Faculty survey breaks down the role of the library in higher education
A new report from Ithaca S+R examines the multi-faceted role of the library in higher education. The research and advisory firm’s US Faculty Survey tracks faculty views on research, teaching, and publishing practices every three years to identify critical trends in higher education. For the most recent iteration of the survey, conducted in fall 2021, researchers surveyed 7,615 faculty members at four-year colleges and universities across the country on topics such as the value of the library, instructional support, equitable and holistic teaching practices, and more.
The survey tracked perceptions of the library’s role in nine areas:
- Archive: “The library serves as a repository of resources – in other words – it archives, preserves and tracks resources.”
- Buyer: “The library pays for the resources I need, from academic journals to books to electronic databases.”
- Goal: “The library serves as a starting point or ‘gateway’ for finding information for my research.”
- Graduate Support: “The library supports graduate students in conducting research, managing data, and publishing grants.”
- physical space: “The library provides an informal academic environment and a space that supports student learning.”
- Research Support: “The library actively supports me and helps to increase the productivity of my research.”
- Tutoring Support: “The library supports and facilitates my teaching.”
- Technology Access: “The library provides access to technological resources that support student learning.”
- Bachelor Support: “The library helps students develop research, critical analysis, and information skills.”
84 percent of faculty considered the role of “buyer” to be the most important library function. Not surprisingly, faculty also said that the academic library collections or subscriptions are their most important source of academic materials: Eight in 10 faculty members rated these resources as very important to their research and teaching, a data point that emerged in the last four years has remained the same survey cycles (going back to 2012).
Nonetheless, the student role of the library as an informal academic space that provides access to technological resources received high marks from the faculty. “While faculty members continue to see the library’s primary function as the purchaser of academic resources, they view the library’s role in directly supporting students as essential,” the report states. Eight out of ten faculty members rated access to technology and physical space as very important library functions, and three-fourths rated the library’s support role for students as very important.
Faculty in the survey generally supported the library’s budget for both scholarly collections and physical spaces. Eighty percent of faculty agreed that colleges and universities should appropriately budget libraries as scholarly journal prices rise to ensure continued access. And almost half the faculty strongly disagreed with the statement: “Because scholarly material is available electronically, colleges and universities should redirect money spent on library buildings and staff to other uses.” However, faculty were undecided on funding for in-person or digital library services: 44% neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement: “Due to increasing experience with digital teaching and learning, college and university libraries should redirect funds earmarked for in -personal services to digital support options.”
The library role rated lowest in the survey was supporting faculty research. This is perhaps reflected in faculty members’ self-service approach to managing research data: more than 80% of faculty in the survey said they organize and manage their data collection (including data, media, or images) on their own computers . Two thirds of the faculty use a cloud storage service such as Google Drive or Dropbox. Only a small percentage of faculty reported that their college or university library managed their research data.
The same applies to the storage of research data after the project has been completed. 65 percent of educators said they maintain these materials themselves, using commercial or freely available software and services. And 30% said they use a repository provided by their institution or some other type of online repository. A small percentage indicated that their campus or university library retained research data on their behalf.
Finally, the survey examined the instructional support that faculty receives from the library, instructional designers, teaching and learning centers, or other service providers. Seven out of 10 faculty reported receiving support from one or more of these providers to promote academic integrity, adopt new pedagogies that integrate instructional technology, and understand copyright standards for their instructional materials. The faculty in particular saw the library as a valuable source of support in all of these areas, as well as for discovering media content such as instructional videos for their classes.
The full report is available on the Ithaca S+R website.
About the author: Rhea Kelly is the Editor-in-Chief of Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].