Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Mapping the future of academic libraries

The ‘Mapping the future of academic libraries’ report commissioned by SCONUL was published on 8 December following a conference in London to discuss its findings. The report was produced by a team from the School: Stephen Pinfield, Andrew Cox and Sophie Rutter.


The report identifies a complex set of interrelated trends impacting on libraries the significance of which is often in the way they combine. In particular, it identifies five nexuses of trends bringing transformational change:

1. ‘Datafied’ scholarship: research increasingly underpinned by large datasets and digital artefacts, involving open, networked, algorithmically-driven systems

2. Connected learning: new pedagogies supported by technology-enabled flexible learning

3. Service-oriented libraries: libraries shifting their strategic emphasis from collections to services

4. Blurred identities: boundaries between professional groups and services being broken down with more collaboration and new skills development

5. Intensified contextual pressures: a myriad of political, economic and other pressures creating demands on HE and libraries

The ways in which libraries are responding to such change, and also the contributions they are making to change, are then discussed, with a set of challenges and opportunities identified. The report then goes on to discuss the need for libraries to position themselves to respond to current challenges and opportunities, proposing a multi-faceted approach to the alignment between the library and its parent institution. The library needs to be a service-provide, partner and leader.

The challenge is to balance the ways in which these different roles are implemented in any given institutional context. A key part of achieving these roles is communication, especially between the library and the institution as a whole. Understandings of its role outside the library are often hazy; libraries need to create and communicate a compelling vision of the current and future library role. At the same time, there is an ongoing need for change in library organisations and a need to forge partnerships, both within the library community (something in which libraries have a strong record) but also beyond (historically, not so strong).

The report proposes that in order to help address current challenges we should question commonly-accepted ‘library mantras’: mantras, such as, ‘the library is a strong brand’ or ‘the library is a trusted partner’, can sometimes get in the way of change, and need to be rethought. A set of new paradigms as ways of thinking about the futures of libraries are proposed, including the computational library, the service-oriented library, the library as digital third space, the globalised library and the boundaryless library.

These have the potential to act as a framework for discussion on library futures going forward.

The report concludes with recommendations for action within academic libraries and for SCONUL and similar agencies.

The report was compiled following mixed-methods research involving: extensive engagement with the literature, a set of semi-structured interviews with an international range of stakeholders, and a survey of UK library staff. As well as producing the report itself, the Sheffield team is now working on peer-reviewed outputs, and engaging in ongoing discussion including workshops and conference presentations.

You can read some of the Twitter engagement about the report here.



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