Ask A Librarian

Maintaining a strong collection during tough budget times

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
April 26th, 2018

Student with laptop

By Karen Diaz, Interim Dean of Libraries

The state of West Virginia and West Virginia University have had a couple of belt-tightening years. This, of course, has impacted the Libraries budget as well.  After two years of stringent reductions and loss of access to reserve funding, we have had to cut our spending on library materials (collections) from over $9 million in FY 2015 to under $6 million in FY 2018. This is a 39% reduction.

A few things about library collections:

  • About 90% of our materials budget now goes to electronic materials. This includes databases, e-books, and e-journals, and is fairly typical for an academic library.
  • About 88% of our budget is for subscription items. These are items that in most cases require us to maintain the subscription in order to continue to have access to the title at all.  For instance, if we cancel a database, we no longer have access to any information in the database.  We don’t just lose access to the current year moving forward.
  • Some of our “materials” costs actually go to tools to help provide access to our content. For example, we pay an annual fee for our online catalog, in some cases we pay an annual “hosting fee” for digital content, we pay for tools that allow our users to log into proprietary content from off campus, and tools that provide us with data about which materials are being used.
  • Even the content we get for free, such as gift books or important archives and manuscripts, have costs. There are fees for transporting the material, processing it so it is known and findable to researchers, and housing it – sometimes in special acid-free boxes or in particular conditions for longevity. If we want to make that content available online there are digitization costs.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Purpose of a Library

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 14th, 2018

By Karen Diaz, Interim Dean of Libraries

Recently, I attended a leadership training event. The trainer encouraged attendees to think about the difference between our function and our purpose.  To illustrate the issue the trainer showed us a photo similar to those in this news story. Clearly, the function the men in superhero costumes were performing was cleaning windows.  But by dressing in superhero costumes to do this work they fulfilled a larger purpose. They provided a healing environment for children who were suffering from pretty horrible diseases by including a sense of fun and happiness.

Bringing this thinking into a library context, it’s hard to pinpoint the function of a library, much less its purpose.  Some might say that a library’s function is to preserve the cultural record. Others might say it is to promote lifelong learning. Yet others might consider it to be a community center focused on meeting both educational and entertainment needs. Many library vision statements include language like “collect, preserve, and provide access to information.” When you look at staff positions there are all sorts of more traditional functions that are carried out: such as cataloging and archival processing, acquisitions of materials, reference, interlibrary loan, systems and technology support, circulation, instruction, and communication. There are newer functions in some environments such as learning technology, open access publishing, copyright services, and more.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest Information Crisis

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
October 4th, 2017

By Karen Diaz, Interim Dean of Libraries

In the 80’s the crisis was access to information; in the 90’s, it was about the digital divide; in the 2000’s, the challenge became information glut; and now in the 2010’s, we are experiencing the latest round of information challenges – rampant disinformation. Assertions of fake news, Russian intervention in our social media streams, and confirmation-biased streams of information all lead to a crisis of belief in information itself.

One institution rarely mentioned in reports and calls for action to managing information crises are libraries. And yet, libraries have a long view of information flow and are in the thick of each challenge that arises. The current challenge is no different, and WVU Libraries is among those answering the call.

WVU Libraries not only supplies proprietary information to the campus, our bedrock curriculum is information literacy, a term difficult to define, but exactly what is needed in times of information crisis. Librarians are here, not only to help students learn how to use the library, but also how to think about their own thinking so that they become more literate information users.

Read the rest of this entry »

What is a 21st century research library?

Posted by Karen Diaz.
August 9th, 2017

A phrase being used with more frequency in higher education is the “21st century research library.” In fact, you often hear library leaders discussing how their goal is to help their organization become one.  What you often don’t get is a definition of what that means exactly. One reason for this is that the definition is still being discovered.  But even though we don’t have a complete definition, we certainly have the clear outlines of one. Here are elements of a 21st century research library that resonate with me:

Focus on the needs of the campus and changes in higher education

In the 20th century there was much effort on modernizing the systems of the library, but much of that work tended to be internally focused.  This work provided good results that are continuing to make access to our resources easier, thus bringing us to the place where we can now begin to look more outside of ourselves. We now need to be looking at what the challenges of our campuses are and leveraging our resources to support those new challenges. At WVU the big challenges set forth by our president include action on Education, Prosperity, and Health. In the libraries we are looking at new and innovative ways we are uniquely poised to support these.

Evolving role of liaisons

Libraries of the 20th century created liaison roles with academic colleges and departments to ensure the library collection reflected the needs of the unit’s research and teaching. With increased access to content outside of the library and the emergence of a digital approach to research and teaching, there are opportunities for new areas of engagement. Libraries have made great strides in evolving in support of teaching through more developed pedagogy around information literacy and are developing new strategies to support the research needs through new collaborations and services for scholarly communication, data management, data visualization, data analysis, copyright, GIS, and attending to the complete research cycle. This is a growth area for WVU Libraries that we are working on.

Increased access

WVU Libraries is in a difficult spot with this right now as our funding streams are tightened. But it also highlights the new reality of libraries that access is not simply about what we own.  It is about what content we can make available to you. This means we are engaged in digitization projects for items that are unique to us; we are promoting and developing new ways to support open access to both research and teaching content; we are continually improving our technology and partnerships with other libraries for more seamless resource sharing.  The most challenging area we face today is moving to more sustainable models for continuing and building our own collections. This is especially true in the sciences where the scholarly communication model has become too expensive and too vast for even the best-resourced library. In fact, what the 21st century research library is evolving into is a “Just in time” model (we provide the information just in time for the researcher) from a “Just in case” (we house as much as we can just in case an item is needed) model of collection development. Libraries are now talking about this in terms of the owned vs the facilitated collection.

New methods of content creation and curation

The challenged reality of sustainable collection development has led libraries to take a more active role in the publishing process itself. Most libraries have an institutional repository (IR) that allows a campus to host items such as student electronic theses and dissertations (ETD’s), faculty manuscripts, and other campus information fit for open sharing. WVU had an IR that we are in the process of replacing. We are also hosting the Digital Publishing Institute directed by English professor Dr. Cheryl Ball that will provide scholarship, teaching, and publishing of scholarly and educational content, especially for items that are multimedia based. Libraries face opportunities around hosting and facilitating more student content, such as student research journals.

Staff development

Because libraries are changing, so are the staffs that keep them running and changing. This means we need to invest in continuing growth of our staff through professional development, training, and engagement with the profession at large. It also means that we need to be attending to the culture within our organization to ensure that it supports the new demands of evolution, collaboration, and an outward campus focus. Our efforts to become a 21st century library are only as good as having the staff that can make it so.

Collaboration

Last, but perhaps most importantly, collaboration is key in the 21st century library.  We need to be doing so in every direction possible.  Internally, as the demands for new and widening expertise within the library increase, we need to learn to work with each other to put our various insights and experiences together for the best outcomes in new situations. We need to be not only a service to the campus, but a partner as well so that we learn where our resources and expertise can aid in solving large campus challenges. And finally we need to be partnering with peer institutions, not only for resource sharing but also for the development of new systems and services that benefit the academy and libraries in general. We can no longer develop and problem solve in our own bubbles.  Our challenges have gotten too complex and our pocketbooks too thin for such an approach.

 

What am I missing?  Are there other hallmarks of the 21st century research library that you think we need to be attending to, especially at WVU?