Since 2010, Ithaka S+R has fielded a triennial survey to examine the priorities and strategies of library directors. Historically, the three-year time frame has been appropriate for tracking trends. But after releasing the most recent iteration in April 2020, we recognized that both the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing movements for racial justice were having an immediate impact on academic libraries. 

To examine the extent of library leaders’ prioritization of equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism in the library, as well as the impact of the pandemic on library strategy and budgets, we moved rapidly to field an additional survey this fall beyond our regular triennial cycle

Today, we are publishing our first report from this survey on findings related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2021, we will publish a second report on the equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism findings. Key findings from the report published today include:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced and accelerated trends in library investments toward digital resources and services. 
  • Library leaders feel they have been recognized for being well-positioned and prepared for the emergency pivot to support remote research, teaching, and learning. 
  • Library directors prioritized staff well-being and financial responsibility in their decision-making. 
  • Most libraries have experienced budget cuts in the current academic year, and there is great uncertainty about longer-term financial recovery. 
  • Personnel cuts have occurred across all library departments but have most affected those who work in physical library spaces.

It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the strategies and priorities of library leaders as they navigate an even more constrained financial environment than they typically operate in. As many directors have needed to close the physical library locations, they have increased their investment in digital resources and services. They also have had to make difficult decisions about staffing, and staff whose jobs rely on the physical library location have been most impacted by budget cuts. Library directors have had to make these difficult decisions while keeping employee well-being in mind and also balancing the financial stability of the library. 

When we next survey library leaders in 2022 as part of our triennial cycle we will be able to examine the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, we look forward to sharing additional findings from the 2020 survey early next year and welcome your comments and questions about the current report.