This post comes from a guest poster, Scarlet Galvan. Scarlet is the Collection Strategist Librarian at Grand Valley State University.
A blogger for Inside Higher Ed recently published a plea for a more nuanced understanding of IPEDS data on academic libraries. Like that blogger, I also wish data about academic libraries offered more detail about their work and position as necessary infrastructure. I remember the failure to meet each other as colleagues has collective outcomes.
IPEDS is not designed to capture data about academic libraries accurately. This is a problem because of how familiar IPEDS data is to the rest of higher education, how our colleagues across the university will reach for this data with trust and certainty. Tools like IPEDS flatten complexity, offering a rather facile view into deeply complicated systems. There are many qualifiers. ACRL’s 2015 alignment with a portion of IPEDS questions to streamline reporting means how we conceptualize the work of other institutions faces similar constraints.
After skimming IPEDS data, the blogger’s suggestion, “…maybe academic libraries can avoid layoffs in lean budget times by cutting down on the roughly 40 percent of spending that goes to materials and services” comes down to individual approaches. I can only reflect on my experiences and note the marked difference in organizational capacity when leaders view challenges as opportunities as opposed to choosing what is comfortable.
Even when reducing a collections budget like this is an option, it’s not a decision that comes from a place of strength and would destabilize our teaching, learning, and research missions. That said, subscription-based resources make up the majority of collections expenditures in academic libraries. These carry a yearly inflation rate of 5-7% or more, though a growing number of library workers are working to recalibrate these contract terms. It’s cheaper to keep people. Most university employees do not receive similar increases to their salary and benefits each year. Still, an actionable response is to better understand how our university budgets work in order to clearly see them for what they are: articulated values.
Statistics describing the collection shift continuously as the way we define those things evolves along with scholarly communications ecosystems. IPEDS could offer a snapshot at best. Meanwhile, content providers engage in decades-long campaigns to consolidate and monopolize research infrastructure, impact metrics, search algorithms, mining user data, and even hiring processes.
What metrics might be used instead? What questions could we ask for a richer understanding of the impact of libraries and library workers in higher education? These things are much harder to get at than numerical totals in broad categories like budget allocations and collection totals. For example, we might consider what percentage of research output is Open Access, measure institutional investments toward open infrastructures, acknowledge and document the expertise to make archival collections findable, build research data management plans, measure student outcomes based on faculty authored and adopted open publications, or capture the incentives we offer for such work for accreditation, tenure, and promotion. Until different metrics can be included, we’re left to specific definitions of value and indigent questions. “How many books? In what format?”
Lamdan, S. (2022). Data Cartels: The Companies that Control and Monopolize Our Information. Stanford University Press. https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=33205
Wilson, M., & Cronk, L. (2022). The NERL Playbook. Commonplace. https://doi.org/10.21428/6ffd8432.2b8579b0
Scholarly Publishing and Academic Research Coalition: Elsevier’s Acquisition of Interfolio: Risks and Responses. https://infrastructure.sparcopen.org/interfolio-acquisition