The value of academic libraries

The library is not just a repository, or a service like any other, or a place for study:  it is all these things.  It can also be a partner in research and in teaching, and institutions which fail to capitalise fully on this asset will find it harder to compete in the future.

16 reasons to value academic libraries:

  1. The library continues to fulfil its role as the heart of the university, despite the move away from print and towards electronic resources.  The work the library undertakes contributes directly to the institution’s academic mission and to equipping students with the skills and knowledge they need to achieve academically and to maximise their employability.
  2. Libraries’ high level of expenditure on resources, £682 million in 2010-11 has helped UK universities maintain their place as a world leader in higher education. In recent years UK HE libraries have been at the forefront of the move into digital resources.
  3. Investment in e-resources has a direct impact on the productivity of an institution. Where academics and students have good access to e-content, effectively the library is now open 24 hours irrespective of building opening hours, and finding books and journals has become fast and immediate, freeing time up for the research and for teaching.
  4. Research in the US has found that the economic benefits of a university library are considerable. A number of studies have undertaken an economic benefit analysis showing that accessing a book or journal through the library rather via another route saves significant time and resources. For example academics at the University of Pittsburgh would have to spend an average of 17 minutes and $2.10 finding the information they needed from other sources.
  5. For an individual university, good quality library resources can help attract and retain academic high flyers and contribute to the prestige of an institution.
  6. These resources can also help universities attract and retain graduate students
  7. The quality and depth of those resources are also a determinant of the quality of research a university’s academics can produce. 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.
  8. Many institutions will also involve their library staff in the process of research, including in developing bids for funding.
  9. Universities which invest in their library see a return in terms of the quality of the grant applications they are able to make, and ultimately therefore to grant income. Research in the US looked at the return on investment (ROI) in library resources and showed a return of $4.38 in grant income for every dollar invested in 2006.
  10. The library is much more than a passive repository for knowledge. For the undergraduate, the library as a place, and the library as a service are central to their experience of university.  The library represents an important point of continuity for students during their time at university as does their relationship with its staff. This growing understanding of the role of the librarian as a student advisor is now helping to drive convergence between the library and support services within HEIs.
  11. The quality of the library is more important even than teaching contact time for prospective students considering which university to attend. Satisfaction with library services was in the top ten (8th) of factors that prospective students would consider when deciding which university to apply for.
  12. Despite the move to e-resources, students are visiting their university library more often and spending more time when they do. Particularly in the arts and humanities, undergraduates may well spend more time with their librarian than with their lecturer. That time is spent supporting students to become self-directed learners.
  13. Emerging UK evidence also suggests that universities which succeed in engaging students to use library resources are rewarded with higher academic outcomes among those students . Comparable research in South Africa and the US has given similar results.
  14. Investing in the teaching and support services offered by the library can increase the employability of a university’s graduates. The ability for source and manage information, and to use electronic resources and technology effectively, are skills which are highly valued by employers.
  15. Universities with libraries that spend more on materials and employ more staff also have greater retention rates.
  16. The role of the modern library director is extremely demanding one, requiring a high level of skill in procurement, staff management and ICT skills.  They are responsible for the purchase and running of highly complex IT systems; budgets which average £4.6million and may be ten times that, and numbers of up to 500 library staff. Many also manage converged IT and library services, student support services and even health and safety and building management.