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Ithaka (http://www.ithaka.org/) conducted surveys in 2000, 2003, and 2006 to better understand “how new technologies are impacting faculty attitudes and behaviors.” (Housewright and Schonfeld, p. 4). These studies attempt to teach the academic library community what services the faculty likes, and how to add value to existing services so that the library remains a focal point for campus research.

As should be expected on a large campus with diverse research areas, each department has a different view of the library. Ithaka found that “[m]ore than 80% of humanities faculty think that the librarians’ role remains just as important, but less than 60% of scientists support that opinion – social scientists fall in the middle, at around 70%…” (Housewright and Schonfeld, p. 5) Faculty attitudes toward the usefulness of librarians can be further broken down by discipline. “While about 80% of sociology faculty feel that the role of librarians is of continuing importance on their campus, only about 30% of economists….agreed with this view.” (Housewright and Schonfeld, p. 4). In general, the scientific disciplines ranked librarians and the library’s electronic catalog below other electronic discovery tools as their first choice for locating resources.

Across the board, faculty members expected to depend less upon the library as their first choice for research, as they increase their dependence upon other electronic discovery tools. Paradoxically, librarians expect to become more important as the first choice for research because they know how much work goes into acquiring these electronic databases for the university. If the faculty can’t actually see the librarians working behind the scenes on database licensing and electronic collection development, how can the faculty understand that librarians still provide value in an electronic environment? This report suggests that libraries step up their marketing efforts on campus in order to increase awareness of the library’s role in providing electronic research tools for the university. Texas A&M has successfully used marketing as a means to increase the use of the library’s virtual reference services.

How are academic libraries adapting to these changing attitudes? Some libraries are attempting to license as many databases as the budget allows.  However, the research in Ithaka’s report suggests that libraries should approach their licensing efforts strategically, taking into consideration which departments of the university are ready to make the switch to all digital resources, and which disciplines still prefer to read from print journals. This is particularly important so that libraries do not change to all digital resources in an attempt to save money and shelf space; they may end up wasting their budgets on resources that a good portion of the faculty will not use. In any situation, rushing people into changes they are unwilling to make is not a productive strategy. 

Ithaka’s report focuses mostly on existing electronic resources in the form of databases. However, libraries are also active in the creation of digital collections through digital preservation. Preserving historical research articles, artifacts, and photo collections can help a library create a unique profile and attract a variety of researchers.  For example, the University of North Texas maintains the Portal to Texas History (http://texashistory.unt.edu/) on its library site. This digital collection benefits North Texas as a whole by attracting researchers of all stripes to the North Texas Library Website.  If libraries maintain a close relationship with faculty as they develop and create a personal digital collection for the university, everyone will win. The library will have a unique collection that the faculty, students, and outside researchers will treasure.

Active collaboration between campus libraries and campus faculty will help raise the profile of librarians, and increase the faculties’ understanding of the role librarians play in acquiring electronic resources. Librarians must not passively assume “everyone knows” that libraries provide these resources. If librarians actively work with faculty members during the print-to-digital transition through workshops, faculty interviews, and regular surveys, librarians will be able to maintain a prominent role on campus whether or not their library is all print, all digital, or somewhere in between.

Source Publications:

Housewright, Ross and Schonfeld, Roger. “Ithaka’s 2006 Studies of Key Stakeholders in the digital Transformation in Higher Education.” Ithaka: Publications. 18 Aug 2008. Ithaka. 22 Feb 2009 <http://www.ithaka.org/about-ithaka/publications/&gt;.

MacDonald, Karen, vanDuinkerken, Wyoma and Stephens, Jane. “It’s All in the Marketing: The Impact of a Virtual Reference Marketing Campaign at Texas A&M University.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 47(2008): 375 – 385.

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Is Google Books a research tool (a super duper index) or a library?  Kevin Kelly raises this question in his comment the “Google Books Exchange” between Paul Duguid and Patrick Leary, and it became a framing question for 2008 MLA session on The Library of Google: Researching Scanned Books. During the panel, I discussed how I’m using Google Books in a project to remix my 2002 dissertation on bachelorhood and American culture as a work of digital scholarship.  (See my Powerpoint slides for the details.)  Out of the crowd of about 35 or 40 attendees, all but one raised their hands when I asked if they thought that Google Books was, on balance, good for humanities scholarship.  But some significant reservations emerged during the follow-up discussion.  A descriptive bibliographer emphasized the importance of consulting the print volume for bibliographic details such as illustrations, paper quality, etc.  Several English professors indicated that they use Google Books to indentify relevant materials, but then consult the print, presuambly because they trust it more and want to see the complete physical volume.  One attendee worried that her library would no longer get books for her via interlibrary loan, but instead refer her to Google Books; another expressed fear that libraries are shifting away from physical collections.  A scholar who works on the history of reading noted that the ability to find research sources rapidly may be diluting the quality of scholarship, as contemporary researchers make unfounded assumptions that just because they can use Google Books to detect connections between two works means that the connections are real, that one writer read the other.   Another scholar noted that Google Books is not fully available outside of the US, limiting collaboration with international scholars.  At the same time, though, the audience was enthusiastic about the ability to search across millions of books for words and phrases.  Although the discussion was certainly not an authoritative study of humanists’ attitudes towards Google Books, I do think it was indicative of both the enthusiasm that they have towards it as a research tool and their fears that it may supplant the research library.