The intention of this publication is to present the current status of services provided by university libraries. We have striven to explore the way in which academic libraries are adapting their traditional services and adding new ones in order to adapt to the demands of the new model of society, the Knowledge Society, and the new environment in higher education marked by globalisation and competitiveness.
The first few chapters shed light on academic institutions and describe the unstoppable trend towards reinforcing higher education’s commitment to assessment and quality in the quest for excellence in teaching and research. As a key part of the institution, the university library is one of the prime indicators for measuring the quality of the institution. Its assessment is, in turn, linked to user satisfaction and therefore directly related to the quality of the services provided.
Users and their needs are the engines of change in the library’s role and in academic information services. The challenge of the new teaching-learning paradigm espoused by the European Higher Education Area and the challenges posed by e-science are asking that library services not only support but also truly foster learning and research. The very concept of academic library, already thrown into upheaval by the digital revolution, is taking on a new guise as the learning and research resource centre, designed so that end users receive the highest quality service.
We have grouped three crucial services under the heading of The Challenge of Enhancing Traditional Services: catalogues, reference services and marketing. The changes in the access and information retrieval today, dominated by intuitive interfaces and powerful search engines, pose a major challenge for OPACs, a challenge that requires us to adjust the design of the system to users’ real behaviour, study their interoperability with the library’s other electronic collections and reflect on their possible inclusion in web-based engines and projects immersed in the semantic web.
In turn, the information desk and reference collection have joined the developments in virtual reference services, which use tools like instant messaging, chats and specific programmes wholly designed for this purpose to ensure the efficacy and user-friendliness of the service. There is no question that innovative, creative initiatives must become allied through the use of marketing techniques and strategies in order to make the library service more effective and boost its clientele. We can witness an increasingly positive attitude and greater involvement among professionals in performing the jobs related to promotion and dissemination of the services provided.
The last chapter addresses services that we regard as essential within today’s academic library. This includes strategies like institutional repositories, which contribute to the institution’s visibility and public value by promoting the dissemination of the results of its activities and contributing to the reform of the scientific communication system; and in-house digital collections, which foster access to the institution’s collections, often of incalculable historical value, with the library helping to disseminate and preserve them.
Equally important is the role that the library should play to ensure that users acquire competences and skills related to the access, use and evaluation of information. Information Literacy is now a service that goes beyond traditional patron training, a new challenge for librarians and for the library as a learning centre. Finally, the inclusion of social technologies and Web 2.0 services provides us with a unique chance to reach a wider audience, get users to participate as creators of contents and develop services with an added value.
Despite any oversights and shortcomings, we hope that this publication will be useful for readers interested in reflecting on the role of university libraries and the challenges, strategies and future perspectives that serve to reinforce the services provided for users, and in maintaining the library’s leadership in the provision of information.