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In our Life Sciences Division SWOT discussion, we found that many of the topics we raised affect all sectors of the library, not just our division. Major trends such as the differing expectations of Millennials impact all of us, and can’t be excluded from a discussion of life sciences disciplinary needs. In this analysis, the emphasis will be on division-specific strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats but the other, broader topics will also be covered.
The one topic that came up repeatedly in our discussion was the effect that the increasing number of life sciences-related initiatives is having on our biomedical collection. These programs and initiatives include nanobiotechnology, bioengineering, aging, genomics, translational research (the “the process of applying ideas, insights and discoveries generated through basic scientific inquiry to the treatment or prevention of human disease” according to the NIH), and much more. Since we do not have a full medical program at UIUC our biomedical literature has always been inadequate for our patrons’ needs and the broader focus on life science initiatives has only made this more acute. This is both a weakness and an opportunity for us, since we have new mechanisms for making up for historical inadequacies via the purchase of electronic backfiles.
We identified our strong collections, both print and electronic, as first among our strengths, along with knowledgeable subject specialists who are close to the departments they serve. Some particular strengths of LSD are our support for interdisciplinary research (exemplified by our librarian-without-walls serving biotechnology) and our willingness to meet with and cooperate with our physical sciences colleagues. Our libraries in general are in good physical shape, and new libraries such as ACES and Natural History Survey are pleasant places for patrons to visit and study in.
Library wide strengths include the collection as a whole, of course, and the library’s decentralized structure. We also receive good support from the campus administration, and have a strong commitment to providing service to our patrons and to the preservation of our collections. The technological knowledge among library staff and faculty (particularly in Grainger and the Systems Office) is also a strength.
While our collections overall are excellent, we still have a major shortage of biomedical literature, which continually grows in importance as the campus initiates more life science related interdisciplinary research areas that need the literature that we don’t have. The continual cancellation of existing journal subscriptions further weakens us, along with the complications caused by contractual obligations with the various publisher Big Deals. We also have some duplication of subjects among our libraries, although the duplication of serials is now minimal. This is further complicated by our geographical spread, from Biology in the north to Vet Med and the Natural History Survey in the south. While our libraries are in decent shape, most of them were not designed for the modern technological age and need upgrading (outlets, wi-fi, and so on). There is also a lack of trickle-down knowledge about technological progress made in other units such as Grainger. Many of the electronic services developed there could be useful in other situations.
Library wide weaknesses include a need to cooperate better with other libraries such as the CIC and UIC. In particular, expanded cooperation with UIC and its medical school could be a great benefit for us. We need to address the outdated, incomplete, and incorrect metadata that describe our print and electronic collections—in the OPAC and the ORR. We are lagging in digitization efforts, and are too large and bureaucratic to be able to move quickly into new technologies and initiatives. There is also an over-reliance on GAs and students to provide services; we are understaffed and cyclical needs in particular stress us.
The new biomedically-oriented campus initiatives are both a threat and an opportunity; we are fortunate that the many new journal backfile packages allow us to address historical weaknesses in our biomedical collection in a way that we could not imagine a few years ago.
In general, we thought that the fact that the library is in the local and campus news provided many opportunities to strengthen our presence on campus. The possibility of getting involved in the proposed campus learning centers and getting the library integrated into educational technologies were also positives, as well as the many entrepreneurial and grant-receiving opportunities that we are beginning to identify.
Our biggest immediate threats revolve around the pressures that unfunded mandates (new programs with no new library funding) and the continuing journal price increases and restrictive publisher licensing policies place on our life sciences collections.
More generally, we spoke at length about the changes in our user expectations, the increasing threat from commercial competitors such as Google in providing information that bypass the library system, and the rapid change in technologies and their expense. The state and federal budget woes are also a real threat since there is little chance of improvement in that area. The combination of budget problems and rapid change in technologies creates a real danger of staff and faculty burnout.
A number of things came up as both positive and negatives: our decentralized nature, our faculty status, our collection, our staff, the increasing number of initiatives utilizing our collections, our reliance on GAs, and so on.