Library Planning Research

The Value of the Academic Library


More than 20 years ago, Aaron Cohen AIA started our library planning research. First, he started with a question: what is the value of the academic library? To answer it, we created a list of outstanding academic libraries and studied them in depth. Here are the top six findings:

  • Successful academic libraries were the ones able to recognize and adapt to the needs of their users.
  • Academic libraries have a role to play supporting student success and retention.
  • Libraries have a role to play because “everything is online”
  • Successful academic libraries build partnerships and adapt to the new roles required.
  • Libraries need to create the infrastructure necessary to adapt to the changing academic community.
  • Flexible and integrated tech is necessary.


The library plan should reflect the future the College and/or University and its culture. It must create value with the investment in both student experience and pedagogy. What’s important, however is not the name of the library or the building but the flow between services. The library must provide space for new peer to peer roles. Space for student success functions / career services / support for students with disabilities. The campus should give the impression that there is a collective purpose to the learning community.

Having the right roles on the library teams isn’t enough. You need to examine the learning spaces, behaviors, skills, building access, and diversity of user experiences. The libraries need to balance the tensions between new and old services. Below is an image of the Point Park University Library. Think about specialized research in an old bank. How do you develop library space in this environment? What is the efficient use of academic library resources?



Below is a list of articles that focus on the value of the academic library. To prepare for our conceptual programming and planning work, the past senior librarian at Wartburg Jill Western provided us with this list of articles on the subject and her commentary. Below is the document to support other academic libraries. We hope that you may use this info to strengthen the value of the academic library.


The value of academic libraries: Library services as a predictor of student retention.

Murray, A., Ireland, A. and Hackathorn, J. (2016). College & Research Libraries, 77(5).

Overall, this study helps demonstrate the role those academic libraries and the services and resources provided by academic library employees can play in retaining students. In an age when many view the library as having a diminished role because “everything is online,” these findings help library administrators and university leaders understand the value academic libraries can provide to institutional retention efforts. Given this study’s findings that checking out items from the library or using electronic library resources have a significant positive predictive relationship with retention, the perception of library expenditures as a drain on institutional finances with no discernable return-on-investment is weakened. This study empowers library administrators to create the infrastructure necessary to determine the relationship between known library use at the individual level and student retention at their own institution.

The impact of academic library resources on undergraduates’ degree completion.

Soria, K.M., Fransen, J., and Nackerud, S. (2017).
College & Research Libraries, 78(6).

The results suggest a positive correlation between using the library in the first year and graduating in four years or remaining enrolled after four years. More specific data showed that students who used electronica resources, books, and/or had a library instruction session had “significantly improved odds of remaining enrolled over withdrawing.”

Library learning spaces: Investigating Libraries and investing in student feedback.

Andrews, C., Wright, S. E., & Raskin, H. (2016). Journal of Library Administration, 56(6), 647–672.

This is an excellent investigation into what students want in a library space and how this library responded to those desires and plans to respond following the study. Nearly every aspect of a library was investigated, and some key points are worth repeating here (paraphrased from pages 653-654):

• The library inspires students to study.
• Rooms and collaborative spaces in other buildings can supplement but not replace the library as these Students’ preferred location.
• Flexible and integrated tech is necessary.
• Students desire a variety of furniture, spaces, and noise levels.
• Collaborative spaces with other student services can work if designed with purpose.

Understanding the information-seeking behavior of pharmacy college faculty, staff, and students: implications for improving embedded librarian services.

Kamada, H., Martin, J. R., Slack, M. K., & Kramer, S. S. (2021). Journal of the Medical Library Association, 109(2), 286–294.

The authors found that when librarians have close proximity to students, it is beneficial to the students as it positions the librarian to provide needed instruction and advice in the existing user information-seeking behavior environment.

Academic library spaces: Advancing student success and helping students thrive.

Spencer, M. E., & Watstein, S. B. (2017). Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 17(2), 389-402.

The authors explored how the academic library and its space functions to support student success and learning. “Today’s physical learning spaces are formal and informal, social spaces and information spaces. These learning spaces ‘accommodate a wide range of activities, technologies, and participants—both in-person and connected virtually. In these spaces, people need to be able to create, retrieve, combine, display, and share information, then do it all over again, all in a space that they can easily reconfigure and is well supported by staff that meet and anticipate their needs’” (p 392).

Specific quote in the article that talks about redesigns, remodels, etc. “Librarians and other educators, working with architects, builders, and designers, need to bring to the planning process an understanding of learning theory and to establish learner-centered goals for new spaces. Bennett writes: ‘The concept of learning we actually use is rarely more sophisticated than that sometimes students prefer to work alone, sometimes they would rather work collaboratively, and sometimes they like to make things. This is a patently simplistic concept of learning; it almost entirely fails to engage with the stance of an intentional learner’” (p 396).

Learning about student research practices through an ethnographic investigation: Insights into contact with librarians and use of library space.

Tewell, E., Mullins, K., Tomlin, N., & Dent, V. (2017). Evidence-Based Library and Information Practice, 12(4), 78–101.

The authors found that students preferred the ability to create their own individual study spaces by moving furniture and a preference for either in groups or alone (but not really in a large open space). Evaluating the single service point using the Person-Environment-Occupation Model. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 20(2). DOI: 10.1353/pla.2020.0018 Vaughan, KT. (2020). Through direct observation of library functions and interviews with library staff, the PEO Model was used to evaluate the interactions of staff and patrons in the library environment at a recently renovated service desk space. The staff had identified issues with the set-up, and the library used this study to re-renovate the space to better fit the needs of staff and patrons. The conclusion emphasizes the importance of incorporating considerations from multiple aspects of the people, environment, and work.