May 20, 2022

New Issue Brief: “It’s Not What Libraries Hold; It’s Who Libraries Serve: Seeking a User-Centered Future for Academic Libraries”

The following issue brief was published today by OhioLINK and Ithaka S+R.


It’s Not What Libraries Hold; It’s Who Libraries Serve: Seeking a User-Centered Future for Academic Libraries


Gwen Evans
Executive Director, OhioLINK

Roger C. Schonfeld
Director, Libraries, Scholarly Communication, and Museums Program, Ithaka S+R

Ithaka S+R
DOI: 10.18665/sr.312608

From the Executive Summary

In 2018, OhioLINK engaged its membership to envision a constellation of platforms and applications that would take the next step beyond “next-generation” commercial integrated library systems (ILS). This paper is the result of that process.

The business of higher education, as it relates to libraries, is amid continued and drastic change. Managing collections is now but one aspect of library management. Libraries support teaching, affordable learning, and innovative research. They are managing services and products, online and off, amid expanding service offerings and technological advancements while under added pressure to reduce costs and barriers for people who want to learn—be it for a certificate, a two- or four-year degree, or a Ph.D.

The responsibilities of academic libraries have evolved, yet Integrated Library Systems (ILS) still narrowly focus on the acquisition, management, and delivery of objects while the end user remains in the background.  It is OhioLINK’s belief it is imperative to shift that focus, moving from collections and holdings1 to those that use them. It’s not what libraries hold, but who libraries serve.

OhioLINK’s membership encompasses 117 higher education libraries with a range of institution types and a total headcount of more than 800,000. Its membership consists of 16 public university libraries, 48 independent college libraries, 23 two-year college libraries, 16 regional campus libraries, eight law school libraries, five medical school libraries, and the State Library of Ohio. The sheer diversity of the collection of l ibraries that comprise this consortium makes OhioLINK a microcosm of the nation’s academic libraries in higher education. Its importance and influence in the higher education market is well-established, and its needs have outpaced existing industry offerings.

Source: “It’s Not What Libraries Hold; It’s Who Libraries Serve: Seeking a User-Centered Future for Academic Libraries”; OhioLINK, Ithaka S+R; 2020; DOI: 10.18665/sr.312608

To this end, this paper does not serve as an indictment, but an invitation to collaborate: OhioLINK members are issuing this white paper to assert that the systems it buys and invests in will require a fundamental re-orientation to the needs of the academic user, and similarly a fundamental re-architecture and re-configuring to meet the changing business requirements of institutions. This paper serves to articulate those needs in greater detail, as well as their current availability or unavailability in the marketplace. This whitepaper is not about a systems migration, or a critique of OhioLINK’s current ILS. While its membership is not initiating immediate change, it is making a clear statement that systems that support the return on investment of higher education institutions and provide great value to the range of their users, from students to world-class researchers, are imperative in enabling libraries to meet their respective missions and goals. Now is the time to invest in creating a new type of library system that is fundamentally centered on the user, enables libraries to create a facilitated collection, integrates with the higher education institution, and provides rich analytics and intelligence.

Direct to Full Text Report

Direct to PDF Version of Report
27 pages; PDF.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.