Top 10 Challenges for Academic Libraries in the 21st Century

It's clear that the library has been a valuable institution for academic purposes as long as pen has been put to paper. However, the library and its role in academic research is no doubt going through a clear transformation in the 21st century. 

Libraries have long been endless sources of information for students - for centuries this involved row after row of books. However, the face of libraries is changing as content is moving toward a digital platform and Internet access is becoming more of a human necessity than a privilege.

While this presents innovative and creative ways for libraries to remain relevant to students and researchers, it also carries its fair share of challenges. Here are the top 10 obstacles being faced by academic libraries today:

1. Making services engaging to researchers and students: Google is not the answer to everything - you know this, but your customer base likely does not. As a result, you have to fully absorb the needs and wants of students and researchers so you can make a substantial and engaging difference in their work moving forward. 

2. Handling research data management tools: Libraries should be the place on campus for data curation and research management. Librarians need the support of their faculty and administrators to make this happen, but librarians also have to keep themselves well-versed in the advancements of data management so research doesn't become stale.

3. Demonstrating your value: Academic libraries are always on a budget. This means that month after month, year after year, libraries have to come up with compelling examples of how valuable their work is - often with a looming bottom line. However, according to the American Library Association, research has proven a connection between student grade point averages and library material usage. Staff needs to communicate this connection and demonstrate why libraries require more attention and public engagement.

4. Preserving material on a digital scale: Not only are there excellent products available that can help libraries achieve this - even with the biggest of collections - it's becoming the norm. According to OCLC Research, a whopping 97 percent of 169 research libraries in the U.S. and Canada have utilized digital platforms with their special collections. Based on these numbers, it's clear that software combined with a librarian's expertise is the wave of future in regard to user interface and access to academic data.

5. A growing and diverse spectrum of customers: You've probably noticed this already, as the 20th century underwent a massive shift in technological innovation that impacted people of all ages. On any given day, a librarian might have to help customers from six different generations, from baby boomers to millennials, according to 21st Century Library. This means that your workload might feel a bit overwhelming when you are trying to assist those who are familiar with traditional library services compared with younger patrons who are more familiar with tech-driven library software.

6. Nailing down library policies: With the increased usage of online tools, there are many questions that you might need to address to the administration. For instance, you might ask if the university should be purchasing e​-books alongside traditional print sources. Or, as many modern academic research centers are discovering, there may not be a need for purchasing textbooks at all. These are just some examples of library policies that staff and the administration need to pinpoint moving forward.

7. Role development: Open Access has required librarians to become knowledgeable in a growing number of subjects on an astounding scale. While no institution is going to expect you to process information at the pace of a computer, it might feel that way sometimes. Adding budgeting and resource constraints can contribute to this problem as well.

8. Digital licensing: At times, these models can be quite complex and take a good amount of research on your part. Although every academic research facility is different, College and Research News states that patron-driven acquisition of e​-books is slated to become the norm, which means that digital licensing agreements should become more sustainable and easier to understand.

9. Subject-matter expertise: With so much information pouring into libraries at a fast pace, academic institutions need to take an active role the management of libraries. There have already been great strides taken on a national scale, such as the Digital Public Library of America that was spearheaded by Harvard University to document digital collections of archives, museums and libraries in the U.S. in 2011. However, it appears that these same efforts need to be done on a micro-scale if universities want to keep up with subject-matter expertise.

10. Becoming familiar with a wide range of digital content: By clearly seeing what kinds of articles, published works and e​-books are being used the most by students and researchers, librarians can fully digest what types of content they need to become familiar with in a global, digital world while still providing high quality sources.

With academic libraries, the challenges of role development, digital licensing and research tools are shaping the way that librarians provide quality content to students and researchers. 


Robert Storer
Marketing Manager