Date of Original Version

1-1-2004

Type

Article

Abstract or Table of Contents

The quintessential mission of academic libraries is to support teaching, learning, and research. The primary values of librarianship are to support intellectual freedom, equitable access to information, and stewardship of our cultural and intellectual heritage. In the 21st century, fulfilling this mission and upholding these values are tied to a new ontology for libraries. Libraries must discover and support new online information-seeking behaviors and user expectations precipitated by the Internet, while simultaneously continuing to acquire – and find space to store – traditional materials. They must purchase, integrate, or exploit new technologies, including enterprise-wide technologies like portals, course management systems, and institutional repositories. They must recover and renovate space to provide quiet study carrels, group study areas, and coffee shops. They must market their offerings and skills to students and faculty. They must write grant proposals, cultivate donors, and demonstrate fiscal accountability. They must be both advocate and comply with policies and legislation that shape what is allowed and forbidden in cyberspace. And they must collaborate in the design of a curriculum and assessments to retain accreditation based on new criteria. Add to this mix the escalating economic crisis in scholarly communication, concurrent budget cuts, and a context of ominous predictions that the Internet or a super bookstore will replace the library, and the depth and breadth of challenges faced by libraries today can appear overwhelming. How can libraries deal with all this? What, if anything, do we know for sure? An overview of findings from recent user studies can help us organize our thinking and set priorities. This paper summarizes the results from research conducted 2001-2003. Taken together, these studies suggest a path for libraries to become more visible and viable by adopting a user-centered perspective. The paper concludes with a description of an international undertaking exemplary of user-centered, collaborative, visionary, flexible work effectively championing open access to copyrighted books, reports, and journals.