Dean’s Update: Framing Drivers for Change

Dean’s Update: Framing Drivers for Change
Jenny James Lee
July 12, 2016

[The Dean's Update is a reoccurring column introducing the Libraries' monthly newsletter In Circulation.]

In recent months it seems that more and more people are bringing to my attention their new discovery that “libraries must really be changing.” They ask me to have coffee, seeking my impressions of what goes on in libraries or sharing newspaper articles, blog posts or other communications.

For those of us in the midst of the change, this isn’t news, it is simply a continuation of our work. Libraries have seen many changes over the years and we continue to project what drives the need for change and to make sense of transformations that occur.

At Drexel’s Libraries we are currently wrapping up our strategic plan, which spanned 2012 – 2017 and outlined four strategic directions: access, connections, environments and organization. As we reach the end of this plan, we will spend the summer and fall identifying our SWOT factors and soliciting ideas to refresh it.

We already know that one of the major challenges we face is effectively communicating how libraries are changing and what changes need to be made to support these trends. We look to use metaphors and stories to help bridge the gap between the familiar and unfamiliar.

One effective strategy, used at a meeting with campus administrators last fall, was to identify and debunk common myths about libraries and their roles.

The first myth was that information is free. With a simple Google search one can unearth a large amount of information, so why do libraries require such large budgets for information resources? It all depends on what information you are looking to find. Libraries have long advocated for free and equitable access, but are increasingly challenged to ensure that this access comes at no cost to those who benefit from it. Many do not realize the high profit margins that publishers factor into subscriptions or that libraries more frequently license use of books and journals rather than own them. Licenses have a fixed duration, so payments continue annually as opposed to the purchase model of a one-time payment for continued use.

The second myth identified is that information is available to anyone, anywhere. A democracy expects that its citizens can find ideas and read the truth, and libraries build their access services to enable that. Massive digitization of print materials, the rapid appearance of electronic publications and the everyday practice of quick connections via phones, ipads, and laptops leave many with the belief that these advances in technology have made the myth true. Few people realize that research publications increasingly have quarantines, periods when they might not be accessible to those without authorization to read them. Or that academic pricing—the educational discounts we receive on licenses – requires a current University affiliation that limits who may access the materials a library provides. Although millions of books have been digitized, not all have been.

And my favorite myth is the third one, that online searches return the same results to everyone. It was an eye-opener when I realized that search filters utilize data about past searches to tailor results to individual searchers. When doing online shopping, you might welcome that helpful suggestion for shoppers: “If you liked this, you’ll like that.” But when you are seeking scholarship or broadening your curiosity, this filter can limit what you find. And it might, some argue, make us intellectually lazy as it becomes easier not to question the results of searches.

In the Libraries, we’re tackling the challenges that these myths – and others – address with continued emphasis on our strategic directions and the University’s mission. We have optimized expenditures to ensure access to authoritative information. We have built learning environments that stress the information exploration that occurs in our spaces. We upgraded the University repository to strengthen our connections to scholarship. And we are modeling the organization by promoting coordination and fact finding.

As we look to refresh our directions, we seek new ways of articulating their value to the University. Our work to ensure access to information has streamlined acquisition and interlibrary loan services. But beyond efficient management, the impact of this work lowers the cost of higher education, thereby also reflecting the University’s strategy. We know that the costs for individuals to obtain access in the open market is significantly more expensive than when the library negotiates access for the large number of individuals who wish to read books and articles through our services. The University’s attraction to recruit and retain researchers may in part be more competitive by the support the Libraries provides faculty to manage their research data output for future research or to maintain a convenient search tool to find global connections in the scholarly world.

Enjoy your summer, and once in a while if you think about the libraries around you, share an insight about what you think is changing it and where you think its future should be.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries