Monday, May 18, 2009

Article Note: On libraries and the reputation of the university

Citation for the article:

Weiner, Sharon. "The Contribution of the Library to the Reputation of a University." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35.1 (January 2009): 3-13.

Read via ScienceDirect.

This article looks at whether a library adds to a university's reputation. To be a bit more precise, does the library contribute in any way to the university's reputation? That is the basic question. Do keep in mind that this study is limited to doctoral institutions. Also note that the idea of reputation can be somewhat subjective. Weiner points out that the higher education literature consistently looks at libraries as ancillary (4); in other words, they are just part of the campus equipment. She also makes the following point, which to be honest, I thought was somewhat a statement of the obvious: "It is possible that there is a relationship between the decrease in funding and the lack of visibility of the library in the higher education research literature" (4). This is in the context of library budget allocations decreasing over a ten-year period, which Weiner points out as well.

Some other brief points:

  • "Due to accessibility of information online and the simultaneous increase in financial pressures on colleges, there are questions about whether academic libraries are still needed" (4). We know that, on the extreme, some people would be very happy if academic libraries were burned to the ground since they are just air conditioned places for books. Except here, where they actually turn off the air conditioning when it gets hot to save a few bucks. If that online accessibility would just solve everything, but unfortunately, it is not as simple as it sounds for one.
  • Weiner makes an observation about faculty and libraries, which I am guessing from previous experience and observation, is a bigger issue in research universities than in teaching colleges. "Libraries were a factor considered by faculty in determining whether to remain at their institutions or whether to accept positions that had been offered to them. Faculty who perceive that their library's resources were inadequate admitted that this was a barrier to their work" (4). I would be curious how much of a factor that could be in the current economic climate. However, what I really wonder is what about the librarians. If it is a high caliber campus library, I suppose the potential librarian hire would not worry much about resources being adequate. But could that affect a newbie's decision to come to a particular campus? Or, given the current dismal librarian market, is a job pretty much a job no matter how shabby a particular academic library could be? I am probably overthinking.
  • Overall, the findings did show that the library plays a role in the reputation. "The variable, library expenditures, was a consistently significant predictor in all appropriate models" (8).
  • According to Weiner, libraries do maintain their symbolic "heart of the campus" status, and since they are not an academic unit per se, but rather a campus support service (please take that with a grain of salt), it means libraries can continue to serve as neutral spaces on campus. This neutral status can mean better success in activities and functions (9). As an outreach librarian, I am not quite sure how to take that. Success with campus-wide activities the library promotes or implements has been mixed at times. And a view of campus support service is not necessarily a positive thing when it comes to perceptions by the administration. But, as I have learned over time, you work with what you have. On the other hand, I do like the idea of the neutral space where everyone can come together.
  • "This study provides evidence that libraries do contribute to university reputations. Since the library absorbs a very small percentage of a university budget (2.5% average), this study shows that the contribution of the library is disproportionately high relative to its cost to the institution" (9, emphasis in the original). This is clearly a message that we need to convey better to the powers that be.

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