Transforming Library Leadership Strategy in a Time of Crisis
Introducing the Special Edition Library Survey 2020
Since the Library Survey 2019 survey was fielded, the COVID-19 pandemic—and more recently, organizing around the Black Lives Matter movement—has greatly impacted academic libraries and higher education as a whole. At the start of the pandemic, many libraries remained open with increases in safety protocols. Within weeks, it became clear that there would be a greater impact with academic libraries shifting online along with their parent institutions. Further along, economic impacts forced some directors to introduce furloughs and hiring and salary freezes, testing the extent to which library directors prioritize equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. In the face of so many changes, we think it’s important to break our normal triennial survey cycle to capture how library directors are adapting. Therefore this fall, from August through September, we will field a special edition of the Library Survey.
To guide our focus, we have spoken to a fantastic group of advisors from a variety of academic institutions:
- K. Matthew Dames, University Librarian, Boston University
- Trevor Dawes, Vice Provost for Libraries and Museums and May Morris University Librarian, University of Delaware
- Amy Kautzman, Dean and Director, University Library, Sacramento State University
- Jonathan Miller, Director of Libraries, Williams College
- Kellie O’Rourke, Head of Library Sales, Americas, Cambridge University Press
- Sarah Pickle, Interim Assistant Dean for Planning and Operations and Director of Organizational Planning and Assessment, The Claremont Colleges Libraries
- Deborah Prosser, Director of Olin Library, Rollins College
- Rachel Rubin, Associate University Librarian for Research and Learning, University of Pittsburgh
- Denise Stephens, Vice Provost and University Librarian, Washington University in St. Louis
We are grateful to our advisors for their time and generosity in sharing their experiences and perspectives on the field. These conversations, as well as reflections on key findings from the Library Survey 2019, roundtable discussions with 40 library leaders in April, and topics of interest to the academic community more broadly, have directed our focus in this off-cycle survey. While many of the high-level themes we discussed reflect that of the triennial survey as it has historically been fielded, we will pay special attention to the areas that are most likely to have been impacted by recent events:
Budgeting and planning: How are academic library leaders modeling different scenarios for the short- and long-term future? What is the expected magnitude of cuts to operations, staffing, and collections and to what extent do library leaders have autonomy in making decisions that affect each category? What are the implications of these decisions for equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility?
Staffing: How have salary and hiring freezes, furloughs, and layoffs impacted academic libraries? How have these decisions affected diverse groups of employees? In the absence of being able to move forward with hiring searches, what steps have been taken to re-skill employees, especially those whose jobs typically require access to the physical library, either temporarily or for the long-term? And what steps are library leaders taking to ensure the health, well-being, and safety of employees at their library, especially as physical spaces begin to reopen?
Collections: What steps are libraries taking to ensure that faculty and students are getting needed resources for research, teaching, and learning? What changes are being made to acquire new materials, especially in light of increased demand for electronic resources, and how has this impacted perceptions of print resources? What steps are academic libraries taking to decenter and/or deaccession existing holdings that contain troubling content or are by problematic authors, and center and/or acquire anti-racist materials and other works that increase the diversity of the holdings, especially those written by BIPOC authors? Have perceptions of open access resources and transformative agreements changed over the past year?
Digital services and physical space: How has the relative preparedness of academic libraries to provide digital services during the pandemic impacted efforts to maintain physical library space on college campuses? How has awareness of digital services been generated with new audiences and what data are being collected to evaluate usage? In what ways are libraries collaborating with other institutional units in providing services at a distance?
While we cannot cover all aspects of recent changes in one survey, we will be guided by these themes as we develop, test, and revise the updated questionnaire prior to fieldwork in late summer. Given the current climate, we will limit certain areas that have been important to track over time (e.g. hiring practices) but are less relevant at this moment in time. We look forward to sharing more about this project as it develops over the next couple of months.