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Notes from Executive Director Scott Garrison – March 2022

This month, I’ll use this space as a call to participate in an upcoming online discussion about how data are impacting – and have the potential to impact – academic libraries in terms of budget, collections, spaces, serving users, and more during the COVID era. The discussion will include college and university libraries (community colleges as well as public and private four-year institutions) in Indiana and Michigan, and some Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) leaders.

There has been a lot of news since early 2020 about how COVID has impacted libraries, including in some recent reports on academic libraries from Library Journal, Primary Research Group, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. At MCLS, we know that academic library budget cuts that began for many before the pandemic accelerated during and after the 2020 fiscal year.

In a recent conversation with Matthew Shaw (Dean of University Libraries, Ball State University), Josh Petrusa (Interim Director, Butler University Libraries), and others, some interesting questions emerged about data and libraries during the time of COVID. My thanks to Matthew and Josh for surfacing the following questions, which serve as a starting point for discussion. Have other questions on your mind? Please send them to me at

  1. How will anomalous COVID-19 data impact:
    •  allocation of resources for library collections?
      • What is the correct ratio of e- and print collecting?
      • How do hybrid pedagogies affect this thinking?
      • How will academic libraries use assessment to determine approaches to the materials budget?
      • Will COVID data potentially be used by institutions to justify reductions to library budgets?
      • How will an institution looking for all possible cost savings respond if their library reports higher journal cost-per-use for expensive titles?
      • How might the COVID moment prompt small and medium-sized institutions to embrace open access (OA) more fully?
    • assessment of library spaces and uses (see e.g., Primary Research Group’s February 2022 report)?
      • What do students need now from library study spaces vs. other spaces they use, compared to pre-COVID (e.g., more private/semi-private areas than before)?
    • allocation of resources to support brick and mortar projects in libraries? More broadly:
      • What do academic libraries need to look like?
      • How do academic library space planners ‘future-proof’ design to create the kind of flexibility that will support operational response for the next pandemic?
    • unit reviews, especially data provided to accreditors?
      • Usually, a unit review requires a five-year look back at key metrics – how will all of those will be skewed because of COVID?
    • assessment strategies and ways of representing library value in a rapidly-evolving environment?
      • What are other data that demonstrate ways of bringing value not previously measured with traditional usage metrics?
      • Legacy metrics like gate count and circulation were already not successfully representing the value of libraries to learning outcomes and applied student success. How can library organizations (ACRL, ALA, etc.) help academic libraries reframe assessment in this context?
      • What tools can we use to track trends across similar library types to contextualize local data and help stakeholders understand the impact of COVID?
      • How do we quantify the work libraries did to help universities flip teaching and research during 2020-2021?
      • How are libraries navigating which COVID-era support duties will be permanent, based on evolving faculty behaviors and expectations?
  • 2. How can academic libraries demonstrate how they are measuring new services and platforms now? How can they demonstrate how they are investing time and resources in innovation and experimentation toward recreating meaning, at a time when flexibility and telling new stories with data are ever more critical?

Which of these questions resonate most with you? What other questions might you have about how data are impacting, and will impact, academic libraries in the COVID era? Again, share your thoughts with me at

Please watch our website and the relevant electronic mailing lists for more details about an online discussion being planned. We hope you’ll participate and share your thoughts on these and other questions.