The Librarian and the Institution

  • Do we need to re-evaluate the library’s relationship to the University?  Why?  What might happen if we do not?
  • Does the Library contribute to the institution’s competitive advantage?
  • Does the institution have a clear developmental strategy from which the Library can take its cue?  If not, how does it position itself?
  • What is the place of research in the institutional profile?  In what ways might the Library be seen as a valuable contributor to this?
  • Does the size of the Library budget and its application reflect the pursuit of institutional goals sufficiently and in a developmental way?
  • Is the library a driving force which influences and responds to institutional strategy or is regarded as a service component of varying value to different disciplines and status groups?
  • Is it true that “librarians … busy  doing what they believe they need to do, sometimes fail to recognise what they are not being asked to do
  • What does the institution understand by a research support library?

The library director’s view – ?

The senior institutional manager’s view – “an under-utilised expensive store-house” (1)

The research administrator’s view – “keepers of books” (1)

Can the library director manage these views to consolidate a significant position for the library within the institution?

  • Should the library support the academic and research needs of the university and the larger academic community? If so how, and what are the implications and how might they be managed?

Recent literature points to the importance of contributory relationships between the library, senior institutional administrators and research administrators. The key stakeholders were identified in a RIN/RLUK report (2) as the PVC Research, the Finance Director and the Research Support Office.  These relationships are fundamentally political and are interdependent in sharing a concern to support the University’s reputation and viability.  Libraries need to communicate, in this forum, how they are changing and the opportunities for the future.

At another level, the ability of library staff to become integrated into research activity, possibly working as part of a team of specialists, could enrich the research process and develop appreciation of the value and relevance of the library’s contribution. Can Library staff step across boundaries and will researchers accept them? There is significant potential for library staff to work more with scholars with digital repositories, open source software and  provide access to datasets, papers etc. in virtual research environments.

Anderson (3) argues that whilst academics and administrators may support the concept of the library as a physical manifestation of the academic community and its endeavours, this reputation has been built on the bedrock of amassing large, but still limited, collections. He asserts that this mode of development plus the hiring of librarians “whose services are decreasingly demanded by researchers”, is not sustainable in the current environment.

A survey by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), which identified emerging themes (4) amongst its members, showed a low interest in collection building but significant interest in building digital collections and developing associated services, innovative internal collaboration , and collecting quantitative and qualitative information for assessment.  These themes represent a move away from measures of collection size, size of user population, and demand for process-driven services towards Website analytics, collection relevance and building use.  The context for these concerns was the institutional mission and the need for the library to develop related approaches as part of its own strategy.

Although these observations emanate from the United States, where institutional funding can be suddenly curtailed, there is still resonance for the UK with regard to resource justification and the service offer.  In the CHEMS review of the costs of national research libraries (5) the authors found a disappointing deficit of performance indicators which might illustrate the service offer (staff support) and associated standards for marketing to the research community.  Adequate and reliable use data for example for e-accesses were also unavailable.  These are issues which will need close attention if research support libraries deflect their Unique Selling Point from content to service and to be able to promote their contribution to the institutional mission.

The institution’s goals for research may be to produce research of high value and utility and widely cited, earn awards, prestige and honours, attract substantial grant funding and grow numbers of research students and staff.

Is the Library willing to align themselves with these goals and “make changes to services or resources that do not contribute to the institutional mission and assess themselves according to the mission?”


  1.  Association of College and Research Libraries.  (2010)  The Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive  Review and Report.  Researched by Megan Oakleaf.  Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.
  2. Curtis+Carwright Consulting Limited.  (2011)  The Value of Libraries for Research and  Researchers: A RIN and RLUK Report.  London: RIN/RLUK.
  3. Anderson, R.  (2011)  The Crisis in Research Librarianship.  The Journal of Academic Librarianship.  37 (4), 289-290.
  4. Potter, W. G. et al.  (2011)  ARL Profiles : Research Libraries 2010. Washington D.C.: ACRL
  5. CHEMS Consulting. July 2010. TRAC-based review of the National Research Libraries.  A report for HEFCE. (Unpublished).

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