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The Services Portfolio of an Academic Library: A Framework

Academic libraries have been rethinking their strategic directions and services portfolios. I have argued recently that academic libraries face certain essential transformations, as they move beyond print general collections towards a variety of other roles. In a current project, Ithaka S+R and OCLC Research have been developing a typology of higher education institutions to explore the different ways that libraries are evolving at a service level. An essential ingredient of this project is the development of a library services framework.

A premise of this work is that academic libraries will develop diverse services, based on the specific mission of the parent institution. And so, this framework was created for a specific purpose: to identify the current and emerging services of an academic library in a way that allows us to examine institutional differences. Our research population is academic institutions in the United States that grant a bachelor’s degree or higher, meaning that this framework must be meaningful at institutions with both research as well as instructional emphasis in their mission, as well as residential, commuter, and distance models for instructional delivery and student experience.

To develop our understanding of these services, we reviewed the websites and planning documents from dozens of academic libraries selected at random from across the higher education landscape. The individual library services they offer vary across institution types, and they have nomenclature that can sometimes vary as well. For purposes of our project, we elected to group them into key service areas. We reviewed the key service areas with a variety of library leaders, and we revised the framework accordingly.

The framework we eventually arrived at includes the following nine key areas:

  • Convene Campus Community. Provide spaces and facilitate programs that for the community broadly or specific sub-populations to generate engagement, outreach, and inclusion
  • Enable Academic Success. Support instruction, facilitate learning, improve information literacy, and/or maximize retention, progression, graduation, and later life success
  • Facilitate Information Access. Enable discovery and usage of information resources of any format or ownership; provide for preservation of general collections
  • Foster Scholarship and Creation. Deliver expertise, assistance, tools, and services that support research and creative work
  • Include and Support Off-Campus Users. Provide equitable access for part-time students, distance & online learners, and other principally off-campus/non-campus/remote users
  • Preserve and Promote Unique Collections. Ensure the long-term stewardship of rare materials & special collections and maximize their usage
  • Provide Study Space. Provide physical spaces for academic collaboration, quiet study, and technology-enhanced instruction and/or learning
  • Showcase Scholarly Expertise. Promote research excellence and subject matter expertise of scholars and other affiliates; includes repository activities for open access preprint materials
  • Transform Scholarly Publishing. Drive towards modernized formats, revamped business models, and reduced market concentration

We learned several things from the process of developing this library services framework. First, it can be difficult for for leaders to distinguish the library’s resources from its services. The framework explicitly focuses on services, rather than the assets or resources–such as employees, materials budget, library spaces, and collections–that the library may draw upon to deliver its services. Nevertheless, distinguishing between the two is not always simple. For example, many library leaders see “space” as a service. So, even though we initially envisioned space as merely a resource that could be used to enable academic success, we added “Provide Study Space” as a call-out service area.

Second, we wrestled with the final two bullets, “Showcase Scholarly Expertise” and “Transform Scholarly Publishing.” Library leaders were looking for a bullet that said simply “Provide an Institutional Repository” even though a platform is not in itself a service. Because institutional repositories and/or related platforms are seen as the key mechanism for providing both of these service areas, library leaders had trouble distinguishing between these two ultimately rather different priorities.

While necessarily imperfect, we hope this framework provides academic libraries with a mechanism for thinking about their service areas that, perhaps with some additional refinement for certain institution types, can allow them to be more systematic in their own planning as a side benefit of the project. What do you think about this framework? How could it be more useful for your purposes?  

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