What role will university libraries play in the future?

According to experts, university libraries are changing—with the exception of one important role

Universities are seeking ways to innovate and keep up with the changing expectations of students and faculty, and university libraries are no different.

Academic libraries are good at adapting as they try to meet students and faculty who learn differently and who have varying expectations for what their university library is.

As physical space, available funding, and student needs change, university libraries will have to adapt to meet different needs and campus roles.

Despite these future changes, the purpose of university libraries remains steady: Academic libraries provide equitable access to information for students to use in their daily lives, whether their purpose is for academic success, to solve problems, or to create new knowledge.

1. They’re still in the business of information access

While the way libraries do things may change, they are still in the service of information discovery, says Cheryl Middleton, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, which is a division of the American Library Association. Middleton is associate university librarian for research and scholarly communication at Oregon State University.

“We’re not the gatekeepers of information in the way we used to be,” she says. “Now there’s an online environment in which our users flourish. One of our roles is to make sure our learners are successful in that environment.”

2. Guarding against fake news and strengthening critical evaluation skills

“Given the proliferation of fake news, it’s important people have those information literacy skills to think critically about the information they’re using,” Middleton says. “That’s still an important role university libraries will continue to play.”

3. Imagining new uses for limited space and funding

“At Oregon State University, we’ve been building and accommodating, but there’s a need for space on campus. If you’re thinking about a partnership, what partnerships make sense for the library, and what services will you offer to students and faculty? What services make sense in libraries, in terms of our educational missions?” Middleton says.

Laura Ascione