Book Review: The Academic Library
This is a terrific book which does exactly what it says on the cover: 'This authoritative and wide-ranging textbook provides a comprehensive overview of the changing functions of academic libraries and the organizational cultures in which they operate.' I would have really appreciated this book had it been available to me when I was doing my MA Librarianship course. It would also have helped when I started my first professional post and was initially puzzled by all the acronyms and repeated references to Ranganathan. Of course we didn't have Google back then, so I couldn't just look things up in seconds. But even with Google, I would still have found this book useful because it picks out and summarises the key points, providing a starting point for further exploration. I think it could also be informative for pre-job interview reading and I would strongly recommend that anyone coming to a job interview where I am going to be on the panel reads this book first! That way, you will be able to answer my questions about the wider context.
But this is not just a book for those at the start of their careers. Those from an administrative, IT or special collections background who are moving into a broader management role which includes responsibility for the library would also find it a succinct primer. And I have already concluded that the book is a worthy addition to my bookshelf which gets pulled off the bookshelf and dipped into fairly frequently. For example, I was recently invited to give a presentation about staffing structures and the summary of general trends in how staffing structures have changed (pp100-101) formed the basis for two of my slides. So if you need a starting point before writing a policy document or presentation, this book may be able to help.
Each chapter provides an excellent summary of a particular aspect of academic libraries, with the strands of each chapter being pulled together in a 'conclusion' section. If you want more than just a summary there is a short list of relevant 'further reading' at the end of each chapter. I think that the book benefits from having a single author who has applied a logical structure using cross references between related material in different chapters. Some books which have different chapters by different authors are not as coherent. The tone here is neutral but lively and the language is accessible, with any technical terms being translated into plain English. The acronym list at the back of the book hasn't got every single acronym we use in this profession (that would take an entire book in itself) but it contains most of the useful and heavily-used acronyms.
The first three chapters which provide a contextual overview, covering the Higher Education context, the history of HE libraries and the role of the library within the institution. These chapters cover an amazing amount of background information in a concise way. The impact on the sector of Dearing and Follett and other major developments are clearly explained, saving the reader from having to wade through lots of weighty reports in order to pick out the main points.
Then there are chapters on users, the impact of IT, staffing, budgetary management, collection management, buildings, systems, services, management, performance measurement, and professional issues before a final chapter on the academic library of the future.
The book has been substantially updated since the first edition, which was published four years ago. The new chapter on performance measurement reflects the increasing importance of demonstrating the value of the library. Given that things are changing fast it might be worth Facet Publishing creating a companion Web site for the book. This could include links to the 'further reading' material which is available online, together with a brief 'update' page for each of the chapters. I know that this would take some time and effort to maintain but it would help tide readers over for the next four years, or however long it is until the next edition.