Saturday, 22 July 2017

Essay: an overview of research into library use and student outcomes


In the challenging and constantly changing environment of higher education, academic libraries are increasingly being tasked with demonstrating the value they provide to the university and its wider stakeholders. In the past, the assessment of library value was measured by inputs and outputs, which are mostly concerned with internal library processes and outcomes; however, to better align with institutional mission and goals, academic libraries are being forced to look outward and must now articulate and provide evidence of their value outside of the library. Therefore, it is no longer reasonable for academic libraries to take their role for granted as “the heart of the university” (Stemmer and Mahan, 359). This shift in the assessment of library value has necessarily also lead to a shift in the research, which has presented opportunity for impact studies to examine the relationship between use of library resources and student outcomes.
Impact studies can be described as ‘analyses that [seek to] demonstrate an alignment of library activity with the mission of the institution’ (Revill in Allison, 2015, p.31). The purpose of this research is to provide an overview of the current state of the literature on one aspect of library activity – that is, library use. In this way, this paper seeks to describe the current state of research into the relationship between use of library resources and student outcomes. This paper also sets out the current research agenda for library assessment and provides an overview of opportunities and future steps for professional development, so that librarians have the core competencies to better document and communicate to stakeholders the impact the library has on student outcomes.
As the main focus is on library use, research that looks at factors such as library expenditure, collection development and staffing is out of scope for the purpose of this paper. Furthermore, studies that look at library impact on teaching effectiveness, the research environment and overall institutional quality and assessment is also out of scope. As this review is concerned with student outcomes at higher education institutions, only research into use of resources at academic libraries has been considered; however, it should be noted that academic librarians can also learn from their counterparts in other types of libraries. A variety of publication types were sourced including articles, conference papers, case studies, reports and websites, which cover the experience of academic libraries in international and Australian contexts. The material reviewed surveys the various methodologies being employed in the research, such as surveys, focus groups, data from library and institution systems, and other measures which compare library usage with evaluations of student success.

The many-faceted meanings of use

At the outset it’s important to understand what is meant by use in the context of use of library resources. Fleming-May (2011) has conducted interesting research into understanding the various discursive meanings and construction of the use concept in the professional and scholarly journal literature. Whilst use is deployed in the literature as a concept with a seemingly universal meaning, in practice there is no agreement on what a use is and the concept of library use as presented in the LIS literature has ‘several separate and appreciably different facets, or meanings’ (Butkovich, 1996; Fleming-May, 2011. p.306). To clarify and illuminate its polysemic meanings and construct a typology, Fleming-May (2011, p. 301) applies Beth L. Rodgers’s Evolutionary Concept Analysis (ECA), which is ‘an approach that considers the ways in which a concept is applied within a given context in order to identify its attributes within that context.’ ECA has similar epistemological foundations to Foucauldian discourse analysis, which is a methodology commonly applied in the social sciences (Fleming-May, 2011).
In the analysis of the literature, Fleming-May (2011) suggests that library use can be organised into four categories:
use of the library as an abstraction, or general idea; use of the library as an implement, or tool; use of the library as a transaction or occurring within a discrete instance; and use of the library as a complex process (p. 306).
For the purposes of this paper we will only be concerned with use of the library as a transaction or instance. Use as an instance refers to the ‘transactional instances of the library or information that can be recorded and quantified’; for example, circulation, interlibrary loan requests, database usage, gate counts, reference questions answered, etc. Whilst this approach provides quantitative data on the transactional use of the library’s resources it doesn’t provide any qualitative examination of the user’s motivation in choosing to access those resources (Fleming-May, 2011). When discussing the transactional instances of electronic resources there are a number of challenges, so any discussion of usage of electronic resources should consider the differences in the way vendors generate reports as well as the inconsistencies in defining transactional instances such as clicking on or downloading material – both which are frequently referred to as “usage” or “use” (Fleming-May, 2011).
Directly relevant to this review, Fleming-May (2011) also notes how interest in better understanding library use has intensified in recent times ‘due to changing opinion about appropriate methods for measuring library effectiveness.’ There has been a shift away from the traditional quantifiable measures of inputs and outputs (for example, through counting transaction uses) to more qualitative approaches such as outcomes-based assessment. This is being driven at the institutional level, and as academic libraries are increasingly being tasked with demonstrating the value they provide to the university and its wider stakeholders, ‘measuring inputs and outputs has become an increasingly inadequate method of demonstrating the ways in which libraries contribute to their communities’ (Fleming-May, 2011. p. 300).

The higher education landscape

A review of the literature quickly shows that academic libraries are increasingly being faced with the challenge of proving their value to the institution and its stakeholders. Oakleaf (2010, p.7) cites how higher education providers have had to adopt corporate values and practices, which have caused an ‘internal paradox between assessment to improve academic programs and assessment for external audiences designed to answer calls for accountability from policy makers and the public.’ Driven by increasing demands for accountability, colleges and universities are under pressure from their stakeholders to prove value ‘in terms of student outcomes such as persistence, graduation, and employment, as well as student learning outcomes (Matthews, 2012; Saunders, 2015, p. 285).
This change in the higher education landscape has also disrupted the symbolic and seemingly protected status of academic libraries as the “heart of the university” (Oakleaf, 2010; Allison, 2015; Stemmer and Mahan, 2016). In the same way that higher education institutions are required to demonstrate evidence they are achieving their goals, academic libraries must also prove their value. Academic libraries can ‘no longer rely on their stakeholders’ belief in their importance’ and must now ‘demonstrate their value’. Therefore, ‘[l]ibrarians are increasingly called upon to document and articulate the value of academic and research libraries and their contribution to institutional mission and goals’ (Oakleaf, 2010, p.4). So, academic libraries must now ask the ultimate question: “How does the library advance the missions of the institution?” (Oakleaf, 2010, p.11).

