v32#2 What are the Perceptual Gaps Between Librarians and Faculty Regarding the Role of the Library in Research and Teaching?

by | May 11, 2020 | 0 comments

by Professor Snunith Shoham  (Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel) 

and Dr. Liat Klain Gabbay  (College of Management, Academic Studies, Rishon-Lezion, Israel) 

The Information Age of the past two decades has stimulated numerous and dramatic changes in the academic world, including:  the development of novel information technologies;  changes in teaching and learning methodologies;  the development of interdisciplinary departments;  the growing trend toward multidisciplinary collaborations;  the emergence of social networks;  and the expectations of users that the library adapt to the digital era and to the Google interface.

In accordance with these changes, academic libraries have been undergoing a significant transformation as well, including in the services they provide, the way in which they are managed, the structure and organization of their spaces, the composition of their collections, their perception of place versus space, and more.  Indeed, contemporary academic libraries are more user-centered, interdisciplinary, and open to new technologies than their traditional predecessors.

An important aspect of the transformation of the academic libraries is their transition from a quiet place of individual learning to a learning-centered structure.  This structure includes the formation of spaces for collaborative learning, social gatherings, and non-learning activities, in addition to the traditional spaces that allow quiet, individual work.  The connection between libraries and various technological systems has led to the development of inter-library loan services, which both students and faculty use much more than they did in the past.  Many contemporary academic institutions tend to unify departmental libraries with faculty libraries, and both students and faculty use the library structure for social gatherings, Internet, and information technologies, although they also “visit” the library remotely from their home or office (Shoham & Klain-Gabbay, 2019).

The rapid development of information technologies raises questions regarding the role that the modern academic library plays in supporting research and teaching, as perceived by both faculty and the academic librarians themselves.  The 2019 study presented here aims to address this issue using a mixed-methods approach to answer the following questions:  

a. To what extent do faculty members utilize the resources of the library for research and for teaching? 

b. How do faculty members perceive the role of the modern library with respect to research and teaching?

c. How do academic librarians perceive the role of the modern library in various aspects of research and teaching?

d. To what extent do the perceptions of the role of the library differ between faculty members and librarians?

Two research populations were studied:  faculty members who teach and conduct research in the faculties of humanities and social sciences in three academic institutions in Israel;  and librarians working in the libraries affiliated with these faculties.  Interviews were conducted with participants from both populations, based on a convenience sample of 20 faculty members and 15 librarians.  Questionnaires were distributed to all faculty members and librarians in the three selected academic institutions;  response rates were 30.9% (191 faculty members) and 62.5% (50 librarians). 

Key Findings

•  The extent of using library resources by faculty members

When asked about the extent to which they use the academic library, faculty members generally attested to using the library resources (typically its digital resources) mainly for research purposes.  They reported using such resources very extensively: more than 90% indicated that they use the library databases frequently (on a weekly and even daily basis) and more than 70% indicated that they search through the library catalog.  Some faculty members differentiated between the library and the electronic resources available for them through the academic institution, but most of them were aware that the library selects and pays for relevant subscriptions, thus enabling the faculty members to obtain full-text articles that are often unavailable freely through the Internet. 

Although some faculty members claimed that they do not use the library or that the library does not meet their expectations in research and teaching, they do use the materials and databases to which it subscribes.  Indeed, the extent of using electronic resources was much greater than the extent of using the physical library, as less than 30% of all faculty members indicated that they visit the library either once a week or once or twice a month.  Less than 50% of those who visit the library often indicated that they do it for loaning purposes or for reading professional literature.  In addition, less than 40% of the faculty members indicated that they utilize additional resources that the library prepares, such as reports on new books, recommended websites organized according to field categories, or tutorials and guides.

In general, the findings of our study suggest that the role of the library in providing access to materials is an important and contributing factor to faculty members, both for teaching and, to a greater extent, for research purposes.

•  The role of the library in academic research

Both the faculty members and the librarians were asked which of the following components they consider to be within the role of the library to provide, with respect to research: 

• Access to electronic databases

• Access to printed books and journals

• Information about conferences and seminars

• On-request searches for information by an information specialist

• A comfortable and quiet place to work in

• Printed or electronic materials for the researcher

• Updated and continuously renewed various collections

• Advanced information technologies

• Interlibrary loans

The questionnaires suggest a consensus among faculty members and librarians regarding the role of the library in providing access to electronic databases and to printed books and journals, as more than 92% of respondents from both groups perceived these components to be within the roles of the library with respect to research.  A similar percentage of faculty members and librarians also indicated that purchasing printed or electronic materials, providing a comfortable and quiet place to work in, and facilitating interlibrary loans are within the roles of the library.

