LJ ’s State of Academic Libraries Survey Reveals Challenges, Priorities

Library Journal ’s survey on The State of Academic Libraries, fielded by LJ and ProQuest in May through July, sought to examine how college and university libraries worldwide have fared during this time of rapid adjustment—particularly during the 2020–21 academic year, when the pandemic dramatically accelerated changes across the board.

student studying at library desk with windows behind himLibrary Journal ’s survey on The State of Academic Libraries, fielded by LJ and ProQuest in May through July, sought to examine how college and university libraries worldwide have fared during this time of rapid adjustment—particularly during the 2020–21 academic year, when the pandemic dramatically accelerated changes across the board.

The survey report released in September includes responses from a worldwide sample of 1,843 college and university libraries. The results show that academic libraries are undergoing swift and deep-reaching changes, particularly in areas affected by technology and changing user needs.



The leading challenge for academic libraries concerns budgets and funding, particularly for acquisitions. That said, while it was the top-rated concern, fewer than two-thirds—61 percent—of respondents selected it.

Budgets overall are a source of concern. The aforementioned changes in technology and user needs often require additional funding, but academic libraries don’t see that happening in the next five years. More than three-fourths of respondents (66.6 percent) say their budgets will either stay the same or decrease. (Budgets that remain flat effectively decrease in purchasing power due to inflation.)

Potentially exacerbating this, academic institutions have seen recent enrollment declines. Fewer students mean less money coming into the university, which can strain budgets across the board, including libraries. Staff shortages, which can be related to budget, concerned 53.9 percent of respondents, and 41.1 percent worried about funding cuts.



Colleges and universities were already grappling with the intricacies and infrastructure of remote learning before COVID-19, and the drastic and sudden increase in online education escalated the challenge. More than 60 percent of libraries said they are likely to implement changes needed to support the increase in remote students, with 27.2 percent very likely to do so. Only 8.6 percent said they were very unlikely to implement changes.

As for what those changes are, libraries reported increased access to and acquisition of electronic resources; bandwidth for remote access; increase in chat service hours and staff; continuing to provide online events and creating video to replace in-person library instruction; and fewer physical books, more ebooks, and Open Educational Resources (OERs).

When libraries were asked what they would do if they suddenly received a magical 25 percent increase in their budget, the top dreamed-of line items included electronic resources (64.7 percent), additional staff (43.7 percent), and digitization initiatives (41.8 percent). The electronic and digital wish list items reflect a growing awareness that remote learning is here to stay—if not for all students, then for a larger share than pre-pandemic.

OERs are becoming an important part of the academic library world. More than half (55.7 percent) make OER content available through their libraries, and 40.6 percent support developing OER content in their facilities.



When asked if they expect to reduce cataloging budgets in the next 12 months, 41.1 percent said it was likely, while 42.7 percent said it was unlikely.

A related question concerned library linked data (LLD) standards in development to reduce redundant cataloging efforts and help libraries increase resource visibility more effectively. One-third (33.6 percent) are interested in linked data cataloging, and another 22.2 percent said they were possibly interested. Nearly one-third (31.1 percent) responded that they don’t know, which could reflect lack of familiarity with the technology.

A full 54.2 percent of libraries were already actively working on plans to shift to linked data cataloging, they reported, with 8 percent planning to begin soon, and 9.1 percent and 12.4 percent responding that they were already doing most or some cataloging using linked data, respectively. Nearly half (45.8 percent) either have no plans to start or are not sure. When asked why they don’t plan to shift to linked data, 41.4 percent said they need better tools and more knowledge, while 36.1 percent report limited capacity, both of which could reflect budgetary constraints. Only 10.7 percent said they saw no value in the process.



Making collections of one library available to the users of another has expanded from its origins in interlibrary loans (ILL) to sharing technical capabilities, staff skills and knowledge, discovery tools, collection management, and other resources. When it comes to sharing course materials, nearly half (47.5 percent) said they would consider it, with 29.8 percent saying maybe. This may be rooted in course materials that are highly customized for certain faculty or classes, making it difficult to share.

Challenges related to ILL include high costs related to borrowing, cited by 32.1 percent; 31.7 percent noted turnaround time for requests as problematic, and more than a quarter of respondents (28 percent and 25.4 percent respectively) pointed to the administrative effort needed to fulfill incoming ILL borrowing and lending requests as concerns.

E-resources have also changed the game. “People are more comfortable with ebooks. Once they are fully accepted…they should be the default for ILL,” one respondent noted. “ILL offices are now seeing the vast benefits of ebooks and should, I hope, start negotiating lending rights. This will save hugely on shipping and radically decrease, of course, the delivery times.”



Affordable learning involves efforts to reduce costs for students, especially around textbooks and supplies, which are often not covered by financial aid grants and loans. This can take the form of OERs, but also might involve providing library resources such as physical or digital books, journals, textbooks, and other materials so students don’t have to buy them.

When asked who was leading such initiatives on their campus, the library was the leading organization, with 35 percent of respondents heading those efforts up, versus 30.1 percent of provosts’ offices or 22.4 percent of Student Affairs. Slightly less than 10 percent reported no affordable learning initiatives. Six out of 10 respondents noted that learning affordability is more important now than it was a year ago, and 29.5 percent strongly agreed with that statement.

“OERs will be the main driver, along with OA, although I’m not at all sure how much those will ease the student burden in the end,” wrote one respondent. “The core issue goes well beyond what library support can do, and it requires deeper involvement at the organizational level. But I don’t see any real commitment there at the moment, just occasional small amounts of discrete funding and vague assurances that it’s being taken seriously.”

Not surprisingly, 81.3 percent of respondents support faculty research by providing access to scholarly sources. It was the leading form of support by a large margin, with the next closest category being providing access to varied nonscholarly content sources (55.7 percent) and providing citation management software (47.7 percent).

While individual areas of concern may have been exacerbated by the pandemic—staffing shortages following budget cuts will be an ongoing hurdle; “The wave of retirements and the lack of raises last year, and the ‘do more with less’ mentality that libraries have been working with for decades, are eroding our workforce,” as one respondent noted—for the most part academic libraries are weathering the strain, with eyes on the horizon toward more electronic resources, cost reduction methods, and cataloging support. Long term, many respondents predict a cultural shift toward affordable and accessible learning materials as the norm.

The survey report is available for download here.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing