Way back in 1982, an author named James Thompson wrote a book ominously titled “The End of Libraries”. Sixteen years later, Tom Wilson called for a total “redesign” of university libraries. A lot has happened since then. The popularity and usefulness of the internet has skyrocketed. The entire way that students interact with information has been utterly turned on its head. But even that far back in time many were predicting the demise of the academic library as we know it. No catastrophic end has arrived just yet, but there is very little doubt that the parameters and conditions under which academic libraries operate has changed over the years. While it may be a bit bold and likely misguided to predict the total downfall of academic libraries – times are changing – and for these libraries to best serve students, corresponding changes must be made.
John Akeroyd from Learning and Information Services at South Bank University has his own ideas for framing the evolution of the academic library as an institution in his paper “The future of academic libraries”. Akeroyd doesn’t believe that the “fundamental purposes of libraries are changing” – but that the “relative importance of different aspects…are shifting”. Akeroyd points out that information is becoming “cheaper and well as more plentiful”, which is an argument that few can debate. To best understand the changes going on and to adjust to them, he proposes looking at academic libraries from four perspectives: as a collection, a space, a function, and a service.
Viewing the library as a collection is probably the most common way of viewing libraries. While the boundaries of ‘collection’ might be evolving, people most readily associate libraries with books and physical materials. There are still advantages that libraries can provide here as there are still sometimes logistical challenges to providing licensed information that can be most adequately addressed by libraries.
Viewing the library as a space is a little trickier. The wider accessibility to information has, in some ways, lessened the value of a single location to do research, for example. Research can be done virtually anywhere with an internet connection and the mobile revolution has made this possible in even more places, as internet accessibility is almost ubiquitous. That said, one cannot underestimate the importance of a collaborative environment or one that can be conducive to intense research. While traditional library spaces may have less utility than they once did, libraries can adjust to become more like a multi-purpose learning center and can still carve out a very important niche for themselves.
The function piece corresponds to the library’s responsibility to provide the necessary tools to navigate the ever-increasing information landscape. The emphasis here needs to be on repackaging the extensive amount of information to cater to the audience’s specific needs.
Finally, the service component of a library’s mission is perhaps most critical and this is where the importance of the academic library is really evident. Libraries need to become “even more service centered than before“. Libraries will now be accommodating even more extensive amount of information, so the amount of user-centric support will play a key role in determining how effective a library can be.
At the end of the day, when picking apart the various ways that a library can deliver value to students, it becomes blatantly clear that this is not the end of the road for libraries. Academic libraries must merely adjust to best cater to the communities they serve. But how can libraries take into account all of these roles they are expected to fill?
Providing your student body with a custom library-branded mobile app is one of the best ways to fulfill all of these roles and meet the needs of your students. A library-branded native mobile app powered by Boopsie will provide your services to students while increasing the frequency of student visits to your library and boosting usage of resources. Technology has made students’ lives easier is by enabling seamless information transmission. Your library can use the changing technology landscape to its advantage to ensure that your library is in the forefront of your students’ minds. Contact Boopsie for more information about how your library can adapt to changing roles. Register for one of our academic library webinars here.