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Four Ways to Achieve More Success as an Academic Librarian


August 03, 2021 | 5 min read |

Asaf Kline, VP of Product Management, Ex Libris

Academic libraries have experienced dramatic changes over the last few decades. With information now just a few clicks away, libraries are transforming from collections of knowledge to modern hubs for supporting teaching, learning, research, and student success.

With this transformation, the responsibilities of academic librarians have shifted as well. Librarians are spending less time on the storage and retrieval of materials and more time on providing valuable services, such as partnering with faculty on instructional design or teaching students how to do research and use digital tools.

What are the qualities that will help librarians become more successful in this new landscape? Here are four ways that academic librarians can serve their stakeholders more effectively:

Innovate and adapt to change.

The global pandemic has demonstrated the value of being able to adapt to change, as libraries have had to operate entirely remotely for the first time. Indeed, the ability to manage change was viewed as the single most valuable skill for librarians to have in a 2020 survey of how academic libraries have responded to the pandemic by Ithaka S&R.

To be successful, librarians must understand the latest advances in information technologies, so they can help faculty and students integrate these emerging tools into teaching, learning, and research. Librarians must also think about new ways they can demonstrate value to their institutions by creating innovative programs and services to support student success.

Develop relationships.

Being innovative requires listening to stakeholders and coming up with new ways of serving their needs more effectively. Successful librarians have frequent conversations with students, faculty, deans, and other administrators to learn where they struggle and how the library can help.

In the 2020 Ithaka S&R survey, communication skills were ranked as the second most important skill for librarians to have, cited by more than half of survey respondents.

Advocate for library programs.

Good communication involves not only listening, but also making sure that stakeholders are aware of the various programs and services the library offers. Faculty and students can’t take advantage of these services if they don’t know the programs exist.

The Association of College and Research Libraries describes seven key roles for academic librarians today. One of these roles is Advocate, which the organization describes as communicating the value of information literacy and advocating for the library’s role in student learning.

Advocacy has become even more critical for librarians as they’ve felt increasingly less valued by their institution. Every three years, Ithaka S&R conducts a general survey of librarians, and the percentage who say they’re considered to be a key member of the senior academic leadership team has declined from more than 60 percent in 2013 to less than 50 percent in 2019.

As the Chronicle of Higher Education notes: “In the pre-internet age, libraries could measure their impact by counting how many books they circulated, or the number of people who passed through their gates. Now, their value is harder to quantify.”

The pandemic might have reversed this trend, as Ithaka’s 2020 survey revealed that librarians feel they’ve been aptly recognized for effectively supporting the pivot to remote learning. Still, librarians who can advocate for their library’s programs and demonstrate the impact these are having on student outcomes will be better positioned for success moving forward.

Be strategic.

It’s no secret that library budgets are generally tight. In fact, Ithaka’s 2020 survey indicated that three-fourths of libraries had their budgets cut this past fall in response to the pandemic. Successful librarians must be strategic in their decision making, looking at how they can make the best use of limited space and funding to achieve the greatest impact on student success.

This process might involve re-evaluating collections and acquisitions. For instance, would it make more sense to partner with other institutions through a resource-sharing network instead of acquiring books or digital resources that are likely to have a very narrow appeal?

The use of data analytics can help librarians make better and more strategic decisions when evaluating purchases or assessing the impact of programs and services, so they can serve the needs of stakeholders more effectively.

To learn how Ex Libris can help librarians meet these challenges, click here.