Takeaways from One NISO Webinar

OpenAthens marketing manager Jane Charlton reports back on one of NISO's member benefit webinars, hosted by NISO on September 9, 2020. Entitled Demonstrating the Return On Investment: The Library’s Role and Contribution, the discussion focused on how libraries are adapting to the current climate.  

The session was facilitated by NISO CEO Todd Carpenter, and library speaker participants included:

  • Diane Bruxvoort, Dean of Libraries, University of North Texas

  • Thomas Wall, University Librarian, Boston College

  • Karen Schneider, Dean of the Library, Sonoma State University

  • Denise Stephens, Vice Provost and University Librarian, Washington University at St. Louis

  • Courtney Young, University Librarian, Colgate University

“We have recently become NISO members, which gives us invaluable insights from attending NISO webinars. It was a highly informative session covering current trends and changes in the US library sector, many of which have been brought about as a result of the pandemic,” notes Jane Charlton. "Two of the participant libraries are customers of OpenAthens of ours: – the University of North Texas and Boston College".  

Here are Jane’s key takeaways from the session: 

  • Most institutions are reviewing their library strategies and incorporating a hybrid learning model for the future, but rebalancing in favour of online delivery.

  • Many libraries have been looking to make changes for several years, but institutions have been slow on the uptake; the pandemic speeded up the process and brought siloed services together. 

  • After an initial struggle at the beginning of the pandemic, libraries came to the fore with their organisation skills and creative solutions to deliver what their patrons needed for learning and research. 

  • Library and faculty staff needed to work more closely together to prioritise resources. As a result, relationships between library staff and faculty deepened during the pandemic. At the University of North Texas, they are looking to embed library staff within the faculty.

  • New roles have emerged. For example, the role of instructional designer focuses on teaching academic staff to help them work and teach online. These new roles have transcended traditional library roles and are working at the academic level.

  • Academics have had to adapt quickly to digital delivery. This has increased the perceived value of the library, putting it at the forefront of providing the right digital skills to help faculties operate online. 

The benefits of change

Denise Stephens discussed the process of change towards being more digitally operational. She stated how it gave her library the opportunity to review all its staffing roles, then restructure to meet the new set of needs. At Washington University, seven out of ten new roles are now dedicated to their new digital library.  

In the past, libraries have often struggled to get recognition from their senior leadership teams. However, this has changed with the pandemic, and libraries can more easily demonstrate their return on investment to their institutions. 

Thomas Wall described how his library started weekly messages to demonstrate how they were adding value beyond discovery by providing anecdotal examples of positive impact alongside qualitative usage data.  

The changing role of the library

Commenting on the impact of recent changes, Jane says, “Pre-pandemic, the library as a function was often seen as an add-on. Now it is seen as essential to the delivery of education on behalf of institutions. We have seen a change in the emphasis of the librarian’s role.” 

Diane Bruxvoort stated that at her institution, students are taking 60% of their courses online, but students still meet in small groups. In-person traffic is 25% of what it was before, and 85% of staff are now telecommuting (working from home). All courses will move automatically to online only from Thanksgiving (November 2020). 

Other innovations

The digital divide was also highlighted, where some people do not have access to the means or hardware to get online and learn. Library participants mentioned that equity of access was a real issue. Some universities have developed laptop loan services to ensure poorer students don’t lose out on learning, and they are looking to expand these services. 

Previously underused library digital support services have now come into their own. There is a greater need for information literacy courses, and online chat services are becoming more important as a means to support users.  

The future

There is still a lot of caution around library budgets. Transparency around budget spend means libraries need to demonstrate their value and ROI more than they ever used to.  

Libraries are not looking at what they have lost; instead, they are focused on innovating for the future to meet the needs of a new world. 

More collaborations with library consortia are emerging to benefit from negotiations with publishers on licences. According to Karen Schneider, libraries are becoming more assertive when it comes to big publishers. Big deals are being turned down if the library can’t afford or justify the spend. Many are looking for more fine-grained access to resources, and this is where federated single sign-on (SSO) can help.  

Greater use of interlibrary loans for resources seldom used and a move to restrict the use of expensive streaming services are some of the ways that libraries are managing resources.

Jane comments, “one thing is for sure, libraries are on a trajectory where they will never return to the way they were before. The library’s profile will be more prominent in the future as it is now more widely recognised as an essential service in the delivery of education and research.

“Whether as a completely online or hybrid learning model, remote access to content and services is here to stay.”