Wednesday, January 26, 2011

10 years on

As I mentioned in a previous post, this retrospective piece I put together on Watzek Library afforded the opportunity to present some developments in the library over the last ten years. Some of the trends probably mirror those in other academic libraries:

The number of journals to which we have access expanded due to online aggregations of journals, while the cost of individual journal subscriptions rose substantially. Between books, periodicals, and online services (that is aggregated online resources like JSTOR or Lexis Nexis) online services grew the most as an expense category. If we see this shift continue, it could have big implications for our operations as the time it takes to manage big aggregations of electronic resources is much less than managing individual physical or electronic items. The general trend of aggregating supply of information resources could shake our foundations.

Visitors to the library were down by about 20% since 2001. Given the increase in online resources for research both library provided and on the open web, one could read this as a sign that our library building is still a vibrant place for study, events, gatherings, etc. It still certainly feels that way. So I'm looking at it as 80% full rather than 20% empty, but it does raise the question: are we getting the most we can of the space if its utilization is dropping somewhat?

Reference questions are down over the decade by over 50%. My interpretation here is that the mechanics of doing basic research have gotten simpler. Students can find a few articles on a topic without the kind of complexities that were required in the past thanks to full text, link resolvers, etc. At the same time, our one-on-one research consultation service is more popular as is library instruction sessions. Perhaps this reflects a more complex research environment or more ambitious student projects.

One interesting figure is our book checkouts. Despite the shift to electronic information in so many arenas, they have remained steady at about 90K per year over the decade. Activity on our Summit borrowing service, which gives us access to all major Northwest academic library book collections, increased by about 20% over the decade as that service expanded to include a much wider universe of materials. I think this reflects the continued primacy of the monograph in humanities research even at the undergraduate level. As we delve into e books more, we could see a shift, but we haven't yet.

Major growth areas for the library included Special Collections, digital initiatives and visual resources. These are just a few of the highlights from the report, which I won't post publicly since its a sort of internal working document.

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