University Futures, Library Futures

OCLC Research and Ithaka S+R are currently fielding a survey of academic library directors in the United States to support our “University Futures, Library Futures” project. Results of the survey will be shared with the community in 2018. Please contact Constance Malpas with any questions.

OCLC Research is excited to be working with colleagues at Ithaka S+R on a new project examining the impact of increased institutional differentiation in universities on the organization of academic libraries and the services they provide. The project is generously supported by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation.

What we’re doing

For decades, models of excellence in academic library service have been shaped by a collections-centric paradigm in which the size of local print inventory is considered a key indicator of quality. Despite growing attention to a “service turn” in college and university libraries, efforts to revitalize the public service by retooling subject specialists and bibliographers as disciplinary liaisons, increasing engagement with teaching and learning activities and the like, university recruitment and marketing efforts often perpetuate a view that volume count is a recognized metric of excellence. With generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, OCLC Research and Ithaka are joining forces to develop a new framework for understanding the fit between emerging library service paradigms and university types.

Why we’re doing it

Higher education is the subject of an intense debate about mission, organization and direction. An important strand is the discussion about institutional isomorphism, which has featured centrally in influential recent contributions. Institutional isomorphism refers to the tendency of institutions in a field to resemble each other over time, shaped by coercive (mandated) or normative (professional) influences. In the higher education field, Michael Crow and William Dabars have coined the terms “Harvardization” and “Berkeley envy” for a historical trend they observe: universities have aspired to those institutions as common models of excellence.

Among research libraries, a longstanding focus on competitive volume counts and comparative “library investment” underpin a normative isomorphism with respect to collections and funding. Rank is determined by size and expense rather than impact. However, it has become increasingly clear that universities are sorting themselves into new patterns of development. For example, Arizona State University is very deliberately charting a course as a new type of mega-university, attempting to increase both inclusiveness and research excellence. Other patterns are apparent; for example, the residential liberal arts college, which is developing career-oriented professional online offerings, the regional public university seeking to streamline based on a distinctive career focus, the system with shared services, and so on. Over time, these will each demand particular library services.

Against this background we are embarking on a study that takes a more realistically plural view of the future of the academic library. Different types of academic libraries will be on different vectors, influenced by the types of universities or colleges they support.

How we’ll be working together

Over the next year, into mid 2018, OCLC Research and Ithaka S+R will develop a heuristic typology of colleges and universities that acknowledges the increasing fragmentation and specialization of higher education business models, and explore the degree to which libraries are aligning services to emerging institutional needs. We hypothesize that libraries within institutions that are strongly “typed” along one or more dimensions will exhibit greater similarity in the scope of library service offerings, while libraries serving institutions with a less pronounced type (or multiple, competing types) will have a more diffuse service profile. A possible implication is that institutions with a stronger type-identification will have a clearer roadmap for achieving institutionally appropriate service excellence. 

Learn more

We’re eager to engage with partners in the higher education and academic library communities as this project moves forward. Feel free to get in touch!

Contact project team member Constance Malpas at malpasc@oclc.org.
 

Latest News

Project Lead Constance Malpas gave the presentation "University Futures, Library Futures: re-examining academic library relevance" at the Americas Regional Council in October 2017.

 

Beyond Counting Books (Inside Higher Ed)

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University Futures; Library Futures (Ithaka S+R Blog)

  • OCLC Research and Ithaka S+R Join Forces on New Research Project
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    Most recent updates: Page content: 2017-05-31