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last updated: 9/4/2012

Provost's Forum

Provost’s Forum: The Future of the Research Library


Research libraries have long been defined by their collections. Environmental factors such as unsustainable costs, viable alternatives to library collections, and new forms of scholarly communication are changing the missions of research libraries and the roles of librarians. While collections used to drive the research library agenda, this shared paradigm has lost its power. The library itself is becoming a space for more than books.


More than 160 IU-Bloomington faculty members joined Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson, Dean of University Libraries Brenda L. Johnson, and a panel of eight faculty colleagues on November 2, 2011 for a discussion about the future of research libraries.


“We need to have a discussion on this campus about the future of scholarly communications and the future of the libraries, both at the core of our enterprise,” Hanson emphasized in her opening remarks. “Our faculty has to be deeply involved in this, and there has to be an exchange of information between faculty of different disciplines and faculty librarians.”


Hanson and Johnson set the context for the discussion, examining the major drivers of change affecting scholarly communication and research libraries at both the national and local levels. Hanson underscored that technological advances have fundamentally altered the academic landscape and, as a result, the roles of libraries and librarians. She presented some of the more provocative national trends in the use of library collections, the changes in scholarly communication patterns, the costs of developing and maintaining print and digital collections, and the changes to physical library spaces.


Johnson followed with a brief overview of the IU Libraries’ response to this new environment defined by continual change. “We know this is a drastically changing environment for our libraries,” she said. “We are positioning ourselves to continue to meet our mission, and we realize that there are many more difficult decisions to be made.” She highlighted the IU Libraries’ leading role in the development of shared print collections, partnerships with other institutions for open access solutions to digital collections, and ongoing initiatives to digitize local materials.


As IU Libraries increasingly focus on services, Johnson explained, the physical library spaces and the roles of librarians will continue to evolve and adapt in order to best meet user needs. For example, Writing Tutorial Services recently moved into the Information Commons of Wells Library. Work is currently underway to renovate space in the Wells Library for the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL). Together CITL staff and librarians will work closely with faculty to improve student learning outcomes. New library positions also reflect emerging needs in scholarly communication and technology.


Following the remarks by Hanson and Johnson, a panel of eight faculty members shared their diverse perspectives on the changing expectations for and use of libraries’ collections and services.


The panelists included:

  • Eileen Friel, Astronomy
  • Matthew Guterl, American Studies
  • Roger Hangarter, Biology
  • Jason Baird Jackson, Folklore
  • Beth Plale, Informatics
  • Joan Pong Linton, English
  • Wayne Storey, French & Italian
  • Ted Striphas, Communication & Culture


Many panelists focused their remarks around more specific issues in scholarly communications, open access initiatives, and collections development and management. Their views – often divergent – reflect the myriad pressures on libraries to meet the increasingly diverse needs of faculty in support of research, teaching, and scholarship.


Three proposals focused on “what we once called publishing and the changing ways libraries engage with it” were offered by Jackson. He proposed that faculty on the Bloomington campus begin discussions on what is known as the “green open access mandate”; the campus investigate the costs of supporting serving as academic editors in order to inform future decision-making in support of new editorial offices; and the Bloomington Faculty Council develop recommendations that recognize those “consciously publishing peer-reviewed scholarship in sustainable and open access ways.”


Guterl captured one of the most fundamental changes in IU Libraries: “I haven’t been to the big limestone box on Jordan in over a year,” Guterl said,” but I use the library every day.” The library is virtually present in his scholarly life, with digital information readily accessible on his computer and mobile devices. He posited, “Maybe the future of the library is not the same thing as the future of that building. I have more need of the library-in-the-abstract than ever before.”


Linton pondered the broader challenges facing higher education and research libraries. “Increasingly the issues and problems we confront in our global 21st century world are complex ones and require a collective, integrative intelligence, across disciplines and cultural perspectives to address. This is a kind of coordinated knowledge making, by way of belonging to the world that we as faculty and librarians, are still learning to do well.”


In thinking about the purpose of the forum and the future of the libraries, Hangarter cited Charles Darwin: “It’s not the strongest nor the most intelligent species that survives, it’s the one that’s most adaptable to change.” Hangarter cautioned against rigid plans, advocating instead for adaptable approaches that can respond to continual change.


The forum marks the beginning of ongoing discussions with IU faculty and students about the issues facing libraries and the response of IU Libraries to changes over time. In the coming months, Johnson and other librarians will meet with academic departments, as well as graduate and undergraduate advisory groups, to continue this robust conversation.


Next Steps


During Spring 2012 semester, subject and area librarians will be scheduling meetings with faculty in their departments and research/teaching groups to continue these important discussions. These meetings will focus on the following questions:


  1. What services, policies or spaces would you need if the majority of physical collections were transferred to the ALF or shared repository?
  2. Are there categories of materials that in your opinion are more or less appropriate to shelve off-site?
  3. How would you describe your preferences for electronic or print materials? For example, is it by format (e.g., journal, scholarly monograph, reference work, etc.), date, or the scholarly purpose for which you need it? Or other?
  4. How do you envision collaborating with librarians beyond building/preserving collections: partner in research and teaching, new scholarly communication paradigms, building discovery systems beyond library collections, other?


As meetings with departments and research/teaching groups progress, please return to this web site for reports on our findings and information about future campus discussions.




Crews, Kenny. “Authors, Copyright and HathiTrust.” Columbia University Libraries/Information Services Copyright Advisory Office. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. Web. 15 Sept. 2011.


Hazen, Dan. “Lost in the Cloud: Research Library Collections and Community in the Digital Age.” Library Resources and Technical Services 55(4), October 2011, 195-204.


Jones, Elisabeth. E- Science Talking Points for ARL Deans and Directors. Association of Research Libraries, October 24, 2008.


Redefining the Academic Library: Managing the Migration to Digital Information Services. Washington, DC: The Advisory Board Company, 2011.


Schonfeld, Roger C. and Housewright, Ross. Faculty Survey 2009: Key Strategic Insights for Libraries, Publishers and Societies. Ithaka S & R, April 2010.


Smith, Abby. “The Research Library in the 21st Century: Collecting, Preserving, and Making Accessible Resources for Scholarship.” No Brief Candle: Reconceiving the Research Library for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources, 2008. 13-20.


Smith, Kenneth R. “New Roles and Responsibilities for the University Library.” Journal of Library Administration, 35.4 (2002): 29-36


last updated: 9/4/2012