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So now you're an academic librarian...

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The future of the academic librarian is now...

by, Joanna Novick



Section 1. Meeting the challenges of digital information needs


Section 2.  The changing role of academic librarians


section 3.  The future of the academic library 





"The digital revolution has made many libraries obsolete. " 


Evans and Alire used the following op-ed "conversation" published in the Los Angeles Times as a springboard to tackle the issue of public perception.












The problem is that he is thinking of libraries and librarians as the place and/or the person from wence information comes.   Obviously, information is everywhere.  BUT...if we expand our concept of "providers" to encompass making something attainable.

 Los Angeles Times

October 26, 2011 

 Regina Powers, a California librarian, outlined the lack of financial support for libraries. By putting forth statistics such as that in 2010 "3, 432 full-time librarians served 37,253,956 Californians.  In otherword, librarians were each expected serve 10, 854 patrons", Powers ultimately concluded  that "California does not value librarians." (Powers).


November 3, 2011 

The response to Powers' piece echoes a common sentiment that librarians in many areas are all too familar with, that "the Internet is replacing librarians."  Thus, two particulalry relevant opinions on libraries themselves and on the perception of what librarians do emerged.  

1. Search engines and blogs are at an adavtange because "unlike libraries, the Internet's information is not bound by walls".  

2. Librarians compete with Internet in performing services that they once "exclusive provided...they organized information, guided others' research and advised community members." (Traiven).

From this one exchange,3 important ideas emerge:


1. Information Needs:  The  information needs that have developed parallel to vast information access. 

2. The role of the academic librarian:  The idea of what a librarian actually does remains constricted by stereotype.

3. The library as place:  There remains a very limited view of the library - both as a physical entity and as a virtual one.

"So many people have access to information but there's no follow up to that. I think the follow up to that is our knowledge. When people have the knowledge, they can find solutions without having to be helped out.  Information is powerful, but it is how we use it that will define us. " (Matere).

information needs

While on the surface these numbers seem fairly strong it is always unbelievable to me that there are some students who go to college and never enter the library.


Even more puzzling is the fact that students remainrelatively slow in utilizing the library website, despite their use of online resources. 


Ultimately, it is clear that students do use and do need the library, despite the idea that there is really little need.


information needs

where do students go for information?








Information needs

where do students go for information?

So what's the problem?

The fact that students immediately gravitate towards online sources is certainly not a surprise, nor is the fact that search engines are heavily favored. Asher and Duke provide a reasonable explanation asserting that as students are sufficiently overwhelmed by the sheer amount of “various and fragmented catalogs, databases and interfaces” they will inevitably gravitate towards methods which are the most familiar and easiest to use.




This is sort of what a Google search can "feel" like...

Just a bit of irony:

Search "information overload and students" in google images:

Information Overload and Students

There are so many images it is impossible to weed through them all to obtain an image on informaiton overload!

project information literacy (pil)


 College students in general:


  • 84% of the students surveyed said the most difficult step of the course-related              research process was getting started.
  •  66% had trouble defining a topic.
  •  62% found it difficult to  narrow down a topic.
  •  61% reported trouble filtering through irrelevant results.

 Freshmen in particular:


  • 74% struggled to develop effective search queries.
  • 57% felt hindered by all the irrelevant results of their searches.
  • 43% had trouble both comprehending and synthesizing all the information found. 



information needs

the struggle in research

 I would come in here and literally for hours be researching.  I finally realized, "whoa, I need to just read some of these things." Because I had this much paper printed out [spreads fingers to about 1"] and like 15 books, seriously.

first year student in music studies

It's really hard to just search, because you can be searching and searching and then oftentimes you can try different keywords and it will bring this wealth of information that you could easily be overlooking if you didn;t do an exaustive the information is there and the system is there but I think, as students, it's hard to pull it out becayse there's so much out there. 

junior in psychology

Tales from the front lines

It would have to be choosing a topic because that's the hardest.  Beecause informatio you can find it pretty much everywhere these days and validating it takes some time - but you can do it.  And the rest is simple/  I think the hardest part is finding a topic and deciding on something, because there is so much you can do. 

humanities student

 First is the lack of understanding of what librarians can actually provide.  Students still tend to view librarians as a way to access information, as opposed to additionally assisting with comprehension and evaluation. Futhermore, is the  student perception of faculty as experts at both reserach topics and the research process. Therefor "overestimating the specificty of their topics and underestimating (or not even considering) librarian's ability to help, students will ask professors rather than librarians." (Duke & Asher, 2011).