The quest for data and its challenges

In light of these changes in the landscape, library leadership has had to find data that demonstrate the value of the library in institutional terms (Stemmer and Mahan, 2016). At the 2010 Library Assessment Conference, the keynote speaker suggested to the audience that:
In this digital age you are in possession of a valuable resource, library transactions data for your student, staff and faculty patrons. That data can be used to evaluate the impact of library services and resources on outcomes of value to the university (Shulenburger, 2010, p. 4).
And as Oakleaf (2010) notes,
until libraries know that student #5 with major A has downloaded B number of articles from database C, checked out D number of books, participated in E workshops and online tutorials, and completed courses F, G, and H, libraries cannot correlate any of those student information behaviours with attainment of other outcomes. Until librarians do that, they will be blocked in many of their efforts to demonstrate value (p. 96).
With this aim in mind, Matthews (2012, p.257) suggests that it would be useful to build a data warehouse that could pull together a large array of data across various systems and silos of the institution, and from this central data repository, ‘the library would be able to prepare a wide variety of data analysis and correlations to help determine the value of library resources’. In some cases, rather than the library developing its own data warehouse, a campus data repository may already exist, so libraries should discover what other resources are available and work in partnerships with other campus departments (Matthews, 2012). To get around the issues of privacy, Oakleaf (2010) recommends that data systems should strip out individual identifiers in information records to protect the privacy of individuals.

Value and impact of academic libraries

In 2010, to understand and meet these new challenges, the Association of College and Research Libraries commissioned the report, Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report. The report provides a thorough review into the current state of the literature on the value of academic libraries within an institutional context and sets out a research agenda that has sparked new research in impact studies, which is assisting academic libraries better articulate their value in institutional terms to their stakeholders (Oakleaf, 2010. p. 25; Stemmer and Mahan, 2016). Based on the literature, the report also presents recommendations for how academic libraries should demonstrate value, identifies potential surrogates for library value, and suggests possible areas of correlation for the collection of library data (Oakleaf, 2010). It should be noted that the report does not provide an overview of methods for assessing library value within a library context. However, this review does provide an overview of various methodologies in the section below. The importance of the report can be seen in the frequency it is cited in the literature, and by virtue of its reference in the leading statement on “Value and Impact of University Libraries” on the website of the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL).

Implications for professional development

The report also suggests that ACRL create a professional development program to build the profession’s capacity to ‘document, demonstrate, and communicate library value in alignment with institutional goals’ (Brown and Malenfant, 2012, p. 4). Based on this recommendation ACRL in partnership with other professional organisations convened two summits under the auspices of the “Building Capacity for Demonstrating the Value of Academic Libraries” project. An outcome of the summits was a report titled, Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summit (Brown and Malenfant, 2012). The report also provided a number of important recommendations of which some are set out below.
Recommendation 1: Increase librarians’ understanding of library value and impact in relation to various dimensions of student learning and success.
The report recommends that assessment of student learning should take into consideration a number of factors including demographics, learning styles, educational goals, motivations and instructional format using a variety of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, such as surveys, testing, comparative data, interviews, etc. Based on this recommendation, the report suggests a number of actions for the library profession, which include developing a research agenda that considers the key questions raised in Oakleaf’s (2010) report; investigating how the library can increase library impact; and identifying common data sources available at the institution that can be combined with library data to document student learning and success (Brown and Malenfant, 2013, p. 12).
Recommendation 2: Articulate and promote the importance of assessment competencies necessary for documenting and communicating library impact on student learning and success.
As well as identifying a need for skills in incorporating outcomes into library planning and evaluation, and leadership in being able to lead conversation about assessment, the report highlights a need for data competencies so that librarian can apply ‘knowledge of assessment data, including the different roles of quantitative and qualitative data, sources of data, and the analysis and interpretation of data’ (Brown and Malenfant, 2013, p. 12). This is echoed by Matthews (2012, p. 257), who says that ‘being a good “data jockey” will increasingly become a real marketable skill for librarians.’
Oakleaf (2010, p. 29) points out the positive opportunities for the profession noting that ‘the current higher education environment offers librarians an opportunity to accelerate change.’ Taking this as a great opportunity to update their roles, ‘librarians can reconceptualise their expertise, skills, and roles in the context of institutional mission, not traditional library functions alone.’ Therefore, professional development of current and future librarians is necessary so that librarians can better articulate – in institutional terms – the impact and value the library has in contributing to the institutional mission.

