The American Library Associations (ALA) “is the oldest and largest library association in the world.” Since it’s inception, the ALA has aimed to support libraries and librarians in their pursuit of broader access to knowledge, professional tools, and information technology. They do so in a number of ways; one of the most important being the gathering and dissemination of important data about libraries, community needs, and library funding.
Each year, the ALA releases a report detailing the current state of libraries–including public, school and academic libraries. You can find the full report here.
Today, I’m going to look at some of the more salient points from the report, how they impact academia, and specifically how self-publishing plays a role in serving library’s goals.
First and most important to note is the continued perception that libraries (and by extension librarians) are trustworthy places for safety, relaxation, and learning. Libraries as an institution are dependent largely on local funding (municipal for public and the school for academic) and as such must maintain the trust of those they serve. A supplementary report call From Awareness to Funding queried registered voters regarding a range of issues pertaining to their local libraries.
Some important takeaways from that report include:
- A majority of US voters believe public libraries are essential to communities and a source of civic pride.
- Voters still highly value such traditional library services as free access to books and quiet areas, but they also increasingly value the library as a community hub.
- A disconnect still exists between the services libraries offer and public awareness and support for those services.
- Although a majority of voters are likely to support library funding at the local ballot box, fewer are committed to definite support.
- A majority of voters still do not realize that the primary source of library funding is local
In academia, the ALA report notes a consistent growth in services offered despite general decreases in budgeting. Going forward, managing growth around tight budgets will continue to be the biggest challenge for all libraries and particularly a concern for academic libraries.
According to the report, the top 5 services academic libraries support are:
- Web development
- Open access institutional repositories
- Learning systems
- Digital humanities
- Digital media production
This may seem like an odd collection of services for a library to offer. But modern libraries are more than a storage place for books. Today’s libraries are information hubs. The services they offer must cover the entire range of data and information transmissions the Internet allows for.
For libraries and librarians, the future holds only greater need from the communities they serve. Those needs are near impossible to predict beyond the very near term, leaving the libraries to evolve as best they can under the budget constraints they face.
Self-Publishing and Libraries
Particularly relevant for academic libraries, the need to create and distribute custom books and data has never been more prevalent. When considering trends as they may impact the future of libraries, the ALA report notes 3 of the most important to watch:
- Income Inequality
- Connected Learning
Among a larger list of trends, the ALA identifies here, these three top trends highlight the need for affordable, up to date materials. As the population ages, new generations need relevant information to facilitate the kind of innovation and growth society demands.
Coupled with this is the need to address income gaps while maintaining and expanding the connectivity of educators and students.
There’s one additional trend that aligns well with self-publishing – The Maker Movement. Lulu has historically supported self-motivated makes and DIY types with the low-cost tools to take their ideas and both create and monetize them. With a particular eye toward libraries, the Maker Movement finds a particularly important home in the local public and academic library.
Libraries will be the leading teachers, trainers, and facilitators of this expanding movement. The need for services like Glasstree and Lulu will be at the fore as these creators seek low-cost, high-quality means to create their content.
Perhaps most important will be the point at which the DIY movement meets academia. Educators, researchers, and students all find themselves in a position to take advantage of self-motivated projects. Libraries, as a community and information hub, are the haven these creators need and the resource they require to move their projects forward.
From a book made for personal use to a student project to a custom-made curricula for the next semester, self-publishing is continually enabling motivated individuals. And libraries will solidify this new mode of creation as they work daily to enable knowledge sharing and connected living.