The Library and Strategic Planning: An Initial Report

Jeff GattenThis post was written by Jeff Gatten, Associate Dean for the William H. Hannon Library.

The William H. Hannon Library is wrapping up our multi-year strategic plan (2013-2020) and embarking on the development of the next phase: a new set of strategic goals and objectives to be developed in parallel with, and to support, the campus-wide plan. A strategic plan outlines key initiatives designed to strengthen the operations of an entity. For the library, we strive to support the academic mission of LMU in the best possible ways.

For just one example, looking back over the last seven years the library has:

These efforts all came from one of our strategic plan goals: that at graduation, every student will have achieved standards-based information literacy proficiencies. Other goals from the plan, with equally important accomplishments, included:

  • managing the library’s physical spaces to promote provide optimal utilization of resources, tools, and services;
  • engaging careful acquisition and sustainable stewardship to preserve and grow physical and digital collections in support of the university’s mission;
  • promoting LMU’s competitiveness through excellence and accountability in performance through staff development, best practices, and evidence-based decision-making;
  • contributing to formative and transformative education of the whole person through outreach and programming; and
  • providing online tools and resources for a user-centered digital learning environment for search, discovery, and utilization.

As we begin discussing the possible goals and objectives for the next three to five years, we must first take stock of previous strategies that have now become simply operational practices. So, of course, we curate authoritative content. Of course, we create discovery mechanisms. Of course, we teach users how to navigate research tools and how to apply critical thinking skills to assessing the relevant value of information. Of course, we purchase, lease, and borrow content in a multitude of formats for students and faculty (e.g., we offer as many e-books as we do print books, and our e-journal collection exceeds 53K titles). So then, what else is there to be done?

While still early in our discussions, there are a few areas emerging as possibly being strategic for the library’s future endeavors.

The Economics of Academic Libraries

Within higher education, libraries have traditionally met their mission of providing an array of content by building large collections through the purchase of books, periodicals, and other media as a means to an end. Space and funding limitations have always required that librarians make thoughtful and well considered decisions regarding what materials to purchase and add to the collections. Now, the digital information age has allowed us to increase significantly the amount information content we can make available by eliminating the limitations of physical space.  The dynamics of making digital content available to the LMU community has shifted, with consequences for building research collections.

For e-resources, academic libraries find themselves increasingly in the position of not acquiring content for the ages, but rather leasing online access on a year-by-year basis. For e-journal collections, this requires leasing the same and new content each year with the cumulating costs of inflationary increases. On the upside, for the e-content we do purchase, we sometimes realize benefits by not paying for an e-book until someone actually uses it, a vast improvement over purchasing print content “just-in-case” it might be needed by someone. Another confounding development is the notion of open access where e-journals are freely available to all, but the authors (typically university faculty) must pay what are sometimes substantial fees (often subsidized by their academic library, university administration, or grant money) to have their articles published. Strategically, how does a library financially manage the long-term provision of access to digital content in an evolving marketplace?

High-impact Educational Practices

Student retention is defined typically as first-years who return to a university for a second year. High-impact educational practices, promoted by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, are aimed at increasing student engagement and retention. The list of practices includes first-year seminars, common intellectual experiences, learning communities, collaborative assignments, undergraduate research, capstone courses, among others – all ripe for a library intervention. It has been shown already that there is a relationship between library expenditures and student retention.[1]  It is also know that the earlier and more often a student engages with the library, the more likely they are to be retained.[2] We also know that the retention rate for students who work in the William H. Hannon Library is often slightly higher than the overall campus retention rate for LMU. Strategically, how then does the library engage with high-impact practices as they develop on campus?

Research Support for Graduate Students and Faculty

LMU’s recent move in the Carnegie Classifications from the Master’s Colleges and Universities category to the Doctoral University: High Research Activity (R2) category will require the library to re-examine selected priorities.  An increased focus on graduate programs will require turning greater attention to supporting distance-learning initiatives with digital tools and resources as well as building greater expertise in selected disciplines. Librarians will be required to have deep knowledge of differing research strategies. For example, a recent survey by the library of LMU’s School of Education faculty revealed that the majority of faculty surveyed are interested in having their graduate students learn more about discipline-specific research strategies, library databases, incorporating their research into practice, and evaluating sources for bias, accuracy, credibility, and relevance. Strategically, what are the implications for the library across other graduate programs with their own paradigms (e.g., business, STEM programs)?

Regardless of where of strategic planning takes us over the next few months, the guiding light will be our mission that remains constant:

The William H. Hannon Library fosters excellence in academic achievement through an array of distinctive services that enable learners to feed their curiosity, experience new worlds, develop their ideas, inform their decision-making, and inspire others. These services are driven by the library’s culture of collaboration and its attention to learner experience sustained by immersion in campus communities of practice. In its work, the library exemplifies principles of the Jesuit and Marymount traditions, supporting education of the whole person, meeting others where they are, promoting critical inquiry and reflection, and striving for continuous improvement.

[1] Mezick, Elixabeth M. (September 2007). “Return on Investment: Libraries and Student Retention.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33(5), 561-566.

[2] Soria, K., Fransen, J., & Nackerud, S. (2014). Stacks, serials, search engines, and students’ success: First-year undergraduate students’ library use, academic achievement, and retention. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(1), 84–91.