I really don't know much of what they [librarians] actually terms of research. My idea is that they're there if I ask, "I can't find this book. Would you help me find it? Where's the aisle?...Kind of that way - directions more than anything else.

senior psychology major

information needs

finding help: how students perceive librarians

My feeling is they're [librarians] not there to help me. I know it sounds kind of wierd, but...I guess they're busy...they're doing something else, like...[with my] professor, I feel, at least I paid for the class and...and I can at least use your office hours or something like that. With someboady that I have no connection [to] in any way it's like, why ask you?

senior psychology major

When considering the reason that students seek guidance from family and friends, once again, the established relationship becomes a singular influence.  Going to classmates for help may be a result of a student's attempt to determine the professor's expecation. However, "students are also seeking help from peers and families because students are habitually in contact with them...familiarity and positive experiences with peers and family mean that students will want to go to them for help." (Duke & Asher, 2011).



In class, you know, everyone was pretty much checking with each other, "Okay, well, where are you at? Did you have any problems with the reserach information?...Were you finding incomplete materials? Original sources?"

senior business major

information needs

finding help: how student perceive librarians

I went to my dad and was like "Dad, help me," because he has a bachelor's.


Information needs 

how students perceive the library


It is challenging to consider the future of the academic library, when students' perceptions remain firmly rooted in the past. Despite the vast technological changes that have libraries have embraced during the past two decades, it is clear that students still do not readily associate technology with the library. 

information needs 

how students perceive the library

On a more detailed level, it is clear that students still view the library as a place where one can access information, rather than  a physical space where "people congregate, think and collaborate" (Evans & Alire, 2013, p. 485).  


Interestingly, the largest descrepancy between positive and negative impressions is found within the area of "user services", which in this study was most commonly identified by the following areas:


  • Limited hours of operation
  • Library fees and/or policies
  • Return dates and other circulation limitations
  • Use of online catalogue

*This particular piece of data re-inforces the LA Times opinion piece in which libraries were viewed as confining in relation to the freedom of the Internet.


When comparing these two areas of data side by side, it is clear that there is some disconnect between need and habit or perception.  Students do overwhelming use the library, thereby indicating that there is a need beyond Google.  However, the fact online library resources remain vastly underused, may very suggest that they are not aware that these tools exist and/or do not know how to utilize them. 


Changing students' perceptions


Rebranding the Library and the librarian

Changing students' perceptions



"In recent years, we have reawakened to the fact that libraries are fundamentally about people—how they learn, how they use information, and how they participate in the life of a learning community. "

rebranding the library

the library as "place"

Massachusetts Library Board of Commissioners, 2014. 

The need for libraries, regardless of the naysayers is fairly clear - however is it essential that libraries continue to evolve in order to meet both the needs and the expectations of its clientelle.  Evans and Alire explain that many University libraries today have re-imagined their physical spaces in order to highlight its role as a social center of its community.  There now include venues such as cafes, museums and meeting halls.(486).  

rebranding the library

the library as "place"

Massachusetts Library Board of Commissioners, 2014. 

  In addition, some have absorbed the library into a learning commons, a concept which takes a more holisitic view of student support.  It is "a full-service learning, research, and project space." The physcial space is flexible and adaptable, allowing areas for quieter, individual study and other areas in which students can socialize and even re-arrange furniture.  However, "its strengths lie in the relationships it supports..student-to-student, student-to-faculty, student-to-staff, student-to-equipment, or student-to-information."  (edu)

rebranding the library

the library as "place"

Massachusetts Library Board of Commissioners, 2014. 

rebranding the library

The role of the academic librarian 2014

Massachusetts Library Board of Commissioners, 2014. 

Sometimes it is easy to forget how intimidating a college library can seem.  


Just this snapshot comparing books and online databases between the avergae high school and college libraries can highlight how students may feel.



Yes, sometimes this is what working with students (and faculty) an feel like.

*Although the title of this is actually "Medieval Tech Support" - the identical nature of information literacy education made this very relevant (and funny). 

The academic librarian

what its like on the other side....