One can argue that academic libraries have made a success of becoming research hubs for their parent institutions.
A recent Research Libraries UK report indicates that librarians are now considered 'honorary research staff members' and are taking a 'proactive and positive approach' in preparing their parent institution’s response to the Research Education Framework (REF).1 Is it now time for academic libraries to leverage these successes in research, and apply them to addressing the challenges in higher education (HE) teaching and learning?
Keeping teaching materials relevant combined with student expectations are placing a huge demand on HE institutions globally. I’d like to briefly explore how libraries can support faculty as they address these challenges.
Academics are under increasing pressure to educate students using the limited time and teaching resources available. During a recent focus group that Arm Education Media conducted with electronic engineering librarians and faculty from UK institutions, academics expressed concern that the existing three-year curriculum was ‘overpacked’. They’re also under pressure from students to make them work ready, given the huge social shifts that new technologies such as AI and automation will bring.
Using engineering again as an example, there’s a growing 'skills gap' between what educational institutions are teaching, and the skills required in today’s job market. The failure to address this gap is having serious economic consequences as industry is not able to recruit the talent necessary for growth.2
These two tensions are now putting student outcomes at the heart of discussions around the quality of teaching and learning.
Ken Chad explores the primacy of student outcomes further in his excellent briefing paper, 'The student consumer and the rise of e-textbook platforms.' He cites a recent report for SCONUL that listed ‘students as customers’ as one of the five top ‘transformational’ trends that will impact libraries over the next 10 years.3
Key to the emergence of the student as customer is the Teaching Education Framework (TEF). Is there an opportunity here for academic libraries to position themselves as critical to the success of the TEF, as they currently have with the REF? A recent Gold Leaf survey points to closer collaboration between academics and librarians, and the creation of new publishing models, as potential paths to make the TEF a success.4 However, faculty are already struggling to evaluate the existing teaching solutions available to them. How will this proliferation of new publishing models affect the ability of academics to review and implement these emerging teaching solutions?
When talking about teaching solutions, it’s hard to get away from discussions around textbooks, as this is still one of the key ways in which pedagogy is delivered in academic institutions.
The Ken Chad report cites a recent strategic review by the University of Manchester, which suggests that ‘a library led e-textbook service leads to higher engagement, increased student satisfaction and a reduction in costs.’5 However, without any increase in budgets, many libraries are understandably reluctant, or unable, to take on the role of funding institutional access to textbooks.
However, it’s worth mentioning that librarians do have experience in negotiating prices down with large publishers and can bring ‘muscle’ the negotiating table by taking advantage of well-established and successful consortia purchasing models. This path should be pursued further as libraries engage in the provision of textbooks to their parent institution.
To conclude, there are three possible ways in which the academic library can be a central part of the educational programme of a university.
Collaboration: With the rise of the student as customer, the lecture theatre, the library and potentially the workplace are the most significant sites where education is going to be transformed. Meaningful partnerships between libraries, academic departments and industry need to occur in order to meet the coming challenges in education.
Curation: Academics are struggling with new educational tools and concepts. Librarians have years of experience evaluating new technologies thanks to the scholarly research industry. They can apply this critical eye to the proliferation of new educational resources that are now emerging.
Delivery: Lessons learned from years negotiating can be applied to procuring teaching materials, which should result in reducing costs. Similarly, with their experiences delivering a multitude of research products and services, librarians have the skills to navigate the complexities of delivering online educational solutions across an institution.
A version of this paper was presented at the UKSG 41st Annual Conference and Exhibition: Glasgow, April 9-11, 2018. The presentation can be viewed below.