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2008 Trends that Will Shape the Future of Academic Libraries

Updated: June 2008
  • New Generation of Learners
    Today’s students are “digital natives” and have grown up with technology. They are coming to higher education with aptitudes and expectations that have been shaped by the use of the Internet, digital media, and portable communication technologies. Students often begin their search for information with Google or similar commercial or social search engines. The academic library must develop a virtual presence that enhances student engagement and reflects the prevailing aspects of the virtual world – self-paced, independent, and social. Library services will be structured to accommodate an increasingly diverse group of users.
  • Learning Spaces
    The value of quality physical space is increasing. Data, derived from surveys and use counts, indicate that academic library space is in demand. Students and faculty see the library as important and unique – providing learning space in both a “social” context and a more traditional “scholarly” presence. Along with its services, resources, and technology, the library is both a physical and virtual agora and commons for the 21st century (see also “Campus/Community Cultural” section below). Current facilities need to be replaced, or altered to reflect these functions.
  • Learning and Information Literacy
    Students utilize commercial and social electronic capabilities to inform all their activities, including research. These capabilities are often embraced without full knowledge of their limitations. Libraries and the academy can provide more authentic and certain information; however, the other crucial role is to provide an environment of integrated information literacy that demonstrates the value of the scholarly process. Information literacy requires a rebirth as a discipline based upon critical reflection on the nature of information itself.
  • Technology
    Libraries and the academy have a challenge and opportunity to re-package content and services for emerging technologies. Such services require awareness of the advanced capabilities (and radically different user expectations) of these technologies. A “services not systems” approach will be required by both campus and library IT; recognizing the reality that the same, or better, software and technology that has traditionally been offered by the academy is now available to the user for little or no charge on the Internet. The “brand” of information and technical utilities will be largely irrelevant; indeed, the labeling of technology as “academic-based” may well be seen as a negative to those used to the progressively-evolving world of Internet-based tools.
  • Scholarly Information System /Publishing
    The once stable system of access to scholarly (or authentic) knowledge is undergoing a radical change as a result of the migration to digital formats. Commercial and academic presses are implementing new models for distribution, pricing and availability of scholarly content – impacting how libraries provide access. The ongoing “crises in cost” continues to produce inflationary pressures that average 10% increases per year. Publishers are also asserting greater control on copyright that will require universities to exercise more careful documentation of Reserve operations and copyright compliance and royalty payments. Textbooks are also migrating to digital format, and, subject to pricing and access policies, may become more readily available for distribution from the library.
  • Digital Archives and Repositories
    Universities and libraries have an opportunity to reshape the publication and distribution of research and knowledge as a result of new technologies and digital formats. Increasingly, scholarly information is both “born” and accessed only in electronic formats. The “open access” movement in higher education presents an alternative to commercial “for profit” publishing. Distribution and archiving through digital repositories will insure that the academy has a viable system for sustaining digital content. Digital repositories also will facilitate the long term conversion and preservation of print materials, and create new opportunities to structure learning activities around the content.
  • Campus/Community Cultural Events
    Traditionally the academic library was thought of as the center of the university’’s academic community. Today the academic library is extending that reach to build relationships outside the library. It is increasingly important to pursue partnerships with faculty, staff, students and communities that promote programs focusing on not only literacy, but also cultural awareness and diversity.
  • Workforce
    It is an increasing challenge for libraries to recruit and retain qualified librarians and staff. Many academic librarians are retiring, and there is increasing competition, from industry as well as academe, to recruit new librarians. Most librarians, and many staff positions, require a mix of teaching skills, additional discipline expertise, and technology skills. Additionally, the increased emphasis on the diversity of our users requires that the library make similar efforts in hiring. With a rapidly changing environment both within and outside the library, staff development programs are crucial to the continued success of the organization.
  • Policy, Financial Support and Accountability
    The value systems of individuals, groups, and political movements will continue to heavily influence the direction of public policy and institutional priorities. Change and challenges are likely to continue to emerge on issues concerning confidentiality/privacy, copyright, and intellectual freedom (censorship). Challenges to the “non-profit” sustainability of a system that promotes access to scholarship as a public good and a responsibility of the academy will grow. At the same time, rising costs for scholarly information and infrastructure, as well as the need to redesign services and facilities, will require enhanced fiscal support. This is coupled with increasing demand for accountability from all segments of the academy. Libraries must uphold professional standards and a commitment to service. Management of costs and assessment of program effectiveness will be hallmarks of the design and sustainability of services.


New Generation of Learners
Brown, John Seely. “Growing Up Digital”. Change, 00091383, Mar/Apr2000, Vol. 32, Issue 2.McDonald,
Robert H. and Chuck Thomas. “Disconnects Between Library Culture and Millennial Generation Values” Educause Quarterly. Number 4, 2006: 4-6.

Learning and Literacy
“Layering Knowledge: Information Literacy as Critical Thinking in the Literature Classroom” Shannon L. Reed, Kirilka Stavreva. Pedagogy 6.3 (2006) 435-452.
Those with access to Project Muse at Drake may access this article at:

FLICC (Federal Library and Information Center Committee)/Fedlink Environmental Scan/ Communication Trends

Scholarly Information System
“Search Tools: Looking for Pearls,” Katerina Hagerdorn

Learning Spaces
Kathlin Smith. Library as Place: Rethinking Roles, Rethinking Space. Council on Library Resources. February 2005.

“Trends in the Library Profession”. Background for OLA’s Vision 2010. January 24, 2000 (revised 3/28/00).

Financial Support and Accountability
Feret, Bazej. “The Future of the Academic Library and the Academic Librarian.”
New Review of Information Networking, V. 11:1, 2005.

Commercialization and Competition
FLICC (Federal Library and Information Center Committee)/Fedlink Environmental Scan/Academic and Research Libraries.

ARL Bimonthly Report 225. December 2002. “Collections & Access for the 21st Century Scholar: Changing Roles of Research Libraries”

Publishing Industry

“Trends in the Library Profession”.  Background for OLA’s Vision 2010. January 24, 2000 (revised 3/28/00).

FLICC (Federal Library and Information Center Committee)/Fedlink Environmental Scan/Academic and Research Libraries.

ARL Bimonthly Report 225. December 2002. “Collections & Access for the 21st Century Scholar: Changing Roles of Research Libraries”

Public and Institutional Policy
Association of Governing Boards. Ten Public Policy Issues for Higher Education. (Summary only).

Neal, James G. “Information Anarchy or Information Utopia?” Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/9/2005, Vol. 52 Issue 16, pB23-B24, 2p, 1c; (AN 19190223)