Transforming research library services

The Association of Research Libraries has published the latest report in its Transforming Research Libraries series.

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New use of space

Libraries are redesigning and reimagining physical spaces to meet new user requirements.  Key trends influencing space include the increased importance of collaborative and interdisciplinary research and the growth of the 'research commons' or 'scholarly commons' movement.  The report cites examples in the UK (Universities of Exeter and Warwick) as well as South Africa and the US. 

The library also has the opportunity to overcome student 'isolation' by providing community building opportunities and facilitating informal contact between student groups.  Initiatives cited in the report include the University of Guelph which is building a department-neutral 'collaboratory' to help build a community around digital research. 


Libraries are leveraging their partnerships with academic and administrative units across campus to enhance the quality and efficacy of graduate-focused services and spaces.  This includes developing and maintaining links with international student services, student resource centres and writing centres.  Examples of library initiatives gathered in the report include:

  • Co-teaching
  • Embedding librarians in learning programmes
  • Co-hosting workshops and conferences
  • Partnering in deploying new campus wide technologies
  • Providing consultation in, for example, scholarly communication
  • Developing student advisory boards

New organisational structures

Libraries are re-examining organisational structures in order to meet the changing demands of graduate student education. They are almost always doing so without increased budget or headcount.  Examples cited in the report include the appointment of Graduate Student Librarians and the redefinition of the role of subject specialist librarians in response to the growth of multidisciplinary courses. 

Many interviewees recommended flexibility, experimentation and the value of piloting new structures and initiatives. 


Research libraries are evolving their services and spaces to reflect changes at an institutional level and the increasing demands of students for high-value educational outcomes.  The report calls for more research to demonstrate the impact of library services on both student academic success and wellbeing.  It also highlights the value of libraries sharing their experiences and initiatives with each other.

The full report is available on the ARL website.

Photo courtesy of University of the Fraser Valley via Flickr. 

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