During a time of rapid, evolutionary change at Virginia Commonwealth University, John Ulmschneider, University Librarian, turned to the Ithaka S+R Local Faculty Study in spring 2014 to inform decision-making and strategic planning for the VCU Libraries.

VCU had recently developed a new university-wide strategic plan and the Libraries were focused on working within this framework to understand and support faculty and their research. As Ulmschneider explained, “We needed good data to help us understand our current faculty even as we expect their profile to change.”

The local faculty survey results helped Ulmschneider to confirm and explore his assumptions about VCU faculty members.

The Libraries learned that there were significant differences between STEMH and non-STEMH faculty and their needs for library services, highlighting an opportunity for the Libraries to take a more active role in discipline-specific customized outreach programs. The two groups especially varied in their valuation of teaching delivered by librarians and the role that the library plays in developing information literacy.

Ulmschneider acknowledged that the distinction between these faculty members pointed to a tension at the university level; VCU has been ranked as having the top public fine arts school in the country while also maintaining prominence as a science-intensive research university. The VCU local faculty survey also included a focused survey module on serving clinicians and health scientists, which enabled the Libraries to more deeply understand the role of various types of support tools and resources, pedagogical expectations, and student-faculty research collaboration within the clinical or health sciences context specifically.

The local survey results also pointed to issues for faculty in finding and using library content; the accessibility of content available in the Libraries’ collections or via ILL/document delivery services was potentially inadequate for certain faculty members. Ulmschneider emphasized that “we clearly need to work better to help our faculty connect with and use the content and resources that we are providing for them.”

Additionally, the findings helped the Libraries make decisions for strategic investment. A key insight from the local survey was that VCU faculty members seemed eager for specialized research support services and technical infrastructures of the type that could be provided by the libraries, especially in support of data curation, publishing, and digital scholarly communications.

The faculty survey provided valuable data for Ulmschneider in creating a strategic plan for the Libraries to accompany that of the university. Ulmschneider stressed that the plan needed to be agile, flexible, and able to be reshaped with time. The faculty survey data helped the Libraries do just that in shaping its strategic framework, which focused on a handful of strategic areas for investment, including learning and teaching, advancing research and discovery, fostering scholarly expression, building a community for intellectual pursuit, and ensuring an outstanding stewardship of assets.