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The Academic Librarian:

The ever-changing, adaptable professional...


Joanna Novick

Cheryl Stenstrom

San Jose State University

Fall, 2014

California must value librarians; libraries can’t run themselves

October 26, 2011|By Regina Powers

California does not value librarians. 

As of last year, 3,432 full-time librarians served 37,253,956 Californians.... Here, there is one school librarian for every 5,965 students. 

On school visits, I ask what students think a librarian does. The response is always the same. "Librarians check out books. They read a lot. They tell people to be quiet."  When I told a friend that I was embarking on my graduate degree, he asked, "You need a master's degree in the Dewey Decimal System?"  

With that attitude, who cares whether California has any librarians left? Why not replace us with phone trees, self-service checkout machines and volunteers?  

But librarians are more than book finders, shelf arrangers, computer technicians and shush-ers. In a society overwhelmed by massive amounts of data, they are the ultimate gatekeepers and organizers of high-quality information... They guard historically relevant materials. They motivate and inspire readers. They add depth to teachers' curricula....Over the last decade, California librarians have adapted to overwhelming changes in the systems and quantities of information they provide. They did so with demoralized staff, dwindling funding and fickle legislative support.


Saving libraries but not librarians [Blowback]

November 3, 2011 By Dan Terzian

The Internet is replacing librarians. Or at least it should be...The digital revolution has made many librarians obsolete.


Historically, librarians exclusively provided many services: They organized information, guided others' research and advised community members. But now, librarians compete with the Internet and Google. 


Unlike libraries, the Internet's information is not bound by walls; from blogs and books to journals and laws, the Internet has them all.

Even many college students' first -- and often last -- source for research is Google. Only after Googling fails would the students seek a librarian's guidance.... Libraries should embrace the digital revolution, …even though it entails the loss of librarians. The purpose of libraries -- the purpose of librarians -- is to spread knowledge. The growth of the Internet changes how we pursue this purpose. We no longer need librarians in the same way and in the same number as before. It's understandable why librarians bemoan this; nobody wants to see their profession fade into obscurity. but libraries do not serve the egos of librarians; they serve the people. And in the information age, serving the people requires evolving and innovating.  



"The digital revolution has made many libraries obsolete. " 


In order to introduce the converging areas of technology, change and perception, Evans and Alire (2013) used an  op-ed "conversation", which was published in the Los Angeles Times in 2011, as a springboard.














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.

scroll through to read both op-eds



Information Needs:  The  information needs that have developed parallel the vast changes in information production and access. 


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


The Role of the Academic Librarian:  The concept of librarianship has not been clearly promoted and therefore remains constrained by stereotype.




Emerging Themes












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.

"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. " (Google Stories, 2014).

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 remain relatively slow in utilizing the library website, despite their preference for 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?



(Online Computer Library Center(OCLC), 2005, p. 1-2). 






(OCLC, 2005, p. 1-7)

Information needs

where do students go for information?

So why is this a 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 (2011) provide a reasonable explanation by 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. (Head & Eisenberg, 2010, p. 3).

 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. 

(Head & Eisenberg, 2013, p. 3). 


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. (Duke & Asher, 2011, p. 79)

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. (Duke & Asher, 2011, p. 79) 

junior in psychology

Tales from the front lines

It would have to be choosing a topic because that's the hardest.  Because information 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. (Head and Eisenberg, 2010, p. 31). 

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. Therefore "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, p. 59).



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. (Duke & Asher, 2011, p. 53)

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? (Duke & Asher, 2011, p. 57)

senior psychology major

OCLC, 2007, p. 3-23.

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. 

OCLC, 2007, p. 1-10.

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 that 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. "

(Demas, 2005, p.25)

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 (2013) 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.  Manynow include venues such as cafes, museums and meeting halls.(p.486).  

rebranding the library

the library as "place"

  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."  (Educause, 2011 ).

rebranding the library

the library as "place"

Massachusetts Library Board of Commissioners, 2014. 

The role of the academic librarian


Massachusetts Library Board of Commissioners, 2014. 

Reference only represents one area of work in an academic library.  One way to understand the current needs of the library is to examine job advertisements.  In the 1980's there were ads for bibliographers and by the 1990's systems and subject librarians became common.  Today, “new job titles have…emerged during the last decade making it an almost overwhelming challenge to keep up and stay current with both technological and social network and resource development.” (Wang, Tang & Knight, 2010, p. 489).    

The role of the academic librarian 2014

Massachusetts Library Board of Commissioners, 2014. 

(Long & Schonfeld, 2013, p. 40)

the academic librarian 2014

While new roles are developing, the focus on adequately meeting the needs of students cannot be overlooked. 


Ultimately, all of the changes that academic libraries continue to experience, have only served to highlight the information needs in colleges and universities. Consequently, librarians do not just see Information Literacy as important, they see it as a their greatest priority.  



(Long & Schonfeld, 2013, p. 21)

There are clear organizational obstacles that make it difficult for libraries to continue to evolve and adapt to new information needs and environmental realities.  Librarians cannot increase budgets nor can they force other stakeholders to care about the library's strategic goals.


However, it is essential to recognize how librarians can influence change...

the academic librarian 2014

Addressing the changing needs

(Long & Schonfeld, 2013, p. 22)


When considering the reasons that prevent students from seeking librarian assistance, the task of reversing this trend seems particularly daunting.  But there are some actions librarians can take when students are present in the library (and they're free)...


Walk away from the desk

















Many libraries have begun to experiment with "mobile" librarians.  I think a key point is getting to know the patrons  - the more librarians interact with students, the more they will feel comfortable asking for help!




the academic librarian 2014

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).

(NRK. (2011, December 9).  Medieval Tech Support. Retrieved from

The academic librarian

Remember that patience is a virtue - especially when a junior (who has had 2 years of information literacy) asks for help finding "any article as long as its peer-reviewed".


(Long & Schonfeld, 2013, p. 33)

the academic librarian 2014

working with faculty


 Any real change in addressing Information Literacy education must involve faculty. Unfortunately, despite their own frustrations with students' poor writing and research skills, some faculty members have not been willing to work with the library on this issue.(Rose-Wiles and Hofmann, 2013).


According to the 2013 Ithaka Library Survey, faculty are less inclined to view information literacy/reserach skills as part of the librarian's job.


Clearly, on this issue, librarians and faculty are at opposite ends of the spectrum. 


However, this may be one issue where the momentum is on the side of the library as more colleges and universities adopt information literacy education programs.

The more students believe and trust in their librarians, the more confidence they will have in seeking help.  The ultimate goal is a cultural shift in how students, faculty and other important stakeholders view the role of academic librarians in higher education.

the academic librarian 2014


Start small: What librarians can actually do


“A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.”

― Shelby Foote