The Ithaka S+R US Library Survey for 2016 was published yesterday and if you're a person who works in academic libraries, it is definitely worth a look. What caught my eye was a chart fairly early in the document--Figure 4. Figure 4 compares the responses of library directors and faculty members to the following question: How important to you is it that your college or university library provides each of the functions below or serves in the capacity listed below?
What emerges when you look at that table is that what library directors see as valuable roles for the library to play don't necessarily converge with what faculty members see as valuable roles for the library to play. I suspect this isn't surprising if you work in an academic library.
I noticed that the categories that received a larger percentage of positive responses from library directors seemed to be centered around they ways in which the library helps develop information literacy skills in undergraduate students how the library supports faculty with teaching and research activities. And the single category that received a larger percentage of positive responses from faculty is centered around the library paying for resources in all formats.
While I am wary of asking charts to do things they are not intended to do, it is interesting to see these different visions of the library juxtaposed.
Academic libraries invest a lot of resources into marketing and outreach in an attempt to sell our campus communities on the library services that I mentioned in the earlier paragraphs. We set up departmental office hours. We print flyers and create digital signage to market the services no one seems to know about no matter how often we remind them. We hold open houses. We have orientation sessions for new students and faculty. We try, through marketing and outreach, to get other people as excited about this version of the academic library as we are.
And we wring out hands when our efforts don't cultivate new relationships or lead to the more widespread adoption of new services.
This is not to suggest that these outreach efforts are misplaced. Teaching faculty aren't a monolith and some of them are as excited about our vision of the academic library as instructor of students and supporter of faculty activities. Some of our teaching faculty colleagues are, indeed, our strongest supporters and our best allies. And it is absolutely true that the best way to establish new relationships with teaching faculty by way of a satisfied faculty customer.
But I do wonder how much of our marketing and outreach efforts could be better spent by listening to our teaching faculty colleagues on our own campus and developing a shared vision of what the library on our campus should be--even when that vision isn't exactly what we think it should be.
Creating conversations between the academic library and its user communities is really challenging because it asks us to stop putting our vision ahead of the needs of our user communities. And when the vision that is reflected back to us by our user communities is not where we think we should be heading, we have to decide whether to chart a new course or not. It's scary, we think, because our user communities don't understand the history of the academic library. It's scary, we imagine, because our user communities couldn't possibly know what they need better than we do.
But in the end, the way to build an academic library that is not only useful on a campus but creates experiences for our user communities that is transformative is to listen far more than we speak.
What is one way that you can listen to your user communities about the library they want and need? Tell me in the comments!