As collecting institutions on campus, libraries and museums have a great deal to learn from each other. Libraries have excelled in adapting to digital environments, a development that has served them especially well during the COVID-19 pandemic. Academic museums have grown increasingly sophisticated as public spaces, serving as an access point for local communities and visitors of all kinds on otherwise exclusive campuses. In this way, notable competencies have emerged in the library sector towards breadth of access to digital resources and improving information literacy, while museums have evolved to offer curated experiences and, at their best, have come to serve as a welcoming space for the public to interact, learn and reflect.  

Recognizing that these units on campus might be able to better inform one another’s work towards mutually beneficial outcomes, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation engaged museum and library directors in a summit at the University of Miami in 2016. In the resulting white papers, Jill Deupi and Charles Eckman found, “The frequent placement of libraries and museums in disparate academic organizational structures erodes opportunities for intense collaboration and communication around program development.” In order to better understand the barriers and opportunities that organizational structures of universities pose to future collaborations between these units, the Mellon foundation engaged Ithaka S+R to gather evidence about the dynamics between academic museums and libraries. To do this, we interviewed museum and library directors, and in some cases additional staff, at thirty universities. These interviews granted insights into the incredible variety of campus environments that museum and library professionals operate within. 

This week, we have published findings from this project, “Structuring Collaborations: The Opportunities and Challenges of Building Relationships Between Academic Museums and Libraries,” which includes thematic findings drawn from those interviews, as well as three brief case studies which illustrate examples of effective collaborations at University of Iowa, Atlanta University Center, and Princeton University. We would like to thank our advisory board for supporting us in various stages of this project: 

  • Sharon Corwin – President and CEO, Terra Foundation
  • Trevor Dawes – Vice Provost for Libraries and Museums and May Morris University Librarian, University of Delaware 
  • Gretchen Dietrich – Executive Director, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah
  • Charles Eckman – Dean and University Librarian, University of Miami
  • Tracy Fitzpatrick – Director, Neuberger Museum of Art, SUNY Purchase
  • Susan Gibbons – Vice Provost for Collections and Scholarly Communication, Yale University
  • Saralyn Reece Hardy – Marilyn Stokstad Director, Spencer Museum of Art, Kansas University
  • Loretta Parham – CEO and Director, Atlantic University Center Woodruff Library

Overwhelmingly, we found that growing strong relationships between leaders, as well as between library and museum staff, is the most effective way for organic collaborations to develop and thrive. Building these relationships requires extra effort, and may not be explicitly connected to the directors’ job description. But they can yield moments of serendipity that push both fields forward. We hope this report provides some insight for leaders of academic museums and libraries as they consider how best to structure collaborations on campus. Please reach out with any inquiries to