The research agenda in practice

Having understood the factors driving the need for academic libraries to demonstrate their value in institutional terms to stakeholders, and the research agenda at large, we can now look at specific examples of research into the use of library resources and student outcomes. The following research has been reviewed in context to the preceding discussion. Whilst the demand for research into the value of academic libraries that is articulated in institutional terms is relatively recent, studies of the impact of academic libraries on student outcomes can be traced further back. The need for research in this area was first articulated by Lane in 1966. In his seminal paper, “Assessing the Undergraduates’ Use of the University Library, he recognised that assessing the library in terms of physical facilities, collections and its budget, was not a sufficient ‘measure of the library’s effectiveness as an instrument of education’ (Lane, 1966. p. 277). He argued that, ‘such measures can be obtained only by assessing the extent to which students use the library and the extent to which use relates to academic growth’ (Lane, 1966. p.277). Lane also acknowledged some of the difficulties in conducting this type of research noting issues that continue to plague researchers and the methodologies employed to the present day. In particular, he notes how these types of assessment are time-consuming, expensive and difficult to achieve with complete objectivity (Lane, 1966. p. 277). However, he does note that these types of studies can produce worthwhile results for the library’s stakeholders by providing ‘information useful to administrators, students and faculty’ (Lane, 1966. p. 277).
A few years later, Kramer and Kramer (1968) published a study that investigated the connection between library use, retention and GPA scores among college freshmen at California State Polytechnic College in the United States. Library use was measured by looking at library loan records, which indicated how many books were checked out; and data that showed factors such as name, sex, major, return or non-return to school in fall 1964, and grade point average (GPA) were obtained outside the library from the registrar’s office (Kramer and Kramer, 1968). The study found that students who borrowed no books during the period achieved a lower GPA than students who used the library. Data also showed a strong indication that students who resided on-campus had a higher correlation with persistence or retention. According to Kramer and Kramer (1968, p. 312), their research appeared to show ‘a strong and statistically significant correlation between library use and student persistence.’ Based on the findings that a high proportion of students did not borrow any library books during the research period, they suggest that counseling and orientation could be productive in improving academic success and persistence (Kramer and Kramer, 1968).
Almost two decades later, Hiscock (1986) directly posed the question: “Does library usage affect academic performance?” At the time Hiscock (1986, p.207) acknowledged the lack of interest in the library by the institution, noting ‘a degree of ignorance of what really happens in libraries and an absence of research to investigate the relationship between usage of libraries and academic performance.’ The aim of Hiscock’s (1986) research was to examine whether library use affected the academic outcomes of the students surveyed in the study. Similar to Kramer and Kramer (1968), Hiscock (1986) wanted to understand whether students who used libraries performed better academically than students who did not.
Data was gathered through a survey of 196 students across selected first and second year undergraduate courses at the Underdale campus of the South Australian College of Advanced Education in Australia. The questionnaire asked questions about various types of library usage including: usage of library staff; the catalogue; resources such as encyclopaedias, indexes and abstracts; photocopying facilities; and use of the library as a place for private study (Hiscock, 1986, p. 208).
Looking at various information-seeking behaviour models the study sought to adopt an existing model ‘to aid in the construction of hypotheses to evaluate the effect of library usage on academic performance’ (Hiscock, 1986, p. 209). Hiscock (1986) arrived at nine hypotheses, which she tested using statistical methods and reported on the results for each hypothesis. Overall, the results were generally disappointing, however, she did identify two areas that were associated with positive academic performance: previous experience of using libraries and use of the library catalogue (Hiscock, 1986. p. 213).
In 1992, the search for methods for better understanding library impact on student outcomes continued with Powell’s study, “Impact Assessment of University Libraries: A Consideration of Issues and Research Methodologies.” Powell (1992, p. 249) notes that since the early 1970s, much of the interest in measuring the effectiveness of libraries has focused on performance and/or output measures, however, whilst valid measures, ‘librarians must somehow document that the use of library services and resources actually has a beneficial impact on the user.’ Powell (1992) identifies a number of problems in determining what needs to be measured and suggests that the nature of the use must first be determined. Similar to Fleming-May (2011), due to the wide variance in the literature in describing the categories of use, and reasons or purposes for library use, he identifies the difficulty of defining what is meant by use (Powell, 1992). Across the various methodologies reviewed, Powell (1992, p.253) suggests a number of methodologies that are capable for measuring impact assessment and ‘permit adequate testing of causal relationships without sacrificing too much external validity.’ In applying better methodologies, libraries will be able ‘to know how students’ use of libraries affect their academic performance’ (Powell, 1992, p.245).
Although the early studies are important and provide a foundation for understanding the emerging need for research in this area, Oakleaf’s (2010) report sets out the research agenda and provides a call to action, and in doing so, marks the start of a fervent period of growth in impact studies, which aim to assist academic libraries to better articulate their value in institutional terms to appropriate stakeholders. In 2010, around the time that Oakleaf was setting the research agenda, Haddow and Joseph published findings of their research into library use and student retention at Curtin University in Australia. The specific aims of the study were: ‘to explore if an association between library use and student retention is evident, and to investigate whether socio-economic status (SES) and age at entry are influencing factors in library use and retention’ (Haddow and Joseph, 2010, p. 234).
To achieve these aims, Haddow and Joseph (2010) analysed enrolment, demographic and library use data for students enrolled in Semester 1, 2010 at the university. Enrolment and demographic information was provided by the university’s student database and was used to identify students that were retained or had withdrawn by the end of Semester 1. Two spreadsheets were generated from the database and included data such as student ID number, postcode, address and mature age. Students that were retained or had withdrawn were identified using unique student ID numbers (Haddow and Joseph, 2010). The Library Management System provided library use data for commencing students measured at three points in the semester. Use data collected included: number of items borrowed (loans); number of logins to a library workstation (PC logins); and number of logins to the catalogue, databases, metasearch tool, and eReserve (other logins) (Haddow and Joseph, 2010). The researchers note that ethics approval was required to conduct the study with particular consideration ‘to ensure individual students were not identified or identifiable and the secure storage of data’ (Haddow and Joseph, 2010, p. 236).
Using SPSS, a statistical software programme, quantitative analyses were applied to the data. Haddow and Joseph (2010) found that regardless of whether students were retained or had withdrawn, a large proportion (64.6%) had not borrowed items from the library during the semester. In the case of library use, as indicated by PC logins or other logins, these showed higher levels of use during the semester, with 74.6% and 83.7%, respectively (Haddow and Joseph, 2010). When all three types of library use were analysed against retention it was found that ‘retained students showed higher levels of loans, PC logins, and other logins’ (Haddow and Joseph, 2010, p. 238). In terms of demographics, the study found little differences in library use in relation to loans and other logins. However, significant differences were found for PC logins for students from low to medium SES backgrounds; and surprisingly, students from the high SES group showed no or low use of library workstations (Haddow and Joseph, 2010, p. 239). When it came to mature age students, the results showed statistically significant differences in the number of loans between mature age students and those under 21 years, with mature age students borrowing books at higher rates than younger students (Haddow and Joseph, 2010, p. 239). Due to the apparent association between library use and student retention, Haddow and Joseph (2010, p. 240) suggest there are ‘implications for the planning of orientation and information literacy activities.’
Around the same time research was being conducted in Australia, Goodall and Pattern (2011) published a case study from research that was in progress at Huddersfield University in the North of England. Librarians at the university had identified ‘a historical correlation between library usage and degree classification’, which on a priori assumptions suggested that students who borrowed more books and accessed more electronic resources achieved better grades (Goodall and Pattern, 2011. p. 160). Preliminary research showed that some student groups were not using library facilities and resources as much as was expected (Goodall and Pattern, 2011). Three sets of data were collected on use of library resources: use of electronic resources, book loans, and visits to the library. These variables were then graphed, which showed ‘consistent amounts of no and low use at campus, academic school, degree-type and course level’ (Goodall and Pattern, 2011. p. 159). When these results were combined with data showing academic achievement it raised the question of whether there was a positive correlation between library use and student attainment.
