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Dean's Update: From R2 to R1

May 6, 2019

Are there new expectations of a university’s library when the institution receives the RI Carnegie Classification

Earlier this year, 16 doctoral universities with R2 classification—including Drexel University—learned that, with changes in the 2018 Carnegie Classification criteria, they are now designated as having “very high research activity.” 

The change in criteria has been received in universally positive terms. For some universities, the R1 status was previously lost and now is restored. Some issued news releases of entry into a community of the highly ranked U.S. research institutions, and others promoted the added prestige as important for recruitment and donors. 

At Drexel, faculty and university administrators from the President and Provost, to Deans and Officers responsible for Research and Graduate Studies were applauded. Recently, I attended a local panel discussion sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and heard an influential business executive give what he phrased as a “shout out” to Drexel for this noteworthy contribution to the city’s reputation. It is a big deal for academia. 

As a library administrator, I began to wonder if any of this has an impact on the academic library. Are there new expectations of the library to help retain an R1 classification? Might connections to scholarship or the doctoral student experience be important when the next list of institutions with R1 classification is issued? Is there an opportunity for libraries to improve the infrastructure behind building this university reputation?

For this month’s update, I pursued my curiosity in two brief ways. First, I “asked Google,” and then I had phone conversations with a few library directors at other universities that moved from R2 to R1 status.

Noodling around various websites, I did not uncover any reflections about libraries and their role in supporting R1 or “high research activities.” Themes emerged from European sources, however, that articulated the value of an academic library’s contribution to the university’s research activities.

For example, the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL), which represents all university libraries in the UK and Ireland, posts 16 reasons to value academic libraries. The list includes:

  • “investment in e-resources has a direct impact on the productivity of an institution”
  • “good quality library resources can help attract and retain academic high flyers”
  • “attract and retain graduate students”
  • “per capita expenditure and use of e-journals is strongly and positively correlated with papers published, numbers of PhD awards, and research grants and contracts income.”
  • “library staff in the process of research, including in developing bids for funding.”
  • “a return in terms of the quality of the grant applications.’”

Other themes arose from my phone calls with other library directors. Institutions whose libraries are members of ARL (Association of Research Libraries) are already well equipped for very active research activities that depend on library support. However, those directors from non-ARL libraries see little realistic expectations to obtain the resources needed to build the library for this classification.

Major investments in staff numbers and expenditures for collections are required to become an ARL member. Even at universities where presidents or provosts are aware of the ARL status as one indicator of the library’s capability to support research, the overwhelming expense to reach current ARL membership requirements are not a priority amidst other financial challenges.  

As one colleague noted, to even reach the capacity of the average bottom 10 ARL members would require over a $1 million annual increase and at least 50% increase in staffing at his library. For Drexel to reach that target, it would require an annual increase of $4 million and nearly triple its current staffing level.

We agreed that opportunities abound for continuing the librarian tradition of being innovative in working around having inadequate information resources to match ambitions for supporting the university’s mission. But which strategies will realistically make a difference to focus local development or external cooperative measures to provide a university’s connections to scholarship that are fundamental to an R1 classification?

The short answer to my original question likely is “no,” there are not new expectations of libraries. The more productive, strategic challenge to address in local settings with new R1 classification may be “what is needed to connect a highly active research university to scholarship to strengthen its culture of research?”

Librarians are uniquely qualified to frame these questions, and they are well-positioned to guide cross-campus discussions about designing local solutions to help maintain this academic marker of research activity.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries