Since 2010, Ithaka S+R has fielded its triennial survey of academic library directors to track evolving strategies and priorities across the sector. Today we release findings from the 2019 survey cycle, which was fielded from October to December 2019.

Much has obviously changed in the world since then. Most notably, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the plans of not only academic libraries but higher education as a whole. As we face an uncertain future, we hope the Library Survey 2019 will act as a snapshot of what was most important prior to these major disruptions. We ask that readers take the key findings as such and acknowledge that they may reflect a different time. Our key findings, as presented in the full report of findings published today, include:

  • Library directors continue to perceive the value of their roles—and the roles of their libraries—as declining in the eyes of their supervisors and other higher education leaders.
  • Student success remains a top objective for library directors and they see the contributions of their library toward this success most strongly in relation to increasing student learning and enhancing student well-being.
  • Priorities continue to shift from collections to services. Directors anticipate increased expenditures for services and staffing related to teaching and research support.
  • A declining share of directors expect to increase financial support for technology, systems, and infrastructure.
  • Spending on electronic books now roughly equals that for print books. For the first time, the percentage of library materials budget spent on e-books has risen to nearly the same level as print books.
  • Half of library directors will likely cancel a major journal package in the next five years. A relatively small share plan on pivoting to transformative agreements to bundle publishing and subscription costs.
  • Roughly half of library directors are interested in contributing to institutional learning analytics tools.
  • Relatively few library directors agree that their library, as well as their broader institution, have well-developed strategies related to equity, diversity, inclusion, and access.

We see in this survey cycle that academic library directors anticipate more investment in the library’s service offerings and relatively less on its collections, especially print collections. Many expect to cancel at least one major journal package in the coming years, while few plan to pivot to transformative agreements to bundle publishing and subscription costs. Challenges in executing on these strategies have also been identified. We continue to document a decreasing sense of institutional alignment and support. Current strategies to bolster diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility have not been identified as strong. Financial constraints continue to loom large.

While academic libraries have already had extensive digital service offerings for decades and therefore have been relatively well-positioned to move their services online, we do not yet know the full extent of the impact of COVID-19 on future strategy and services. We will be fielding a follow-up survey with academic library directors later this year to address these issues. In the meantime, we look forward to hearing any thoughts, reflections, and questions you have on the Library Survey 2019 findings.