This research opened up a new area of interest in impact studies, because at the time, whilst there had been previous studies that looked at linking grades and retention to use of library resources in investigating the impact of the library on student outcomes, engagement of non-users was relatively unchartered territory (Goodall and Pattern, 2011, p. 162). In drawing attention to the importance of understanding non/low use of the library, Goodall and Pattern (2011, p. 162) identified it as ‘a central issue for individual students concerned about their grades, for academic staff concerned about attainment, and for institutions concerned about retention.’ In this way, the researchers hoped that if they could understand the reasons behind non/low use then effective interventions could be developed and trialled, and strategies could be implemented that would improve ‘the grades of all students, from the bottom up, rather than just continuing to support those which are already high flyers’ (Goodall and Pattern, 2011, p. 160).
The findings of this research were presented at the 2010 UKSG Conference in Edinburgh, which attracted interest from other universities who were interested in benchmarking. However, at the time is was suggested that the data still had not been tested for statistical significance; therefore, it was unknown whether the findings at Huddersfield were due to the sample data used, rather than a true reflection that possibly existed across a wider population (Stone and Ramsden, 2013). Based on the initial research the project was expanded across eight universities in the United Kingdom. The Library Impact Data Project (LIDP) was a six-month project funded by Jisc to investigate the hypothesis that: “There is a statistically significant correlation across a number of universities between library activity data and student attainment” (Stone and Ramsden, 2013. p. 546). The LIDP looked at usage data of 33,074 undergraduate students across the participating universities with e-resources usage, borrowing statistics and gate counts measured against final degree award. By supporting the hypothesis, the LIDP aimed, ‘to give a greater understanding of the link between library activity data and student attainment, which would show a tangible benefit to the higher education (HE) community’ (Stone and Ramsden, 2011. p. 550).
In line with Oakleaf (2010), the project was concerned with data protection issues, which were seen as a potential risk. Due to the sensitive nature it was important that data was obtained in a way that met legal and university regulations and students were informed that their library use may be measured. The data was also fully anonymised and made available to the project as part of an open data agreement and any courses that only had a few students were excluded from the data to prevent identification (Stone and Ramsden, 2013).
The researchers used both qualitative and quantitative methodologies in the project. For example, qualitative data was collected using focus groups and followed up with a brief questionnaire, which helped to qualify issues that were identified. The transcripts were examined for any apparent themes and statements were coded (Stone and Ramsden, 2013). Quantitative data were analysed with statistical methods, which showed a positive relationship between use of e-resources and degree result; book borrowing and degree result; but not between gate counts and degree result. The data suggested that the more an e-resource or book is used, ‘the more likely a student is to have attained a higher-level degree result’ (Stone and Ramsden, 2013, p. 554).
Whilst the project was regarded as successful in demonstrating a statistically significant relationship between use of library resources and final degree award and thereby substantiating the initial hypothesis, researchers also identified a number of issues similar to those discussed above. In terms of data reliability there are inherent issues when it comes to use data. For example, data for use of e-resources and borrowing of books does not reveal whether the item has actually been read, understood and referenced, and in the case of e-resources, counting clicks and downloads is problematic and variable across different databases, so heavy usage does not necessarily relate to high information-seeking or academic skills. The project also found that it underestimated the time taken to analyse the data with collection and analysis taking four out of the six months of the project (Stone and Ramsden, 2013).
In December 2011, the project secured another tranche of funding to extend the LIDP into phase II, which as per Oakleaf (2010) looked at demographic factors such as gender, age, ethnicity, and country of origin to further enrich the quality of data to identify additional causal links (Stone and Ramsden, 2013). Research in the U.K. has continued and the project has since expanded into a partnership between Jisc, Mimas (at the University of Manchester) and the University of Huddersfield, and is now named the Library Analytics and Metrics Project (LAMP).
Another recent example of research combining library transaction data with student performance data was undertaken by the University of Wollongong Library (UWL) in Australia. Like many libraries around the world, the library has used client satisfactions surveys to collect feedback from its users with information gained used to drive continuous improvement to the quality of services (Jantti and Cox, 2012). However, whilst useful, the researchers argue that there are significant limitations to surveys, including
they are naturally biased towards library users; they are not run frequently enough to support marketing; and they do not measure the impact of the library on client’s success, only respondents’ subjective assessment of value and performance (Jantti and Cox, 2012, p. 69).
With these limitations in mind, UWL undertook a project in conjunction with the university’s Performance Indicator Unit to develop a data warehouse and reporting function (a Cube) that combines library usage of electronic resources with students’ demographic and academic performance data (Jantti and Cox 2012; Pepper and Jantti, 2014). The aim of the project was to help the library, ‘improve the impact of its resources and teaching activities with respect to student academic performance, and student engagement’ (Jantti and Cox, 2012, p. 69). And in line with much of the discussion above, ‘unambiguously demonstrate the contribution [the library] is making to institutional learning, teaching and research endeavours’ (Jantti and Cox, 2012, p. 69).
UWL originally built a number of ‘Cubes’ to aid in data collection and analysis. The Library Cube is a dataset that combines usage of library resources with student demographic data and performance using student numbers as a unique identifier. Due to the university’s Privacy Policy, which allows for use of personal information, the project was able to legally and ethically make use of student information. However, in constructing the cube by only being able to view aggregated data, the project did try to ensure that the library could not drill down to see a specific student’s personal information except in the unlikely situation where there were a small number of students in a variable within the cube (Jantti and Cox, 2011).
The Value Cube is a dataset that is structured around academic teaching sessions used to assess the impact of library resources on student outcomes measured by Weighted Average Marks (WAM). Note that GPA scores are generally not used in Australia with most tertiary institutions using WAM for academic grading. The Value Cube also allows the library to review demographics by level of usage giving much more granular analysis from the data set than has been achievable in previous studies (Jantti and Cox, 2012). Data for the Library Cube was pulled from the Library Management System, which included loans data and usage data for electronic resources with ezproxy logs used to determine which databases, ebooks and ereadings materials were being used by which student (Jantti and Cox, 2012).
As with the LIDP project (Stone and Ramsden, 2013), the researchers observed the same limitation with usage, noting that ‘just because someone borrowed a book does not mean they read, understood or used the book’ (Jantti and Cox, 2012). Furthermore, the issue of correlation and cause was raised as there could be many other factors that help contribute to students’ academic performance (Jantti and Cox, 2012). However, the project did find that there was very strong evidence that the library was positively impacting on students’ academic success; for example, the researchers found that students who used the library’s collection – through borrowing books and using electronic resources – were more likely to achieve higher WAMs (Jantti and Cox, 2012).
Having been able to see that the library was indeed providing value to students who used library resources, the next phase of the project sought to answer further questions and solve problems around which students were using resources; assist with interventions in conjunction with faculty to encourage non/low users to engage with resources; and more ambitiously, to test if the library had been successful in influencing behaviour by looking at post-intervention data (Pepper and Jantti, 2014). To assist in these new endeavours, a Marketing Cube was built, which replicated the demographic elements of the Value Cube and contained information on which specific databases were being accessed on a weekly basis to provide a more immediate view of resource use, which is allowing the library to understand the context in which library resources are being used in relation to information need (Pepper and Jantti, 2014).


