Evolution and Change in Graduate Professional School Libraries

6 questions for 2 librarians.

December 14, 2014
Our IHE community has been having a good discussion about the future of the academic library. I hope that this Q&A contributes to our conversation.  Jim Fries, the Director of the Feldberg Business-Engineering Library at Dartmouth College, and his colleague Anne Esler, graciously agreed to answer my questions about how the world of graduate professional libraries are evolving and changing. 
Question 1: What are contemporary student and faculty service expectations in a graduate professional school library?
Pressed for time, graduate-professional school students want immediate service, assistance and answers. They want and expect a frictionless, barrier-free service experience. Graduate professional students often have substantial work experience before returning to school. Many are fluent with and have used the specialized data sources found in graduate professional school libraries such as market research reports or Bloomberg's terminal service.
Faculty expectations in a service encounter are highly variable, ranging from needing answers same hour or same day to working over a longer term where the librarian's accuracy, comprehensiveness and quality of response are of prime importance. Though research literature is ubiquitously available through licensed content, interlibrary loan, or the "collective collection", and though search engines yield instant results, faculty and students both turn to librarians for a deeper dive and reliable answers on a topic or a project.
Question 2: How is a graduate-professional school library positioned?
The library's focus is on providing service and access, not on building a collection. Librarians spend considerable time recommending search strategies, helping students filter voluminous search results, and identifying best sources to consult. Graduate-professional school librarians often partner with programs in the school to provide tailored, packaged results to student team-based projects. The librarians' role is more of a consultant rather than a reference function. Students often realize that their initial Google search results are not giving the answers they want, so they turn to a reliable source, the librarians, for guidance.
Question 3: How is the graduate-professional school collections budget distributed today versus five or ten years ago?
Content acquisition and spending in graduate-professional school libraries have shifted from print to digital formats. Very little spending is allocated to print content today. A recent paper documents this shift in detail. Scholarship and research communication in disciplines such as business, economics, life and applied science and engineering is documented in journals, working papers, conference papers and patents, not in monographs. Reflecting both user behavior and preference, as well as how breaking news and frontier research is communicated, print literature today has substantially diminished value for faculty and students, though librarians spend considerable time on collection strategy, management and development. Printed textbooks remain important for teaching and student demand for printed textbooks has not diminished.
A fundamental change in collections, as reflected in the article cited above, is the shift from ownership to access. For example, BorrowDirect gives Dartmouth students access to more than 55,000,000 books across the BorrowDirect partnership. Many academic information resources (such as e-journals) are licensed, not owned. To help libraries manage the risk of licensing and not owning content, services such as LOCKSS and Portico work to insure that access for which libraries have paid is maintained despite disruptive changes that may occur among publishers. Today it's common for a graduate professional school library information budget (for example, in the range of $500,000 to $1.2 million+ for information resources) to be allocated 80%-90% to digital formats (primarily databases, datasets, and e-journals, but also to e-books), and 10%-20% to print formats (primarily books and journals).
Question 4: What are the biggest challenges of graduate-professional school libraries?
Understanding and demonstrating the relationship between library cost and value, and student learning outcomes; understanding and demonstrating the relationship between information resources and information services and faculty research productivity; acquiring and making accessible the range of information resources and products wanted by students and faculty in a cost-constrained budgetary environment.
Question 5: What are the key disruptors for graduate-professional school libraries?
As print collections disappear or are placed off-site, the library’s physical space is eyed by program directors for office space and administrative use. At the same time, the remaining space is evolving into a more dynamic location for quiet study, collaborative group work with librarians and teaching space for student-librarian engagement. Balancing program needs for space, and librarians' experience with student demand and use of library space, is ongoing. Space allocation to collections in graduate professional libraries continues to diminish at a rapid rate.
Question 6: How do graduate-professional school libraries create value?
For faculty and students in these programs, service and responsiveness are more important than a physical collection. The library has value as a study space where trusted help is available. Librarians' substantial subject knowledge and expertise, coupled with broad experience and understanding of the programs served, can provide quick and targeted support for students and faculty.
What would you want to ask Jim and Anne?
Did anything from this interview surprise you?
Do the experiences of the Feldberg Business-Engineering Library at Dartmouth match those at your academic library?
How does a graduate professional library differ from an academic library serving students and faculty in the Arts & Sciences?


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