S+R is launching a research project to examine the impact of organizational change on academic health sciences libraries. 

As part of this project, we will investigate the key success factors, risks, positive and negative outcomes, and opportunities associated with maintaining AHSL as separate entities versus integrating them as a part of university library administrative structures. Through the organizational model assessment process we will also uncover how well the strategic directions of AHSL and universities align. We hope to also understand the impact of restructuring decisions on both staff morale and user engagement and satisfaction. Through the research, we hope to generate a set of lessons that can be learned from mergersor attempted mergersto guide those considering or planning various kinds of reorganizations in the future.

We launched this project on May 7 with a virtual meeting of the project advisory group, which includes leaders from academic health science libraries and university libraries: 

  • Kathryn Carpenter, Associate University Librarian, Health Sciences and Associate Dean, University of Illinois, Chicago
  • Judy Cohn, Assistant Vice President for Information Services and Director George F. Smith Library of the Health Sciences, Rutgers University 
  • Shannon Jones, Director of Libraries, Medical University of South Carolina 
  • Jett McCann, Senior Associate Dean for Knowledge Management, Georgetown University Medical Center
  • Judith Russell, Dean of University Libraries, University of Florida
  • Anne Seymour, Director, Welch Medical Library, Johns Hopkins​
  • Elaine Westbrooks, Vice Provost of University Libraries & University Librarian, UNC Chapel Hill 
  • Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson, Vice Provost for Digital Initiatives and Dean of University Libraries, University of Washington

The research project will be conducted during 2020 and findings will be made available in a public research report towards the end of the year. We have initiated the study with a literature review and an analysis of organizational trends. We are in the process of creating a taxonomy of how academic health sciences libraries are structured from the leadership, program, financial, IT, and HR perspectives in relation to the university libraries. Based on this analysis, we will conduct approximately 30 interviews with library directors and managerial staff, senior university library leaders, and academic health science faculty and researchers. We will provide additional updates and look forward to sharing our findings and recommendations broadly. 

We would like to thank Elsevier for its sponsorship as well as colleagues at the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) and Association of Research Libraries (ARL) for their advice and support.