This paper has provided an overview of the state of research into the value of academic libraries and impact studies in higher education. Due to the increased demands of accountability, academic libraries are challenged with demonstrating the value they provide to the university and its wider stakeholders. This shift in the higher education landscape has a necessitated a shift in the need for impact studies to go beyond impact, so that libraries can document and articulate the value they contribute to the institutional mission and goals. This need has accelerated the research agenda and produced a growing body of research that specifically investigates the links between use of library resources and student outcomes. All of the studies that were reviewed indicated at least some correlation between library use and academic achievement, however, correlation does not necessarily mean cause. The research is also challenged by the difficulties around the meaning of use and the inconsistencies in methodologies, as well as the inherent issue around use data itself – the data doesn’t reveal that library resources such as books have actually been read, understood or referenced – and when it comes to e-resources there is variability across platforms and vendors in how usage is counted. To better achieve the aims of future research in this important area of LIS studies, librarians and researchers will need to take heed of Oakleaf’s recommendations for professional development. Librarians who have the necessary data competencies will be able to design better research that demonstrates the value their library is making in institutional terms. Ultimately, it is these librarians of the future who will be able to go beyond their traditional library functions and take advantage of the challenges and changes in the higher education landscape, and lead conversations by confidently responding to the questions set forth by the research agenda.


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Reflection: Gutenberg's printing press and the Malleus Maleficarum

The following is an extract from a post I wrote for my INF404 Foundations of Information Studies class at CSU. I was reading an article and started thinking back to a paper I wrote back in my undergraduate days.

Reading Rayward (2014) and his discussion on Gutenberg's printing press, I'm reminded of previous research I undertook on the feminisation of witchcraft and rise of misogyny in late medieval and early modern Europe (published in this blog). In my paper, I analysed the scholarly discourse around the two witch-hunting treatises by Johannes Nider, and Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, respectively titled, the Formicarius (1437), and the Malleus Maleficarum (1486).
Printed in 1486, the Malleus Maleficarum (translated as "The Hammer of the Witches") sought to prove the existence of witches and witchcraft, and in particular, drew a connection between women and witchcraft (Tillack, 2013). The treatise linked witchcraft to uncontrolled female sexuality, which supposedly sprung from the insatiable carnal lust in women. The authors argued that women were spiritually weaker than men, so more susceptible to evil (think of the Eve myth). I also covered this argument in another paper on the aetiology of evil, which compared the Eve and Pandora myths.
So, what does this have to do with Gutenberg's printing press? The Malleus was printed some fifty or so years after the invention of Gutenberg's press, and has been argued to be one of the most important factors in driving the witch craze and the concomitant persecution of women in the witch hunts across Europe in the late 15th and early sixteenth centuries. The treatise was immensely successful with between twenty-five to thirty-five editions, and it was reprinted at least twenty times between 1574 and 1669. At one time it was the second most popular book after the Bible. Bev (n.d) claims that, 'with-out [sic] the printing press the distribution and multiple printings would not have been possible.' 
To say the printing press was the cause of the European witch craze would be reductive and open to arguments of technological determinism. However, it can be said that the technology helped facilitate 'the mass production of material that was instrumental in the dissemination of information that fed the witch-hunt craze (Bev n.d.). 
Bev (n.d). Unintended Consequences [Blog post]. Retrieved from
Rayward, W. (2014). Information Revolutions, the Information Society, and the Future of the History of Information Science. Library Trends, (3), 681-713.
Tillack, T. J. (2013). Essay: The feminisation of witchcraft and rise of misogyny in late medieval and early modern Europe [Blog post]. Retrieved from:

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Pressures, opportunities and costs facing research library acquisitions budgets: an Australian perspective

I should have posted this a long time ago, but for some reason have only just got around to it now. I suppose that now I have completed my studies, my attention has dropped off somewhat on the blogging front.

In June this year, I my article, “Pressures, opportunities and costs facing research library acquisitions budgets: an Australian perspective”, in the peer-reviewed Australian Library Journal.

The Australian Library Journal is an internationally recognised journal that showcases the best of Australian library and information research and practice. It is the acknowledged flagship publication of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA).

