v31 #3 Optimizing Library Services — Your Title is What? Re-envisioning Academic Library Administration

by | Jun 28, 2019 | 0 comments

by Mr. Edward Iglesias  (Web Services Librarian, Stephen F. Austin State University, USA)  

Column Editors:  Caroline J. Campbell  (Marketing Manager, IGI Global)  

and Lindsay Wertman  (Managing Director, IGI Global)   www.igi-global.com

Column Editors’ Note:  This column features IGI Global’s Editor, Mr. Edward Iglesias (MLIS), the editor of the publication, Library Technology Funding, Planning, and Deployment, which has been recognized by Scopus for its comprehensive coverage on open source software, budget constraints, library systems management, and related topics. — CC & LW

Within the well-worn world of academic libraries, there is a long tradition of creating departments and positions in a very predictable way.  There is a director who usually has two associate directors to take care of public and technical services. 

There are traditional roles that have an accompanying module in the integrated library system (ILS) (cataloger, circulation, acquisitions, etc.), and those newer roles that have to do with the way that the nature of information has changed, such as scholarly communications or digital asset management.  Even though new roles have been introduced, there is now the question of whether the traditional departments are set up to receive these roles.

Recent postings of jobs within academic libraries and allied cultural institutions are enlightening:

Software Architect (Interpretive Team), The J. Paul Getty Trust 

Head, Knowledge Access, New York University (NYU) Libraries, USA

Reproducibility Librarian (tenure-track), University of Florida, USA

Data and Information Visualization Librarian, University of South Carolina Libraries, USA

Data Librarian, Western Michigan University Libraries, USA1

While there is no shortage of traditional job titles, these examples represent a trend towards specialization in areas of technology that we have been warned about for years, whether it is big data, data visualization, or even new ways of dealing with user needs such as “Knowledge Access.”  Below is a particularly good example of a position at NYU of how things are changing and worth the additional scrutiny:

NYU libraries invite applications and nominations for the position of head-knowledge access.  The ideal candidate will provide strategic direction and leadership, both within the knowledge access department and throughout the division of libraries, for the development, implementation, and assessment of metadata infrastructure, policies, and practices.  The head will actively lead a strategic redesign of library metadata services that promote innovation in support of NYU’s teaching and research mission.  To this end, the head will direct major change initiatives in response to evolving user demands, technological innovation, and emerging data models (resource description framework (RDF), BibFrame, and Linked Data).2

Examining this description, the position is listed as a “Head” of something called “Knowledge Access.”  We learn that this is part of “a strategic [re-design] of library metadata services.” Now the position comes into focus.  NYU is rebranding and re-tasking what was formerly a head of cataloging, and trying to breathe some life into this department by bringing in a visionary leader that will be able to reframe these services by going away from MARC-based work involving physical items to a band of newly relevant metadata professionals engaged with “RDF, BibFrame, and Linked Data.”

A different type of a somewhat unusual title is the Senior Director of Development, University Library, [a position in the] University of California (UC), Santa Barbara.3  This shows a growing trend for a need which is increasingly apparent as institutions fail to fully fund libraries and they are forced to look for outside funding sources.  While some libraries have always done this, it was usually private institutions seeking grants to take care of one-of-a-kind collections or public libraries raising funds for special purposes.  Now we are seeing full-time positions as colleges and universities become aggressively entrepreneurial in all the worst ways, seeing libraries abdicating their primary mission of being vital institutions that preserve and organize knowledge to become cost centers hemorrhaging money.

Closer to my own example below is this from the University of Waterloo’s “Head, Digital Initiatives at University of Waterloo Library4 With responsibilities which include:

  • Fostering a collegial and collaborative environment
  • Mentoring, coaching, developing, and directing staff
  • Providing proactive leadership and oversight for the library’s locally-developed, as well as web and digital services

One wonders whether a life coach might be a better fit than a librarian!  Much is expected in terms of “soft skills” these days occasionally to the detriment of the overall library.  What should be a simple managerial position here is transformed into a cheerleader who will hopefully motivate staff and help people get along.  These skills have always been necessary for managers, however, the fact they are explicitly stated says something about our current library culture.

In a recent example of these ongoing changes, the Ralph W. Steen Library at Stephen F. Austin University, USA, where I am employed, underwent a reorganization as a result of campus wide information technology (IT) unification.  This resulted in a loss of a dozen positions that were internal, from the library to the campus IT, including the removal of the Associate Director-Library Technology.  After further deliberation, a direction was proposed and implemented with the creation of two new departments: Digital Strategies and Content Discovery, with a new head that would function as a permanent liaison with IT.  Looking at this transition in its component parts, Digital Strategies became a catch-all phrase that signifies not only what we are doing, but what we wish to do. Academic libraries have always been conservative in the sense that we [were familiar with the responsibilities of our job positions].  We have always made it a point to the proper care of intellectual resources of the past, as well as facilitating access to those of the present so that scholars could build and create the knowledge of the future. This is what we have always done, whether it was preserving papyrus or receiving digital access to a database of journal articles.  

