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What We Learned From The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “The Future of Academic Libraries” Webinar

6/16/22 - 

Occuspace partnered with The Chronicle for “The Future of Academic Libraries” webinar on June 13 to discuss the evolving role of the university library. These are our key takeaways from the event.

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Hosted by Scott Carlson, Senior Writer at The Chronicle, with panelists:

  • Lorraine J. Haricombe, Vice Provost and Director, UT Libraries, University of Texas at Austin
  • Erin Ellis, Associate Dean for Research and Learning Services, Indiana University at Bloomington
  • Roger Schonfeld, Vice President, Organizational Strategy and Libraries, Scholarly Communication, and Museums, Ithaka S+R


Key Highlights

  • The pandemic elevated the importance of the campus library that “rose to the occasion” to maintain academic continuity after doors closed.
  • Library traffic is gradually returning to normal foot traffic levels.
  • Panelists emphasized making the library a centerpiece for student orientation to cement the significance of the spaces and resources to academic learning and student success.
  • Libraries are balancing the need for innovation but the pace of change is slower and teams are scrambling to keep up.
  • To maintain relevance, library leaders need to align the mission and vision of their function with the overall mission and vision of university leadership.


The Current State of Academic Libraries

The future for academic libraries really focuses on two key areas - how building spaces can evolve to be used in new ways and creating and maintaining a more robust and all-inclusive student experience.

While maintaining traditional use for studies and physical resources, the campus library must grow to meet the increasing demands of campus leaders and what this “new generation of students” need moving forward, like how to better connect students with others after studying remotely for the past two years.

It was discussed that during the pandemic the critical role of the campus library was realized. Lorraine Haricombe said it best that when campuses were locked down, libraries rose to the occasion to provide the support that nobody else could provide.

“Without the library, the university could not operate. Teaching couldn’t take place, research couldn’t take place, technology transfers couldn’t take place.”- Lorraine Haricombe, Vice Provost and Director, University of Texas at Austin Libraries

Academic libraries are gradually returning to normal operations. Occuspace CEO Nic Halverson during his mid-webinar interview referenced that many of their library partners are seeing foot traffic returning to pre-Covid levels, up to 88% of traffic flow compared to before the pandemic.

The anticipated return to normalcy that this new academic year brings also comes with an increase in students who are unfamiliar with the campus library.

Erin Ellis mentioned that Indiana University at Bloomington is prepared to not only welcome a new freshman class but a sophomore class who, due to online learning protocols, has very little to no experience in the campus library. Library administration is already considering how they re-introduce students to the library and “make it a habit for them” to go regularly.

Lorraine and Erin agreed that the library has to be a critical first stop for new student orientation. At UT Austin, the library has become the “Welcome Center” where new students stop to gather and become oriented with resource spaces and library staff expertise, prior to touring the campus.

Additionally, print resource circulation has decreased since the pandemic. The panelists all cited the increase in demand for streaming media, e-resources, and digitized collections, but that demand has been difficult to meet based on the sheer volume and limited staff resources. Roger Schonfeld mentioned there is a great story about how the digital library and services that were used during the pandemic really helped push traditional libraries into the digital age. He emphasized that it’s time to shift away from the books and to the end-user.

Everyone also recognized the “Great Resignation” of the past two years that depleted library teams. There is now a shift to “upskilling” and hiring staff without the traditional librarian credentials to focus on the user and their more digital-centric needs.


An Evolving Role with Great Expectations

The webinar explored the new expectations that everyone from library administrators to staff, students, and all the way up to Presidents and Provosts expect from their campus libraries. Roger mentioned that in Ithaka’s recent library research, Presidents and Provosts of campus-based institutions are trying to find ways to double down on the value that the residential life and library spaces together can offer students, faculty, and staff.

Library leadership has to have a "willingness to think of space, not as a service, but an asset and how it can be used to the greatest benefit of the university community.”- Roger Schonfeld, Vice President, Organizational Strategy and Libraries, Scholarly Communication, and Museums, Ithaka S+R

Partnerships are being forged with entities that will make more valuable use of library spaces. Panelists discussed that university centers for teaching and learning are an ideal partner for shared space use and consistent traffic. Lorraine referenced setting up “pop up” like carts to move around to various spaces in the library to attract students to new locations and resources.

Indiana University wants to evolve its library to become a space for faculty and graduate students to create more of a community connection and opportunity space for them to gather around research.

We’ll end on a final note from panelist Roger that summed the role of the academic library as needing to find “ways to increase the pace of change in order for libraries to serve the quickly evolving needs of researchers and student learning and the strategic direction the university is steering itself in.”


If you’d like to watch the full webinar, here is the link to the recorded session.

Contact us to learn more about how Occuspace is helping university leaders optimize their physical spaces to better serve student and administrator needs.

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