This is the culmination of many hours of research, transcribing and editing…editing… editing, and forms the pinnacle of my scholarly career (so far?).

The publication of this article cements me as a peer-reviewed author, something I didn’t think I would achieve without a PhD. A great and unexpected outcome of my post-graduate studies at University of Melbourne.

The article can be access at: 

The article is also available in EBSCO's Library & Information Science Source at:

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Kraftwerk: a postmodern consensual hallucination

Kraftwerk are the most important music group since The Beatles and no other band has had as much influence on pop culture since. This sentiment is echoed in an article in The Observer, which declared, ‘no other band since The Beatles has given so much to pop culture.’ According to Barr (1998:2), the story of Kraftwerk ‘began just as pop culture was beginning to take shape.’ It was through self-awareness and clever control and manipulation of their image, artistic strategy, and the circumstances of this cultural milieu, which enabled Kraftwerk to provoke ‘a paradigm shift in modern music that has been unparalleled since The Beatles’ (Barr 1998: 3). Remarkably, whilst most people may not have even heard of the band, or heard their music,

without Kraftwerk, the experience of urban youth in the 90s would be radically different. There would be no contemporary dance music as we know it; and thus none of the clubs which provide our gateway into a world of synthetic melodies and machine beats every weekend; our approach to technology…would be subtly but radically reshaped and the whole fabric of futurism – both utopian and dystopian – in contemporary media would be irrevocably altered (Barr 1998: 3).

Kraftwerk are often referred to as ‘the godfathers of electronic music’ and were pioneers in the genre, but they have also had considerable influence on disco, rap, electro, synth pop – and all the varieties of pop hybrids that have since developed from these scenes. From their home in Düsseldorf, Germany, they have created a lasting legacy that has had enduring effect and has informed the development of pop culture over the last forty years or more.

The two founding members Ralph Hütter and Florian Schneider met at a music improvisation course in 1968 in their home of Düsseldorf – a city closer to Belgium, Holland and France than the divided West and East Berlins. They played together in their first band Organisation; instead of playing guitars they played organ and flute. Their music was styled ‘on a heavily improvisational, sometimes chaotic, methodology which referenced jazz, high-brow avante-garde theory and the broad seam of sonic experimentalism that Aphex Twin and Squarepusher would mine more than two decades later’ (Barr, 1998: 49).

By 1970, Hütter and Schneider had set up their famous Kling Klang studio in an industrial estate in Düsseldorf ; it was this event which Hütter marks as the real beginning of Kraftwerk. According to Pattie (2011: 9), it was a fitting location for the band because, ‘in the midst of the soundscapes of the most technologically advanced area in Germany, the band created music which reflected, not the role of technology in the as-yet-unrealized future, but the integration of technology and human life in the present’ – an idea that would be properly articulated in their later concept of the Menschmaschine (man-machine). Furthermore, Pattie (2011: 9) notes, ‘Kraftwerk’s relationship to technology is bound up in their relation to their immediate environment; rather than using technology to map out an escape route towards the further reaches of the cosmos, it is used to recreate the mechanized soundscapes of the modern, industrialized city.’ This philosophy is reflected in the group’s name ‘Kraftwerk’ which means power station; the Kling Klang studio was set up almost opposite Düsseldorf ’s power station.

In the early 70s, Düsseldorf  was becoming an important hub of contemporary culture in Germany, and by the time the classic Kraftwerk line-up of Ralph Hütter, Florian Schneider, Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür  was established, the group

wasn’t dissimilar to that which existed around the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s Factory. Painters, writers, performance artists, musicians and designers…were all part of the loose circle which orbited the band (Barr 1998: 7).

It was because of this artistic and creative environment that Kraftwerk were able to move ahead of other groups ‘in terms of conceptuals, musical structures and imagery’ (Barr1998: 7). This was also a particularly important time in the post-war experience of Germany, and ‘an immensely exciting period of psychological change in [the nation] as the first post-war generations struggled to imprint their own identity on mainstream culture.’

Throughout Kraftwerk’s rise to prominence, music journalists were preoccupied with their German identity and discussions generally focused on two factors – that they were from West Germany and they played electronic music. According to Albiez and Lindvig (2011: 15), ‘[t]hey picked up on and amplified the links between the band’s national status – or associated Germanic or Teutonic historical stereotypes – and their use of electronic technologies’. In discussing, Autobahn, music critic Lester Bangs (1975) argued, ‘Autobahn is more than just the latest evidence in support of the case for Teutonic raillery…It is an indictment of all those who would resist the bloodless iron will and order of the ineluctable dawn of the Machine Age.’ In this way, Kraftwerk and the music they played was positioned essentially as German.

According to Barr (1998: 90), Kraftwerk were well aware of how they were being represented and suggests that they ‘deliberately [played] up to the deadly serious, straight-laced stereotypical image of Germans’. In doing so, they also played on other clichéd stereoptypes ‘by referring to how they manipulated and controlled people through technology, to the mechanical nature of the German language and by mentioning the German mentality as being “more advanced”’ (Bangs 1975). This self-awareness and irony can be seen in the following quote in which Hütter and Schneider are clearly toying with widely held Nazi-related German stereotypes concerning technological control and mastery:

When you are aware that music is a process of brainwashing and manipulation, you realise it can go also in the direction of damage. We have the power to push the knobs on our machines this way or that and cause damage…It can be like doctors with patients (cited in Albiez and Lindvig 2011: 21).

However, Kraftwerk’s satire was lost on many media commentators and one critic went so far as to invoke Nazi-era clichés suggesting the band’s so-called ‘masterplan’ for ‘world domination’ (Goldstein in Albiez and Lindvig 2011: 21).