Academic libraries have also been the great democratizers of knowledge and technology, giving users access to resources no single person could afford and, in many cases, their first exposure to computers and now, maker spaces.  Times change. While libraries have struggled in the last few decades to become a “third place” or a “platform,” we are increasingly the victims of our own efficiency to the point where students can and do obtain an undergraduate degree without ever setting foot in the physical library.  To this end, we must begin rethinking how we approach the problem of continued existence and relevancy in the coming decades. Much is uncertain, but there are a few givens.

First, we must realize that technology is going to play an increasing role in a field where the information bearing entities we access are increasingly difficult to categorize.  As problems of income inequality filter into the library budget, compounding existing issues of copyright restrictions and vendor centralizations, it becomes clear that any strategy for going forward will be a digital strategy.  This is not to demean the role of physical books, but to realize that in the current environment the “place” of the library is far from guaranteed or demanded, while the process of gaining and distributing access to knowledge continues as our central role.  We must invest wholeheartedly in our digital strategies as we approach coming conflicts over budgets and space utilization. The core mission of the library continues to be to enable user access to the knowledge they seek. A strategic approach that focuses on this goal in whatever form it may take is key to ensuring the survival and continued relevance of the modern academic library.

Content Discovery is a logical allied term to Digital Strategy.  It follows that once you have the resources acquired, they must be accessible.  Fortunately, this is now new ground and is the strength of libraries as the organizers of knowledge.  The traditional areas of Access Services, Cataloging, and Acquisitions fall within this rubric. These departments are responsible for the cataloging and metadata responsibilities, but acquisitions librarians play an increasingly vital role.  As we move towards an increasingly digital collection, thought must be given to any associated metadata records that may come with purchased collections, as well as ease of display, indexability and lendability in the case of interlibrary loan (ILL).  Basically, all the “back room” work that goes into presenting a usable, accessible collection is now under one umbrella.

Whether your library has standard job titles or not, look to the new job titles to judge where a library is going and how much thought has been given by the administration about its direction.  If you are hiring catalogers rather than metadata specialists, and still do not have someone in charge of your social media presence, you are dangerously out of line. The continuation of the academic library, indeed of the university as we know it, is far from assured.  By embracing change and building departments that allow for new approaches, we at least have a chance of surviving. Libraries must re-imagine themselves in ways that are newly relevant, or they will just be underused buildings with prime real estate. If we do not clearly demonstrate our value, [librarians will be the only ones to show value to the library].  So, dream up interesting titles that will evoke originality and excitement and dare to restructure your organizations. You have no choice in the matter. 

Additional Readings

Almeida, H., & Sequeira, B.  (2019).  The Role of Knowledge Transfer in Open Innovation (pp. 1-397).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-5849-1

Al-Suqri, M. N., Al-Kindi, A. K., AlKindi, S. S., & Saleem, N. E.  (2018).  Promoting Interdisciplinarity in Knowledge Generation and Problem Solving (pp. 1-324).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-3878-3

Bhardwaj, R. K.  (2018).  Digitizing the Modern Library and the Transition From Print to Electronic (pp. 1-325).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-2119-8

Bhattacharyya, S., & Patnaik, K. R.  (2018).  Changing the Scope of Library Instruction in the Digital Age (pp. 1-286).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-2802-9

Costello, L., & Powers, M.  (2018).  Developing In-House Digital Tools in Library Spaces (pp. 1-274).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-2676-6

Doherty, B.  (2016).  Technology-Centered Academic Library Partnerships and Collaborations (pp. 1-309).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-0323-1

Hines, S. S.  (2014).  Revolutionizing the Development of Library and Information Professionals: Planning for the Future (pp. 1-313).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-4675-9

Iglesias, E.  (2017).  Library Technology Funding, Planning, and Deployment (pp. 1-257).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-1735-1

Lowe, M., & Reno, L. M.  (2018).  Examining the Emotional Dimensions of Academic Librarianship: Emerging Research and Opportunities (pp. 1-168).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-3761-8

Thanuskodi, S.  (2019).  Literacy Skill Development for Library Science Professionals (pp. 1-410).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-7125-4  


Column Editor’s End Note:  Librarians’ roles are constantly evolving and while they are being challenged to acquire the timeliest, peer-reviewed research for their patrons, they are also faced with the reality of shrinking budgets, the ever-present open access (OA) movement, understaffing, and numerous other issues currently impacting the knowledge management field.  For years, IGI Global has been mindful of the challenges librarians face and have collaborated with leading institutions to ensure that they are able to provide resources and services to the academic community.  One example of this is IGI Global’s OA Fee Waiver (Offset Model) Initiative

Announced well in advance of mandates such as Plan S, this initiative allows librarians to maximize their acquisitions investment in IGI Global’s databases, InfoSci-Books and InfoSci-Journals specifically, by providing valuable content to their patrons and an additional source of OA article processing charge (APC) funding to their faculty and staff. 

To learn more about IGI Global’s OA Fee Waiver (Offset Model) Initiative and databases, please visit: www.igi-global.com/e-resources or contact IGI Global’s Database Team.  (Also, additional details can be found on page 87 of this issue). 


  1. All taken from the job postings at code4lib https://jobs.code4lib.org.
  2. https://jobs.code4lib.org/jobs/31751-head-knowledge-access
  3. https://chroniclevitae.com/jobs/0000468939-01
  4. https://jobs.code4lib.org/jobs/31790-head-digital-initiatives


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