In contrast, considerable differences were found between faculty members and librarians in other aspects of the role of the library.  Most prominently, while most librarians (76%) perceived “searches for information by an information specialist” to be one of the roles of the library with respect to research, only about a third of the faculty members shared this perception.  Similarly, considerable differences were found between the two groups regarding the role of the librarians in maintaining updated and renewed collections, being advanced with respect to information technologies, and providing information about conferences and seminars — all of which were perceived to be within the role of the library by far more librarians than faculty members.

•  The role of the library in academic teaching

Both the faculty members and the librarians were asked which of the nine aforementioned components they consider to be within the role of the library with respect to teaching.  The component “providing information about conferences and seminars” was replaced by the component “providing assistance in preparing course materials.”

Similar to the research aspect, about 90% of respondents from both groups perceived the provision of access to electronic databases and to printed books and journals to be within the roles of the library with respect to teaching.  Around 45% of faculty members and librarians indicated that providing a quiet and comfortable place to work in is within the roles of the library.  In contrast, a much higher percentage of librarians than faculty members indicated that the roles of the library with respect to teaching include purchasing printed or electronic materials, enabling interlibrary loans, maintaining updated and renewed collections, being advanced with respect to information technologies and assisting in preparing course materials.  In addition, there appears to be a difference between the perceptions of faculty members and those of the librarians regarding the role of the information specialist in searching for information, such that librarians regard this service as applying more to research than to teaching, whereas faculty members perceive it in the opposite way.

Summary and Operative Conclusions

In general, the faculty members in this study expect that the librarians provide more professional and focused services that better meet their research needs, but the librarians do not appear to be aware of these expectations.  One of the main expectations of faculty members is the improvement of the connection between the library and the faculty members through subject librarians and information specialists, who will serve as field experts and assist the faculty members in both teaching and research.

Regarding the updating and renewal of collections, the study demonstrates that libraries purchase course materials based on the requirements of faculty members and on its own perception of their needs, but the faculty members believe that this is insufficient for their research purposes.  Regarding interlibrary loans, while librarians perceive this service to be important and to increase the library’s collection, faculty members may perceive this service as a lack in the library’s collection, rather than an important role of the library.  The study also found differences in perception regarding other services, such as searching for information for the researchers, collecting information about conferences, imparting information technology, and using the library as a place to work in. 

The higher expectations of faculty members from the librarians, in face of the general perception of the latter that they are doing their best in answering the research and teaching needs of the faculty members, may indicate a problem in the functioning of the modern academic library.  This issue prompts a tighter collaboration between faculty members and librarians, such that the latter can provide services that are more suitable for the actual users of the library, rather than services that librarians only think are suitable for these users.  As the faculty members are the resident population of the academic institution (as opposed to the ever-changing population of students), it is important that the library understands its role in the eyes of the faculty, fulfills the needs of the faculty members, and adapts itself to their requirements.  The library must also educate faculty on the services that they offer and the skills they have acquired.

From the librarians’ perspective, some of them were aware of and assisted in the faculty members’ research needs, while others claimed that the library supports these needs mainly by purchasing databases and books and by facilitating interlibrary loans, and that the librarians should not be more involved than this in the research of the faculty members. 

The librarians in our sample perceived themselves as being able to support the virtual teaching environment, yet perceived their role in supporting the research environment entirely differently.  Because many perceive supporting the research environment as more difficult and professional than supporting the teaching environment, the librarians testified that research support requires them to be technology experts.  Therefore, in reality, most libraries support the technical aspects of research but no other aspects, such as locating information or providing comprehensive information that is relevant for the faculty members’ research. 

Practically, this study indicates that librarians should be more aware of the faculty members’ expectations of them — particularly in the research aspect — and should develop skills to assist faculty members not only in teaching but also in their research activities.  In addition, librarians should know that sometimes faculty are not saying that they need support in doing the research.  Recognizing this and finding ways to facilitate/enable faculty in supplying the tools or access to what they need, and using librarians’ research skills to support students rather than faculty, can be important and useful. 

References

Klain-Gabbay L., and Shoham, S.  (2019).  The role of academic libraries in research and teaching.  Journal of Librarianship and Information Science v. 51, 3: 721-736.  

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