According to Albiez and Lindvig (2011: 25), Kraftwerk ‘knowingly addressed German identity through a self-reflexive and playful representation of clichéd stereotypes.’ This attitude is perhaps most apparent in their Autobahn album which they released in 1974. Hütter and Schneider were big fans of The Beach Boys and were ‘fascinated by their ability to encapsulate an entire slice of American life inside a three-minute single’ (Barr 1998: 82). They were interested in how they could make a German equivalent and ‘[b]y using their music to celebrate German culture they would simultaneously be re-appropriating it for their own generation’ (Barr 1998: 82-83). At ths time, the autobahn was the most visible symbol and a key signifier of modern Germany.

By the 1970s, the autobahn had become a ‘potent symbol’ of Germany’s ‘economic and industrial power, but [it] also conjured up connotations of the Nazi era’ (Albiez and Lindvig (2011: 27). When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, he initiated the autobahn project. Not only was it to provide better road links between cities (and later enable faster deployment of troops), but it was also an effort to bring Germany into full employment following the depression years and high unemployment of the Weimar Republic. In this way, the autobahn lent itself as the perfect cultural symbol, which for the post-war generation ‘needed to be stripped of its past associations’ and celebrated instead (Barr 1998: 83).

The lead track off the album, ‘Autobahn’, can be read as a ‘sonic representation of a journey on the autobahn’ (Albiez and Lindvig 2011: 32). At just over twenty-two minutes in length, the track moves through two distinct tempos and through the hypnotic groove and use of sound effects, mimetically represents the experience of driving along and passing other cars on the autobahn. According to Barr (1998: 84), the ‘track combined the groups experimental past with their emerging commercial sensibilities.’ The influence of The Beach Boys is also evident in the lyrics and harmonies of the song, with the chorus “Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn” echoing the American group’s “Fun, Fun, Fun”, although Hütter would no doubt suggest a more open interpretation.

Whilst most of their output happened between 1970-81, Kraftwerk still manage to attract sell-out shows whenever they perform. Following on from their appearance last year at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, where they played an eight show exhibition “Kraftwerk – Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8”, when it was announced they would be playing the same show at the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London, the demand was so strong it crashed the ticketing system resulting in a hordes of angry fans.

Recently, as part of Sydney’s Vivid LIVE, a 10-day celebration of popular music alongside the city’s annual festival of light (Vivid LIGHT) and ideas (Vivid IDEAS), Australian fans were invited to ‘explore one of the richest histories in global sound, image culture and popular music’ with Kraftwerk performing at the iconic Opera House (Vivid website). In a rare interview, Ralph Hütter, the 66-year-old and last remaining original member (Florian Schneider departed in 2008), described the concert as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a concept also used by Wagner, which translates as ‘a total work of art’ or ‘synthesis of the arts’. ‘[It is] a whole combination,’ he said. ‘We do all of this ourselves, programming videos and programming graphics, the lettering, all the lights, and we play the individual desks…where we play different instruments and computers…It is basically a living sculpture’ (cited in Miller 2013). The idea of combining audio and visual in their art isn’t new to Kraftwerk. Back in their early touring days they were already experimenting with different aspects of performance and were projecting the slide-shows of Emil Schult ‘to add visual interest and reinforce the idea of their concerts as artistic events’ (Barr 1998: 106). Schult has been a long-term collaborator with Kraftwerk, he co-wrote some of the lyrics and is responsible for creating most of their sleeve designs since 1973, including the iconic Autobahn sleeve, and it is his artwork that is being used in the concert.

Whilst the roll call of members has changed over the years, the same basic configuration of four control desks arrayed horizontally in line across the stage remains. In order of appearance on stage from left to right the current members include: Ralph Hütter (lead vocals, vocoder, synthesizers and keyboards); Fritz Hilpert (electronic percussion, sound engineering); Henning Schmitz (electronic percussion, live keyboards, sound engineering); and Falk Grieffenhagen (live video technician).

To avoid the ticketing issues that had plagued the London gig, fans had to participate in a ballot where tickets were granted by allocation only, which according to the organisers would ‘minimise the congestion through sales channels and…fairly distribute tickets to fans across time zones, states and countries’ (Vivid website). Similarly to the Düsseldorf , New York, London and Tokyo gigs (they only played a single show elsewhere), the band would present three decades of their most innovative music in a 3D audiovisual exhibition, which ‘has redefined traditional concert motifs.’ With two shows per night, the band would present eight shows across four nights celebrating their masterworks: Autobahn (1974), Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe-Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978), Computer World (1981), Techno Pop (1986), The Mix (1991) and Tour de France (2003). In the words of Fergus Linehan, festival director of Vivid LIVE, the ‘eight concerts are a mind-melting feast for the eyes and ears’ (Faster Louder).

As a dedicated fan of Kraftwerk, and having been involved in the electronic dance music scene for almost twenty years, I was quick to submit an application for the ticket ballot and was lucky to secure tickets for three shows: Trans-Europe-Express, The Man-Machine and Computer World. As we entered the Joan Sutherland theatre for the first show of the night we were given 3D glasses and directed to our seats in the loge which gave us an angled view down to the stage. At 7pm, the curtains were raised and the concert was efficiently underway; pity to those who were late. The four members led by Hütter and dressed in their iconic ‘Tron-esque’ suits stand in front of their respective control desks, which are outlined by neon lighting which changes colour in time with the music. At time, against the 3D backdrop of visuals the four members seem to be suspended in space.

From the first bars of ‘Trans-Europe Express’, the audience is swept away in a state of hypnotic machine-made synaesthesia and drawn into Kraftwerk’s ‘consensual hallucination’. Through the use of synthesised sound and ‘the combination of the repetition of simple motifs with new and interesting percussive elements and differing timbres and sonic effects’, the song propels the listener on a progressive journey through continental Europe (Toltz 2011: 184). Along with Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, ‘Trans-Europe Express was one of the biggest disco hits of the time (Barr 1998: 126).

