The future of academic libraries in the experience economy
Back in 2012 an OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) study found that most academic librarians thought the primary reason students and staff used their services (borrowing materials) would shift to using the library to access information online. And they were, of course, right.
There’s been a dramatic change in the way people discover and access content — whether it’s videos, music, news media, or peer-reviewed journals. But it’s not just about smartphones and tablets versus printed newspapers, journals, and glossy magazines. It’s about immediacy, relevancy, experience, and trust.
It’s about giving students, researchers, and faculty access to the most relevant information in a way that makes sense to them as individuals. This shift has had a major impact on the business models behind many industries including airlines, hotels, cars, newspapers, magazines, literature, movies, music, groceries, and clothing. These models have been transformed from owning to sharing, from buying things to buying experiences, from paying for the whole to paying for a piece, and from individual subscriptions to all-you-can-consume.
Fundamental changes in human behavior are the catalysts behind these transformations and libraries are not immune to them. They must evolve quickly and transform their own archaic business practices and models or be left behind.
If you build it, will they come?
Brick and mortar libraries constantly compete with the internet for people’s time and attention. And as more and more students use Google and other web sources for their research over library resources, the closer to obsolescence the institution comes.
Higher education is shifting because its core constituents — students are starting to behave more like customers and are less forgiving of some of the inefficient and ineffective aspects of the academy not tailored for a strong customer experience.”
Andrew Roth, President Emeritus Notre Dame College
“Undergraduates’ well-documented reliance on Google for academic research is strongly supported by the results of this longitudinal cohort study. In each semester, at least one-third of the participants said they started their research on Google or another search engine, with more than twothirds starting there as first-semester freshmen. Similarly, at least 25 percent of students in any given semester said they used web sources for the majority of the information in their papers, with 70 percent doing so in their first semester.”
Andrew Roth, President Emeritus
Notre Dame College
Undergraduates’ Use of Google vs. Library Resources
A Four-Year Cohort Study
So if the world’s knowledge is within reach of a student with a keyboard, do they really need libraries anymore?
According to a recent study by the Association of College and Research Libraries the resounding answer is, “Yes!” Four years of research showed there is a positive correlation between the use of an academic library and a student’s success.
• Use of academic library spaces relates positively to student learning, retention, and success
• Library instruction adds value to a student’s long-term academic experience, and according to the above Cohort study, helps shift students’ research behavior from searching the web to exploring library resources
• Libraries also promote academic rapport and student engagement
The academic library has much to offer students, but all of that value will be for naught if students aren’t drawn to it. And if we’ve learned anything from the prolific research about GEN Ys and Zs (many of whom are enrolled or about to enroll in college or university), their behaviors and expectations are nothing like their older counterparts.
And if truth be told, they’re not really like each other either when it comes to learning. Yes, they are both digital natives that demand immediacy, and highly personalized (relevant) experiences. But while millennials prefer 2-way learning experiences between faculty and themselves, GEN Zs have a shorter attention span and crave technology-enhanced learning.
Therefore, to attract and enhance the learning of these similar, but different students, libraries need to start to think outside the book and act more like 21st century consumer-focused brands. This means:
• Switching gears, from a collection-centric institution to a person-centric experience that addresses the unique needs of their diverse student body
• Making library services and content available in an individually-relevant way, not a demographically-targeted way
• Focusing on the discovery experience and adapting to changes in student behavior over their academic lifetime, because those behaviors will continue to change
Shift from a collectioncentric institution to a person-centric experience
There are over 50 billion webpages indexed by Google. That’s more than we could ever hope to read, organize, or even pay attention to. So, although content may be king, but it’s the distribution solutions that ultimately make that content discoverable.
The video and music streaming industries learned long ago that while people are interested in particular pieces of content, it’s the way that content is discovered and delivered that’s most important.
Anywhere, anytime, unlimited access to relevant media on all devices — laptops, tablets, desktops, and phones — is not only wanted, it’s demanded by younger generations. And students today will accept no less with the written word.
Open Educational Resources (OER)
Open Educational Resources along with more affordable course content initiatives have started to pave the way to a better student experience, and libraries must play a leadership role in that. In their institutional OER programs libraries need to find innovative ways to let students self-direct their learning and access content when, where, and how they need it.
Libraries need to invest in more comprehensive, user-friendly platforms that can help students navigate through an ocean of data and discover the right content at the right time.
In the past, libraries thought that offering a small selection of printed media along with a few select digital editions of periodicals and newspapers was sufficient to support the student body and faculty. At that time, Newspapers in Education programs were considered adequate for meeting the limited demand for local and national news content.
But today’s expectations far exceed these antiquated singlesource solutions. The world of knowledge and news is now at students’ fingertips and they expect unlimited, uninhibited, free access to all it has to offer through the library. Unfortunately, the chaotic nature of the web makes discovery of relevant information almost impossible, despite the best efforts of librarians.
It’s time for schools and librarians to critically analyze the relationships between digital information, audiences, and platforms and give their students unfettered, relevantly-curated access to the world’s digital content — anytime, anywhere.
Now that’s an extremely large ask and one that libraries can’t even hope to answer on their own. Which is why technology partners are critical collaborators in making sense of a senseless digital universe.
Just like Netflix answered it for video, Spotify for music, and Amazon for books, Overdrive, Google Scholar, Academic Search Premier, and PressReader have the answers for eBooks, scholarly literature, journals, and newspapers and magazines.
Platforms that aggregate content from tens of thousands of trusted sources making it easy for students to access information through multiple portals and authentication methods (e.g. IP addresses, referral URLs, geo-fencing, etc.)