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Focus on Australian libraries

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Academic libraries

Academic libraries in Australia face much the same challenges as their counterparts in other developed countries.

According to a cross-study of British and Australian second tier managers in university libraries (Walton et al., 2009), the challenges and pressures are much the same in both places – more restricted funding, more e-resources, meeting the needs of the post-Google generation, using social software and funnelling library information out to where the student is in their own space.

Walton et al. maintain that Australian academic libraries have a stronger alliance with the corporate rather than the higher education environment, reflected in the more frequent use of the term "manager" and, presumably, in more business-like practices.

Another librarian, from a university supporting a large rural community, also talks about the need to manage user expectations, justifying vital research resources with relatively low usage in an environment dependent on return on investment as a measure, the increasing cost of resources without a corresponding increase in funding, and the need to provide an equitable service to all clients whether they are on campus or in distance education, in Australia or off-shore.

Supporting research

Australia has a strong research culture, similar to the UK in that it is subject to national measurement systems linked to funding – (ERA) has just superseded the Research Quality Framework. It also has a strong infrastructure for e-research, and its 2008 stimulus package included a strong boost ($2.7 billion) for research and tertiary education.

And, academic libraries have been strongly involved in supporting e-research, according to Jennifer Thomas of Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

QUT is attempting to lead in the development and delivery of e-research support services, and the Building eResearch Support Capabilities project drew on existing strengths, including the university's support for open access, and the considerable skill of its liaison and research librarians, to develop data management systems and procedures, and a greater understanding of the support needs of researchers (Thomas, 2011, p. 41ff).

One result was the creation by the library of a workforce plan to reflect the e-research agenda, including data and research support librarians.

Currently, there are two librarians in post to support research: a research support librarian, and an e-research access coordinator – see – who together support all aspects of research, from the management of data to uploading to a repository and advice on where to publish.

Assisting researchers will become increasingly important with the advent of ERA. Repositories (of which there are currently 63 in Australia) will become a means of providing access to ERA representatives, and library staff will have an important role in archiving research outputs.

On the other hand, ERA may, according to Alison Slocombe at Southern Cross University, mitigate against librarians' role in promoting open access, in its insistence that researchers publish in "high status" journals.

Electronic publications

As elsewhere, e-resources predominate, and there is increased use of e-books. At Southern Cross University, for example, 90 per cent of journal titles, and just over 20 per cent of monographs, are available online.

Southern Cross University Library likes e-books (it only acquires multiple licences) because it promotes equity of access to all users, including distance learners. It is investigating, on behalf of the university, models of providing e-textbooks, and experimenting with patron-driven acquisition, as usage statistics show better uptake of these than ones acquired by librarians.

Information literacy

One of the most important roles of academic librarians anywhere is helping students to be information literate in their chosen field, and Australia is no exception.

Libraries follow the best practice guidelines set out by CAUL – , as well as the ones in the .

Both these documents emphasize the importance of developing information literacy in collaboration with academic staff and embedding it within the curriculum, as opposed to stand-alone library sessions.

Most university libraries have subject or liaison librarians, whose role is to engage with the relevant group of academic staff.

Glance through the pages of academic library sites, and you will come across online subject guides and tutorials. Many universities, according to Ruth Quinn, director of library services at Charles Darwin University (CDU), concentrate their efforts on online delivery, due to the large number of distance or external students, providing face-to-face delivery according to student demand.

CDU's LibGuides have proved very popular with students, while Southern Cross University has online tutorials in the form of LibraryTV, and Assignment Navigator, both of which make use of video.

Serving dispersed communities

Australia's geography makes it important for libraries to reach those who cannot access the library in person, and a recurrent theme throughout this section has been the desire to help distance students.

Southern Cross University in New South Wales serves a large rural community, many of whom prefer to study by distance. These are the measures the university takes, according to librarian Alison Slocombe, to meet their requirements:

  • Provision of online resources, interlibrary loans, and a distance learning service (including posting books and photocopies articles and book sections).
  • E-mail, chat and a toll-free phone reference service.
  • Using social media (Twitter and Facebook) to push out messages about library services and resources, as well as having a presence in the University's Blackboard course management system.
  • Online tutorials, as described above.
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