Libraries at the heart of campus life
At a time when discussions about academic libraries attract headlines about the impact of electronic publishing (Harris, 2012; Reisz, 2012, reporting on a round-table discussion held in April 2012), and the financial cuts resulting from the UK Coalition Government's new funding regime for English universities, it is easy to overlook the library's role at the heart of the campus.
This role has been evolving steadily. Building on their established strength of placing students at the centre of their work, libraries have embraced a range of services which go well beyond printed collections: audiovisual materials in the 1960s and 1970s, computing in the 1980s, educational development in the 1990s, and, most recently, one-stop shops which provide a single point of contact with a range of student support services.
Libraries are well placed to help universities tackle the challenges that lie ahead. As institutions seek new ways of working to deal with reductions in funding and to meet the increasing expectations of students who are paying (in England at least) substantial fees, services are being reorganized to make them more accessible and to drive down costs. This integration or ‘superconvergence’ of services has generally been led by librarians, who use campus library buildings as the focus for activities.
The move to integrate services affects all aspects of provision, including staff roles, organizational structures and the design of space. Integration can also create the right conditions for educational innovation, encouraging staff to work together on course developments and allowing specialists to share their skills to offer high quality support to students.
A key issue here is the social dimension of learning. The future of libraries will continue to be shaped by interactions between students, and with staff, building on their established roles and culture and also new ways of working together.
Integrated services are also being developed in other settings used by students. Public libraries are collaborating with universities and colleges, as well as arts and heritage organizations, to develop a wide range of facilities that place them at the heart of their communities. Learning centres, which bring together help, resources, innovative space and support for study, are being developed to provide a focus for learning in organizations of all kinds. Shared space is the key ingredient which attracts learners and will shape the development of services for the future.