It was also partly responsible for Afrika Bambaata and the Soulsonic Force’s ‘Planet Rock’, which helped kick off the electro funk scene and cement rap, which would go on to inform the development and production techniques hip hop and electronic dance music. In 1982, Bambaata, who was one of the Bronx’s most influential and original DJs and who was already playing Kraftwerk’s records in his sets teamed up with Arthur Baker who had a reputation in the rap scene. Together they sampled ‘Trans-Europe Express’ from which they took the melody and put a rap over it, and with the help of a programmer, on a rented Roland drum machine, they copied the beat of ‘Numbers’. The record label was later sued for $100,000 for copyright infringement, which was simply absorbed by raising the price of the record (Barr 1998: 165-166).

Returning to the idea of a consensual hallucination, in his seminal work Neuromancer (1984), William Gibson prophetically coined the term ‘cyberspace’ well before the invention of the world wide web, which he described as a

consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators in every nation…A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding… (67).

This quote perfectly captures Kraftwerk’s futurist aesthetic and modus operandi. As self-described ‘operators’ or ‘workers’ Kraftwerk masterfully manipulate their machines to produce a shared hallucination. In an interview with Lester Bangs, Hütter said, ‘We are manipulating the audience…That’s what it’s all about. When you play electronic music you have the control of the imagination of the people in the room and it can go to the extent where it’s almost physical’ (cited in Barr 1998: 91). This sentiment is further echoed in another interview in which Hütter suggested, Kraftwerk ‘find some energy in the environment of people who come to see us and who make us play in another dimension at a higher psychological level’ (cited in Barr 1998: 195).

The Menschmaschine, or man-machine, is a philosophical and acoustic concept with Kraftwerk functioning as the ‘power plant’ (Barr 1998: 90). As Hütter has claimed, ‘The machines are part of us and we are part of the machines…They play with us and we play with them. We are brothers. They are not our slaves’ (cited in Barr 1998: 136). The concept is also implicitly political which can be seen in ‘the Russian Constructivist sleeve imagery, the group’s uniform, their insistence on their role as “music workers” and their abhorrence of the star system coalesced into a kind of utopian urban communism’ (Barr 1998: 138). These ideas were given concrete form in The Man Machine album of 1978, which was the group’s ‘most determinedly futuristic album to date’ and ‘a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that Kraftwerk were indeed the band of the future’ (Barr 1998: 134).

The album of 1981, Computer World, was the album that established the ‘blueprint for Detroit Techno’ and helped create the ‘template that was extrapolated into the future by a handful of black musicians and subsequently transmitted on to the dancefloors of the world by those they inspired’ (Barr 1998: 151). According to Sicko (1999: 24), ‘[m]any Chicago house pioneers cite the track ‘Home Computer’ as an early reference point. Likewise, electro and pre-techno artists in Detroit drew inspiration from the bizarre portamento riffs and lyrical minimalism of ‘Numbers’’, also off the album. Techno legend, Carl Craig, suggests that in Detroit the album was considered ‘a masterpiece, a work of art…Maybe it was the complexity of rhythms that made it so interesting but it worked. I think it was so stiff it was funky’ (cited in Barr 1998: 152).

Whilst the marketing pitch of the tour was that the band would be playing chronologically through each of the albums, the reality was quite different. Each show was only focused on a selection of the tracks from each respective album, with the remainder of the show taken up by greatest hits. Included in the greatest hits section of each show were tracks such as: ‘Autobahn’, ‘Radio-activity’, ‘The Robots’, ‘Man Machine’, ‘Space Lab’, ‘The Model’, ‘Neon Lights’, ‘Computer World’, ‘Numbers’, ‘Home Computer’, ‘Computer Love’, ‘Boing Boom Tschak’ and ‘Music Non-Stop’. Each show finished after each member played a solo, and left the stage one-by-one. Hütter was always the last leave, with the beat still running he would wish the audience “Good night, Auf Weidersehen”, then he too would walk to the end of the stage, bow deeply and stand with his hand across his heart as the audience continued it’s rapturous applause until the lights came on signalling the end of the trip. Over the three shows, inevitably there were repeats, but seeing Kraftwerk three times in one weekend, well who would complain?

The last word must go to Hütter which neatly sums up the democratic force of electronic dance music: ‘Electronics is beyond nations and colours,’ he said. ‘It speaks a language everyone can understand. It expresses more than just stories the way most conventional songs do. With electronics, everything is possible. The only limit is with the composer.’ Finally, ‘in front of the loudspeakers everyone is equal’ (Barr 1998: 126).

Note: this article was originally written for Plane Tree, the magazine published by the University of Melbourne's Graduate Student Association. You can view a shorter edited version of this essay here

Albiez, S. and Lindvig, K.T. (2011) ‘Autobahn and Heimatklänge: Soundtracking the FRG’ in S. Albiez and D. Pattie (eds) Kraftwerk: Music Non-Stop. New York and London: Continuum.

Bangs, L. (1975) ‘Kraftwerkfeature’,, accessed 4 June 2013.

Barr, C. (1998) From Düsseldorf to the Future (with Love). London: Ebury Press.

Faster Louder (2013) ‘Kraftwerk to headline Sydney’s Vivid LIVE’, 20 February,, accessed 4 June 2013.

Gibson, W. (1993) Neuromancer. London: HarperCollins.

Miller, N. (2013) ‘Kraftwerk bring 3D electropop wizardry Down Under’, 20 February,

Pattie, D. (2011) ‘Introduction: The (Ger)man Machines’ in S. Albiez and D. Pattie (eds) Kraftwerk: Music Non-Stop. New York and London: Continuum.

Sicko, D. (1999) Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk. New York: Billboard Books.

The Observer (2013) ‘Why Kraftwerk are still the world’s most influential band’, 27 Jan,, accessed 4 June 2013.

Toltz, J. (2011) ‘Dragged into the Dance  - the Role of Kraftwerk in the Development of Electro-Funk’ in S. Albiez and D. Pattie (eds) Kraftwerk: Music Non-Stop. New York and London: Continuum.

Vivid website (2013) ‘Kraftwerk – The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8’,, accessed 4 June 2013.