Navigating the New Normal: Five Takeaways from the Latest Ithaka S+R U.S. Library Survey
5 June 2023
By Emily Singley
Ithaka S+R recently released its latest survey examining leadership and strategic perspectives in the library field
The recently released Ithaka S+R U.S. Library Survey(opens in new tab/window) examines leadership and strategic perspectives in the North American library field, based on responses from more than 600 library leaders at not-for-profit four-year academic institutions across the U.S. Ithaka S+R is a non-profit that helps academic and cultural communities serve the public good and navigate economic, technological, and demographic change The research project’s overarching goals are to provide the library community with valuable insights to inform decision making and track the emerging opportunities and challenges leaders face in steering their organizations.
We sat down with Ithaka S+R’s leaders to discuss what is currently on the minds of those in the North American library community. Here are five key takeaways from the survey and possible implications for the future of academic libraries and the research ecosystem:
Key Findings and Insights:
Priorities continue to shift from collections to services and there is an opportunity for libraries to cement their key role in the research ecosystem. A third of library deans and directors when prompted to project a 10% decrease to their budgets, would in turn direct reductions toward general collections, especially print resources. Services to support research, teaching, and learning are growing priorities, and institutions are interested in building or expanding research data management (RDM) services. RDM has been a topic of discussion in the library community for years, but the NIH policy expanding public access(opens in new tab/window) and recent guidance(opens in new tab/window) from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy are pushing the need for expanding RDM services. If librarians can effectively adopt and own this new role, RDM is an opportunity for them to continue to be relevant and increase their value on campus and in the broader research community.
Deans and directors see an increasingly open future—one they believe will result in rising costs for their institution. Roughly one quarter of deans and directors across institution types believe transformative agreements are a great mechanism for moving their institutions into the future of open access. Yet, a third of directors do not see libraries and publishers as aligned allied with one another when it comes to open access (OA) developments. Directors believe an increasingly open future will not result in cost-savings. Unlike in Europe, the U.S. lacks governmental oversight to drive a holistic OA policy with a wealth distribution/transfer model. We don’t know what the future of OA will look like, but we are committed to supporting the research community, and anticipate that by growing the number of OA journals that we publish, we will better be able to support them.
Many library deans and directors are grappling with talent management and recruitment. A quarter or more of library directors predict that within five years they will need to add employees or increase staffing for student success, engagement and outreach, digital preservation and archiving, and instruction, instructional design, and information literacy. On the other hand, nearly a fifth of respondents anticipate reducing staff in access services and technical services, metadata, and cataloging within the next five years. They are also struggling to recruit personnel for roles in technology and programing, cataloging, metadata and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA), and indicate they are most likely to consider outsourcing cataloging and metadata and technology and programming skills. Many veteran librarians are reaching retirement age; others are looking to leave the industry due to various societal and professional pressures. On top of that, the definition of what it means to be a librarian is changing, meaning librarians of the future will more closely resemble data scientists than library scientists. Libraries must reinvent themselves by aligning with their institutions in a meaningful way.
Confidence in library and institutional DEIA initiatives is waning While directors indicate these strategies are a high priority, only a quarter are confident their libraries have well-developed DEIA strategies, down from over a third in Fall 2020. More than a quarter of directors are concerned that cuts to budgets allocated for library staff head count may disproportionately affect employees of color, and 60 percent of directors indicate that ensuring pay equity is a high priority for their library. Notably, since the survey was fielded, several states have introduced legislation that would restrict DEIA programming, hiring, or training at public colleges and universities, so this confidence may continue to fall.
For roughly half of respondents, convincing campus leaders of the library’s value proposition remains a challenge. While over 72 percent of library deans and directors report high levels of confidence in their own ability to articulate their library’s value proposition in a way that aligns with the goals of the institution, only 51 percent are confident other senior administrators believe in this alignment. Libraries are doing amazing work in humanities and collections management, but often that work is not aligned with the university’s organizational strategy. One way that libraries can increase their value proposition is to lead and support the evolving priorities of higher education by helping grow the scientific research enterprise. The world of research is fundamentally changing, meaning it’s a new day for librarians, universities, the government, and other members of the research ecosystem facing challenges and opportunities that no other generation has had to face. For this reason, we all need a new approach to address the new ways we access, digest, and publish research now and in the future.
About the Survey
In fall 2022, Ithaka surveyed library leaders at not-for-profit four-year academic institutions across the U.S., with a response rate of 42 percent based on 612 responses.
In this sixth iteration of the project, Ithaka continued to track high-level issues of strategy, leadership, budget, staffing, and institutional alignment. It also introduced new batteries of questions related to broader trends in higher education, including remote and hybrid learning, talent retention, and research data management, and expanded its coverage of open access and DEIA.