Highlights of the 2019 ACRL Environmental Scan

As noted on the ACRL blog this June, the Association of College and Research Libraries releases an environmental scan of institutions of higher education every two years. The 2019 Environmental Scan references a variety of research documentation that indicates how the environment is changing and how such changes may impact academic libraries. NISO members are encouraged to download and read the full report, but we include the following highlights as a means of whetting the appetite.

Space allocation for collections continues to be an area of contention as well as innovation in library services. From the report: “Libraries continue to shrink on-site collections by shifting to ebooks and ejournals; deselection; or moving print materials to off-site storage all of which can make room for new services and study space. While reactions to space renovations are generally positive, students and faculty can react negatively to changes in access to library collections.”  The Environmental Scan references in particular the situation with Alderman Library at the University of Virginia where renovation plans reflected a professional staff proposal to relocate 50% of the book collection to off-site storage. Faculty and students petitioned the Board of Trustees to withhold approval of the renovation until that percentage had been reduced. To put the need felt by librarians in the appropriate context, Alderman was built in the 1930s and the physical building has not received upgrades or renovations since 1987 when air conditioning was introduced. The patron expectation of immediate print access competes with new library services, such as maker-spaces, which may also require re-allocation of available space in the building.

The work that academic libraries do in support of Open Educational Resources (OER) continues to evolve as an expanding area of innovation. From the report: “Connecting students and researchers with existing resources, whether openly available or otherwise, is within the traditional role of librarians. As teaching faculty begin to adopt open pedagogy, defined broadly as student-centered practices that rely on the open availability of educational resources, the role of the librarian may expand beyond locating and evaluating resources.”

An on-going area of concern has to do with Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), not just with regard to library faculty and staff but also in the patron population of students. The ACRL Environmental Scan essentially recommends the need for sensitive attention by libraries to such concerns. Among other steps, the Scan recommends movement by libraries to (1) Create and foster academic library workplaces in which staff with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can succeed, without expecting all EDI work to be done by employees in under- represented groups and (2) Local communities can also provide libraries with valuable insight for program development and inclusive instructional design.

The role of the Scholarly Communication Librarian continues to expand beyond Open Access advocacy and support. New focus is brought to bear on the requirements of Open Data. The Environmental Scan notes that Wikidata and Wikibase offer the means of further developing linked data environments. This in turn “may improve library discovery systems, as well as providing better understanding of how scholarship is communicated and evaluated”.

Community-owned Infrastructure and Institutional Repositories represent active areas of development for libraries. The Scan’s authors recommend that “libraries and consortia should proactively plan how and what they can do to retain control of content throughout the scholarly communication lifecycle.” Such a shift would minimize library reliance on externally-supplied platforms (such as bepress) which might be subject to acquisition by commercial business interests.

The Environmental Scan is the output of the 2018-2019 ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee.