How many ways can I explain this to you?
March 1, 2012 6:09 PM   Subscribe

What is the purpose of an academic library?

I am looking for some good, succinct, and positive sentences on the purpose of an academic library. It is not my homework :/ I am trying to convey to a rather old, rather obtuse administrator what the purpose of an academic library is. Please share with me what you think.

As I said, I need a succinct and positive explanation.
posted by wandering_not_lost to Education (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
As a repository of essential information.
posted by wilful at 6:16 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Libraries provide the resources scholars need to develop ideas into research. (This, in turn, leads to grant money and recognition for the institution, if he or she wants to be mercenary about it.)
posted by synecdoche at 6:28 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the case of the library that I work in, it's primarily to:

1. Provide access (buy books and catalog them so they can be found, purchase and manage 120+ database subscriptions and related discovery and link resolution tools) to research materials that students need to complete their assignments.

2. Insure, in an ongoing way (through statistics collection and conversations with faculty and administrators) that these materials support the curriculum.

3. Assist students and faculty members in finding the information they need in the gigantic and ever-growing pool of information resources that are available to them (this involves both 1-on-1 reference transactions, and teaching both one-shot and multi-week research skills classes.)

4. Place materials on physical and electronic reserve that are not available via our database subscriptions, and deal with related licensing and payments to protect the university legally.

There's more, but these are the bare-bones essentials.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:29 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I pulled math conference proceedings from the 1930's that I needed to cite, which as best I can tell do not exists electronically. I pull needed, expensive books on a regular basis.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:48 PM on March 1, 2012

Provide far more resources than any one person could every afford to the whole campus, by spreading both the usage and cost of all those resources across the campus (e.g. give me access to the many many journals/books/etc that I just want to read one or two things out of without having me may out of pocket for each journal/book/etc.)
posted by lab.beetle at 7:11 PM on March 1, 2012

Libraries are more than warehouses of books. They serve an important function as a space devoted to quiet and study, especially in academic institutions.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 8:16 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

In my academic library (librarian here, head of library IT), our purpose is:

To provide information and instruction in support of the curriculum of the University.
posted by griffey at 8:54 PM on March 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Libraries provide access to subject-area specific resources, and also often house historically interesting archives
posted by spunweb at 9:58 PM on March 1, 2012

Pretty much what griffey says. How individual libraries perform that function may vary - the library I work in now is much more focused on access to learning tools, while my previous was more research focused and had a vast, focused collection on a few subjects.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:50 AM on March 2, 2012

Rephrasing what others have said from another angle:

Libraries are repositories of information that people don't know.

On a more philosophical bent extrapolating on this point, here is Nassim Taleb:
“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and non dull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with ‘Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?’ and the others – a very small minority – who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 2:52 AM on March 2, 2012 [15 favorites]

Search for "ROLE AND MISSION OF ACADEMIC LIBRARIES: PRESENT AND FUTURE Paula Kaufman University Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign" that does a pretty darn good job.
posted by Blake at 3:55 AM on March 2, 2012

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